In the UN’s ‘2030 Now’ manifesto, Goal #11 is one of the most ambitious of the list of seventeen.
“Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”
Cities have always been a population magnet. So much so that some countries have national policies aimed at investing in rural areas, to reduce the attraction of urban life. However, the opportunities that cities present are undeniable, so it is not entirely surprising that they attract new residents at the rate of one million every five days.
Many predict that, by 2030, 60% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. Even today, the figure is 50%.
What’s more, cities are built on 3% of the land and consume 80% of the world’s energy. With the car being the main form of transportation, this influx of population can only mean one thing: jams.
In 2010, China Highway 110 set a depressing precedent. Traffic on this road grows by 40% a year. And this particular year was particularly busy. Drivers stopping to buy water and cigarettes from roadside kiosks unwittingly created a queue over 100 km long, which lasted nine days.
Jams are not only inconvenient, they are a major cause of pollution. Over half of the carbon and nitrous oxides and a quarter of hydrocarbons released into the atmosphere come from passenger vehicles.
Electric passenger vehicles will undoubtedly have a positive impact on reducing emissions but they will not reduce congestion. In fact, by making driving a more socially responsible activity, they may even increase it. A car with an electric engine is just as capable of getting stuck in traffic as one fuelled by petrol.
The bicycle is a major part of the solution to this scenario. It is not the total answer because many car journeys cannot be replaced by trips by bike. But a huge proportion of urban journeys are just a few kilometres long and made by one person alone.
Replacing these car journeys with bike journeys would have a massive impact on congestion and pollution. Bikes produce no emissions, cost significantly less to manufacture and purchase. And the benefit to the environment is matched by health and wellbeing for the rider.
Getting a motorist to be a cyclist isn’t easy, not least because modern cars are comfortable, luxurious and fast. They also offer protection from the weather. But the latest eBikes have made the choice less challenging, offering no-sweat, reliable commuting.
Cycling is certainly inclusive, but in order to tick the other three UN boxes, city planners need to invest in two wheeled transport. Something they are very reluctant to do in all but a few isolated cities - notably Copenhagen in Denmark, where cycling transportation is the lynchpin of the objective to be carbon neutral by 2025.
Build a cycle lane and cycling goes up by 50%. It also makes cycling safer and the urban transport policy both resilient and sustainable. In fact, in Copenhagen, they’ve found that bike usage actually earns the city money, rather than depletes the economy.
For many years, cycling has been seen in many countries as a cheap and second rate way to move around.
In the cities of the future it could be the only way.