Back in 2021, COP26 finally recognized the role cycling and walking can play in accelerating the transition to zero-emission. As thousands of activists pushed for the amendment, active travel is now added to the original declaration that electric cars once stole the spotlight for the phasing out of diesel and petrol-engined cars by 2040.
But why is the electrical fleet alone not enough?
Interestingly put by Campaigns and Policy Manager of Glasgow City, only 18% of the world’s population owns a car. Electrifying cars is part of the climate change solution but would inequitably benefit people in rich nations and car-dominant cities. While leaving out people or nations least able to afford this technology. We need fewer cars, not just cleaner cars.
Now that countries are turning back the clock and restarting coal plants to tackle the ongoing energy crisis leaving little to the imagination, emissions will continue to rise without radical changes to how we move about. Sri Lanka has taken the biggest hits, banning petrol & diesel sales. No fuel means the whole city is ground to a halt and in a serious breakdown. From a commuter’s standpoint, people should have been given options to access jobs and facilities. Rather than being paralysed by the centralised system, especially during emergencies.
Making it harder to drive and fly by raising fees is a tough encouragement to achieve dramatic changes. This is mostly because the local government is not backed up with adequate funding and needs to replace fuel duty revenues in the green transition. Even in a city like London, without subsidies to provide budget-friendly options, people who earned less are those who end up paying for increased road pricing or are likely to get fined when driving through The Low Emission Zones. There are prices to pay for the transition, but sustainability endeavours should not punish the common people for it. Leaders must focus on every effort to make cycling, walking, and public transport cheaper, accessible, and more enjoyable for the majority.
Cities that have been built to serve automobiles might have a more difficult time adjusting. Not only that green energy can take too long for some nations. Anyone who has a 16 lane highway behind their backyard like myself would know how life-threatening it could be just by simply crossing the road. During urbanisation, people once associated the size of the street with a symbol of the city being modernised. But it is not entirely hopeless. Urban planning could re-allocate the space for pedestrians, cyclists, and even for trees or rain-garden meadows.
The classic example is the case of Curitiba City. The city had once an impeccable public bus system to revolutionise transport to tackle density. Although it could have been a success, the refurbishment excluded their suburb-based population. The famous Bus Rapid Transit system was overcrowded and people had complained about the ever-increasing fare. The new system has experienced a drop ride, bike lanes empty, and people were pushed back into their cars. Many cities started incrementally, putting out pop-up bike lanes - temporarily segregated traffic lanes to create a space just for cyclists during COVID-19 taking advantage of an empty road. Radical change is what we need, so is a radically seamless transition.
Urban cycling - the history
“Cycling has a carbon footprint of about 21g of CO2 per kilometre. That’s less than walking or getting the bus and less than a tenth the emissions of driving.” Urban cycling causes virtually no environmental damage, promotes health, takes up little space, and is economical compared to cars, both in direct user costs and public infrastructure costs.
In short, cycling is greener. And the extension of bike and pedestrian paths is a parameter for the livability of cities. But how ready are we? Looking at the bicycle capital of the world like Amsterdam, ever wonder if cycle paths or people cycling came first in the same manner as the chicken and egg dilemma?
Cycling has been the headlight of transport policy in Amsterdam to counter the intolerable number of traffic deaths. Amsterdam cyclists - with their attitude as bravely fierce as the day they outran the Nazis' vehicle, stood strong against the post-WWII car boom. Whilst cyclists never have really been marginalised by the local government. This has led to 400 km of bike lanes nowadays.
The trend had been adopted in many other European cities, North America, and Australia during the 1980s and 1990s. The most dramatic growth has been in cities without cycling cultures like Paris, London, and Vienna.
Built environment and cycling-walking behaviours
The main limitation to more cycling is people don’t feel safe on the road. Sustrans, the Scottish cycle association explained that networks of cycle paths (also added walking and wheeling to the list) should provide space, well-maintained, signed, and fully accessible to everyone.
In the UK While there are thousands of miles of paths linking places across the country, there isn’t a comprehensive network designed to help people walk off-road between all towns and cities. And most of the time cycles are combined with a motor vehicle which is perceived as a danger. And in a way, pedestrians also perceived cyclists (now joined by e-scooterists) as danger – especially among vulnerable and risk-averse population groups.
So, whether cities aim for off-road bikeways or mixed-use paths, local policy might want to base strategy on context and users' perceptions that will help improve cycling infrastructure and make it more attractive. All around the world, projects are awaiting the go-ahead from long-distance cycle superhighways made of sustainable material to a futuristic sound solar cycling lane. But at the same time, local governments continue to approve new highway projects.
All in all, policy support is needed for those who try to make more sustainable commute choices. Stop driving cars and hopping on packed public transport can mean personal sacrifice. As this happens, we will gain a healthier lifestyle and a livelier city that accommodates people.