Bicycles: Setting the wheels of change in motion during and after COVID-19 

3 June 2020

World Bicycle Day highlights the potential for transforming the way the world moves around, before and after the COVID-19 pandemic, helping create a healthier, more sustainable future, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

"This year…we acknowledge the uniqueness, longevity and versatility of the bicycle”, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the UN General Assembly, said in a statement marking the annual day, noting that bike use extends “from the most affluent nations, to developing and the least-developed countries”.

The COVID-19 crisis has cut off commutes, and group activities involving travel of all kinds, throwing recreational sports around the world into a deep freeze. But cycling has not only proved to be largely pandemic-proof, it seems to be growing in popularity in many cities, including the home of UN Headquarters – New York. 

WHO recommends cycling both as a mode of transport and as a way of staying healthy throughout and after the global crisis.

“Evidence suggests that even before COVID-19, many people turned to cycling as an affordable and equitable mode of transportation, leading to a longer and healthier life”, said Mr. Mohammad-Bande. “Cycling has not only proven to improve physical health, but also has a positive impact on mental health and subjective well-being”.

Diverse advantages

The benefits of the bicycle are manifold.

“In many countries, owning a bicycle has an even more significant impact for families, lifting them out of poverty, while providing them with improved access to quality education, jobs, markets, and community activities when public transportation is unavailable”, explained the Assembly president.

Bicycles have surged in popularity as many governments continue to look for ways to ease lockdown measures, provide recreational opportunities to those living in cities and fill a gap left by limited public transport  – all while maintaining physical distance, to keep the virus at bay.

As a reliable, clean, environmentally friendly means of transportation, bikes are also being recognized as a key component of the post COVID-19 “green recovery”. 

“Safe, efficient, low carbon and affordable mobility for all, is essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”, said Mr. Mohammad-Bande.  

And cycling not only contributes to healthy, liveable cities by limiting pollution, it also keeps people physically active.

“In times of COVID-19, cities are being challenged to rethink their infrastructure, with bicycles playing a vital role in offering a quiet, economical, and non-polluting alternative to cars and public transportation systems”, maintained the UN official.

Rethinking infrastructure

On World Bicycle Day, the UN is encouraging governments to improve road safety and better integrate the needs of cyclists into the design of transport infrastructure. 

With millions of people around the world using bicycles as their primary means of transportation, it is essential that their needs are better incorporated into policy and transport infrastructure investments.

Measures to safeguard pedestrians and cyclists are a key part of building the urban spaces of tomorrow -- UN Environment

“Measures to safeguard pedestrians and cyclists are a key part of building the urban spaces of tomorrow”, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, cities across Europe and the Americas – including London, New York, Paris, Berlin, Milan and Bogata – have come up with plans to free up street space, normally dominated by cars, for the exclusive use of cyclists and pedestrians, for at least certain periods each week.

And UNEP is supporting a “Share the Road Programme”, aimed at moving away from prioritizing a car-driving minority, towards investing in infrastructure for the majority: those who walk and cycle.

“Investing in city infrastructure to support cycling, from protected lanes to bike-share programmes, will contribute to a more safe, resilient and sustainable future for all of us”, said the Assembly president.  

World Bicycle Day is not only a celebration of this instrument of zero emissions mobility and connectivity, it is an opportunity to come together to maximize the potential of biking and what it can do for human health and the environment.

A woman in Guatemala uses a bicycle as her main means of transportation. (file)
UN Women/Ryan Brown
A woman in Guatemala uses a bicycle as her main means of transportation. (file)


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