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By Wayne Campbell
“The bicycle is an instrument of sustainable transportation and has a positive impact on climate.”- United Nations.
There was a time when the popular mode of transportation was the bicycle. During that golden era no one was overweight or obese. In fact, hypertension was not so common in the population. As the international community inches towards a world operated by Artificial Intelligence many of us are content with our sedentary lifestyles. The truth is we all like and welcome the trappings of modernity. Unfortunately, this comes at a high price of ill-health. This life is characterised with little or no physical activity. In fact, physical inactivity is responsible for a host of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD’s) such as hypertension, cancer and diabetes. According to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Global Action Plan on Physical Activity 2018–2030, physical activity has multiplicative health, social and economic benefits and investment in policy actions to increase physical activity can contribute to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. How many of you were aware that the United Nations has designated a special bicycle day?
Since its establishment in 2018, World Bicycle Day has been marked annually on June 3 by advocates in many countries. The WHO opines that we must acknowledge the uniqueness, longevity and versatility of the bicycle, which has been in use for two centuries, and that it is simple, affordable, reliable and clean. Additionally, the bicycle as a mode of transportation is environmentally-sound as a sustainable means of transportation, fostering environmental stewardship and health.
World Bicycle Day is set aside to encourage stakeholders to emphasise and advance the use of the bicycle as a means of fostering sustainable development, strengthening education, including physical education, for children and young people, promoting health, preventing disease, promoting tolerance, mutual understanding and respect and facilitating social inclusion and a culture of peace.
The United Nations General Assembly welcomed initiatives to organise bicycle rides at the national and local levels as a means of strengthening physical and mental health and well-being and developing a culture of cycling in society.
Celebrating the Bicycle
The United Nations states that regular physical activity of moderate intensity such as walking, cycling, or doing sports has significant benefits for health. At all ages, the benefits of being physically active outweigh potential harm, for example through accidents. Some physical activity is better than none. By becoming more active throughout the day in relatively simple ways, people can quite easily achieve the recommended activity levels. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), safe infrastructure for walking and cycling is also a pathway for achieving greater health equity. For the poorest urban sector, who often cannot afford private vehicles, walking and cycling can provide a form of transport while reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, diabetes, and even death. Accordingly, improved active transport is not only healthy, it is also equitable and cost-effective. The WHO adds that meeting the needs of people who walk and cycle continues to be a critical part of the mobility solution for helping cities de-couple population growth from increased emissions, and to improve air quality and road safety. The COVID-19 pandemic has also led many cities to rethink their transport systems.
Cycling and Sustainable Development
World Bicycle Day draws attention to the benefits of using the bicycle, a simple, affordable, clean and environmentally-fit sustainable means of transportation. The bicycle contributes to cleaner air and less congestion and makes education, health care and other social services more accessible to the most vulnerable populations. A sustainable transport system that promotes economic growth reduces inequalities while bolstering the fight against climate change is critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. On March 15, 2022, the General Assembly adopted the resolution on integration of mainstream bicycling into public transportation systems for sustainable development. It emphasised that the bicycle is an instrument of sustainable transportation and conveys a positive message to foster sustainable consumption and production, and has a positive impact on climate.
The United Nations is adamant that everyone can help limit climate change. This can be achieved from the way we travel, to the electricity we use, the food we eat, and the things we buy, we can make a difference. The world’s roadways are clogged with vehicles, most of them burning diesel or gasoline. Walking or riding a bike instead of driving will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help your health and fitness. It is quite unfortunate that in some societies sidewalks or designated lanes are not readily available for commuters to use. It appears that urban planners are biased towards older modes of transportation and made no accommodation for them; of course the bicycle would be classified as such.
The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) states that it uses sidewalk-level police presence through bicycle patrols. These special operations units offer high-visibility and proactive community policing presence that is budget-friendly for any size department. The JCF adds that bicycles can fulfil several roles in a wider range of environments than patrol cars or SUVs, and can be used in many of the same environments as foot beats with faster response times.
These units can be a float in a parade, monitor the crowd along the route, be used in rural and urban search and rescue, provide security in dense pedestrian centres, patrol inside buildings whether a mall or apartment complex and provide highly-effective crowd control mechanisms at demonstrations. Fascinatingly, the JCF has a unit which the officers patrol solely on bicycles. Of course many Jamaicans are still divided on this issue of having police officers on bicycles. Interestingly, there is no discrimination along gendered lines as both male and female officers are included in this unit.
Cycling is often recommended as a low-impact and engaging workout for people of all ages. It is an aerobics exercise and helps strengthen your heart, blood vessels and lungs. Like other aerobic exercises, cycling can build up your muscular strength and endurance. Additionally, cycling can improve one’s mental health. Cycling can also be good for your mind. For one, it helps create positive endorphins in your brain. Given that cycling is a relatively low-impact exercise, it’s an ideal form of exercise if you have arthritis and osteoarthritis. This is because cycling does not place a lot of stress on your joints.
However, it is rather unfortunate that in Jamaica it appears that there is a lack of vision regarding the development of green spaces as well as designated parks where families can ride bicycles and have some bonding and fun together. We need to advocate for more cycling trails in the development of housing solutions as this will not only add to the aesthetics of the community but also aids in the physical well-being of all.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.