Can Cycling Save the World?

A new publication from the ECF & WCA suggests cycling is already helping to achieve the Global Goals.

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Biking in Hanoi, Vietnam

Photo by Katina Rogers

Okay, maybe bikes won’t fix absolutely everything, but a new publication from the European Cyclists Federation & World Cycling Alliance suggests they could just come close.  In Cycling Delivers on the Global Goals,” released today, the ECF & WCA demonstrate how a sizeable shift towards bicycling could play – and in many cases is already playing – an enormous role in achieving the Global Goals.

The Global Goals are a set of 17 goals ratified by the leaders of 193 countries during September 2015’s UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York. They work towards meeting three objectives: end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and fix climate change.

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The ECF & WCA suggest that worldwide cycling is already delivering on 11 of the 17 Global Goals: No Poverty; Zero Hunger; Good Health and Well-being; Gender Equality; Affordable and Clean Energy; Decent Work and Economic Growth; Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; Sustainable Cities & Communities; Responsible Consumption & Production; Climate Action; and Partnership in Meeting the Goals. Not bad for a simple machine is it?

While there is an easy connection to be made between cycling and a few of the goals – Sustainable Cities & Communities, Good Health and Well-being, and Climate Action particularly – the role of the bike in achieving some others may seem less obvious. How does cycling end hunger and poverty? How does it combat gender inequality?

To answer these questions, we need to think about the role transportation plays in our lives. Transportation is not simply about getting from point A to point B. It’s about access to jobs, marketplaces, social services, educational opportunities, and more in both urban and rural communities. It is the cheapest form of non-walking transportation; it can considerably lower household expenditures for those currently using a car or public transportation, or considerably reduce time spent in transit for those currently on foot. By reducing barriers to access, cycling enables individuals and communities to lift themselves out of poverty, achieve food security, and work towards a sustainable means of supporting themselves and their families.

Similarly, by providing an independent means of transportation, cycling offers girls and women who are denied access to those same resources the ability to get themselves there on their own terms. In many cases, it also empowers girls and women by allowing them to combat gender stereotypes and defy restrictive norms of “appropriate behavior.”

The publication highlights the links between biking and each of the 11 goals, demonstrating how bikes can be used for everything from urban transportation of goods to reduced infrastructure expenditure to post-disaster relief.

“Cycling Delivers on the Global Goals” showcases 70 cities around the world – from Adelaide to Oxford to Malaga to Lima – which are currently undertaking ambitious plans to increase their cycling modal share. It also refers to the findings of a recent Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) report, which demonstrated how a global shift to 14% of all miles traveled by bicycle would result in global savings of USD $24 trillion by 2050, or USD $6 trillion in the next 15 years, and a 7% reduction in urban transport C02 emissions.

While most North American cities are a far cry from a 14% biking modal share, it certainly isn’t out of reach if we simply decide to get out of our cars on and get on our bikes, even some of the time. There are few other actions in the world that offer so many benefits with so few costs, so really, why shouldn’t we be able to do it?

The ECF and WCA’s publication puts on paper what many of us have known for a long time: bikes make life better. Not only for us as individuals, but as communities on a local and global scale. So can cycling save the world? Maybe, maybe not. Either way it’s a damn good place to start.


Hilary Angus is the Online Editor at Momentum Mag. She writes about the intersection of bicycling and community development, or the intersection of bikes and pretty much anything else. @HilaryAngus

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