RE Cycle- 7 reasons why you must!

“The National Cycle Network has saved the UK economy more than £7billion (equivalent to almost £1m a day) since it was established 20 years ago, by improving people’s health and reducing congestion, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, according to our new research.” Sustrans.org

It’s no mistake that ‘Recycle’ looks a little spaced-out on the title. That’s a deliberate attempt to make you read them as two words, ‘Re’ and ‘Cycle’. A dictionary would explain thus:

Re- Again, A new
Cycle- A wheeled vehicle that has two wheels and is moved by foot pedals, okay, that’s a bicycle.
Recycle- Use again after processing or put to better use. I am getting into the rest of the article hoping to motivate you to recycle that old bicycle rusting away in your backyard or to perhaps get a new one and set it on the roads instead of your car.

I clearly remember the summer of 1997, when my father bought me a bicycle that I would go riding to school on. It was one of the most exciting things I had looked forward to because I would be joining many of my peers in the three mile race to school. While this was the most prevalent activity on the roads during school opening and closing hours, the very few who could afford cars, would get dropped off. Of course, in addition to these, there were the auto rickshaws, vans and school buses that joined the regime, but the cyclists were undefeated.

Cyclists on a dedicated bicycle-path

Cyclists on a dedicated bicycle-path

Cycle ghosts
Today, I rarely sight a bicycle or even if I do, the rider would be squirming his way through jam- packed roads or broken pavements. Parents do not allow their children anymore on cycles for fear of traffic and erratic driving by motorists. Such is the story of many cities in my country, India as it is in several other parts of the developing world. While cities have expanded four-fold since 2000 to make space for increasing workforce and residences, the pre-requisite of the day is independence and comfortable mobility. With easy availability of loans, it’s easier to possess a car than to dream of one. Slowly and effectively, cars have eradicated bicycles from our roads while average trip distances have increased to ten miles from three. Contrary to what we might have believed, possessing a car in the city is more a bane than a boon, because soon roads will become gigantic parking lots of stagnant four-wheeler traffic.

Traffic congestion near Beijing, China

Traffic congestion near Beijing, China

The slow realization:
While we are busy building cities for cars (under the misnomer of infrastructure development) and much less for people, several places in Europe and America that have undergone the turmoil and peril of gigantic agglomeration are shifting gears to the bi-cycle. The Dutch have quite an epic share on the cycle revolution which took place quite early on during the ‘70s. Today, Netherlands is a standing example for every other country across the globe for politicians and people alike. The link below illustrates this historical event of traffic engineering revolution.

A protest by pro-cyclists in Amsterdam in 1979

A protest by pro-cyclists in Amsterdam in 1979

With soaring fossil fuel prices and clogged roads, the good old days of bi-cycles are making a slow comeback. Ironically, some of the owners of the biggest cars are the most pro-active in campaigns and cyclathons because the old adage ‘You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone’ or ‘The best things in life are simple’ seems to hold true after all. They surely miss their bicycles while cars haven’t got them too fast. While several events, some in the form of protests and some as fitness campaigns see larger herds of bicycles, it is vital to realize why bicycles hold the key to a sustainable urban future and why reCycling would make our city happy. Of the many direct and indirect implications that will comprise a long list, here’s my chosen 7:

Protest campaign posters of today

Protest campaign posters of today

1. A great workout

Dr Penny Woods, Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: “Air pollution kills 29,000 people a year in the UK, and can lead to diseases like lung cancer, whilst worsening other lung conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. Yet, even though cars are responsible for 70% of air pollution in urban areas, this is still how over two thirds of people choose to make journeys of between one and five miles. We therefore urgently need to look at ways in which we can support more people to make these shorter journeys by bike or on foot if they are able, and Sustrans are to be applauded for shining a light on the benefits this could have for our economy, our healthcare services, and the overall health of the nation.”

Several health and fitness bloggers have written volumes on this, so I won’t go into details. I am no fitness expert but I do know that it works almost all muscle groups, especially the lower ones and keeps that metabolism top notch. You couldn’t ask your car for this now, right? On a more subjective note, it makes up for boring hours and money spent at the gym while taking you to your workplace and working those muscles, at the same time! Here’s a better read

Cycling- A fun way to workout outdoors

Cycling- A fun way to workout outdoors

2. Clean Air for thought

I dream of the day when I could clearly see the stars again. No, that’s not an excerpt from a musical or a play. Those are my own lines and here’s why. Air and light pollution in cities have engulfed our cities in the last decade which is most evident after dusk because it renders night skies hazy and cloudy. I know of times when air so highly polluted that the sky looks overcast with rainclouds. Increasing car population have encouraged chopping down trees for road widening that has put a huge load on our lungs to inhale clean air. For every car that it replaced by a cycle, it would mean lesser pollution and better breathing.

Cyclists seen at an avenue

Cyclists seen at an avenue

3. More is More- More cycles, more space
If all the cars were to be replaced by cycles this very instant, with the same width of roads, we would have space for twice the number of cycles, with enough space between each of them and still have lesser braking. That’s because a bicycle travels at an average speed of 10 mph and occupies a third of a car’s space, while the car travels at 20mph and occupies thrice as much as the cycle. A car dominated city will have more frequent traffic stops and longer durations at that. If I knew some mathematics, I could convince you that you could get to a place quicker on a cycle, which is still true, only, I don’t have the math.

A street in Netherlands with separate cycle and car lanes

A street in Netherlands with separate cycle and car lanes

4. Low risk and low count of accidents
The bicycle is a nimble machine. I would otherwise attribute nimbleness to an expensive car that’s easy to maneuver. Bi-cyles are the least in number for being culprit to accidents and even if they do, they are rarely serious or fatal. It is definitely a safer bet to set out on a bicycle than embrace yourself in the shell of a car.

A minor accident at a cycle rally

A minor accident at a cycle rally

5. Develop your interpersonal and social skills
Cycling shares this similar trait with walking. The cyclist seems more human than a motorist. It may be because cars physically cage us, making us reclusive drivers. As a cyclist, your encounter with fellow riders is more intimate and making a conversation becomes easier. Thought of a date anybody?

Cycling as a social activity

Cycling as a social activity

6. City revenues are spent wisely
Road infrastructure and maintenance claim billions of dollars, all to accommodate more traffic and pollution. If bicycles were used efficiently for commuting, city revenues could be spent on greening and development of suburbs for better living conditions, educational facilities, electricity and agriculture. A fair share could also be invested in parks that become active public spaces for social engagement.

7. Space is money
An average car occupies about 13 square metres of space while the biggest bicycle occupies about 2 square metres when parked. In a parking lot, that would mean about 6 cycle spaces to a car space. With commercial rents shooting north, every square foot of usable space is treasure. Besides, the agility exhibited by cycles makes it easy to go through narrow alleyways and climb ramps easily. You could cycle upto your apartment if buildings were designed for bicycle accessibility. That could save us several minutes that it takes to climb down a lift, walk to your parking lot and drive out. Thanks to BIG, they are already at it. Did you know the Danish Pavilion and the 8 house are bi-cycle accessible? Here’s a live demo by the architect himself.

8 house, BIG

8 house, BIG

 

Inside the Danish Pavilion, BIG

Inside the Danish Pavilion, BIG

I hope these are a good 7 to make cycling the new driving. Truth here is, it is not a single handed effort by cyclists alone but it is important for governments to implement dedicated cycling lanes and dedicate experts for strategic research for bettering cycling infrastructure in cities. I look forward to the day in which that the sign of a prosperous city will not be measured by its number of car buyers but by its bicycle usage. It stands as evidence not only of a successful city but is also an indication of its collective intelligence and health.

By:Carola Winnie

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