Young people are increasingly leading sedentary lives, with physical activity playing little or no role in their everyday routine. Childhood obesity is of significant concern in many areas, and increasing in others. Approximately 17.6 million children under five worldwide are estimated to be overweight (WHO, 2003). “Parental concerns over safety mean that many youngsters are restricted from exploring their surroundings on foot or by bike, and instead spend increasing amounts of their leisure time watching TV or playing on the computer” (Cavill and Davis, 2003). Young people’s mobility is becoming more car-based, with fewer cycling and walking, especially to school.
Over 75% of the European Union’s population lives in an urban area (European Commission, 2003). Urban transport systems therefore, are vital in ensuring mobility and accessibility for this population. However, such systems have brought negative side-effects. Cities are experiencing problems related to urban sprawl, congestion, air and noise pollution, poor health and safety and road accidents, with an overall loss of quality of life and efficiency. Instead of “serving them”, traffic is “consuming” cities (UITP, 1996). This is only likely to worsen. Between 1995 and 2030, total kilometers traveled in EU urban areas are expected to increase by 40% (European Commission, 2003). Current levels and such projected growth of car use, are unsustainable and desirable (Alayo et al., 1998). Without change, they will have dire consequences. A good transport system is a key element of an efficient and successful economy. Therefore, a poor, inefficient system hinders urban success (I-ce, 2000). The current transport system is even counterproductive – “too much traffic kills traffic” (EEA, 2003).
Bicycling is an important part of the solution to many urban transportation issues. The growing increase in motor vehicle use is burdening cities with increasing problems and costs related to congestion, accidents, loss of amenity and space, noise, poor quality of life, poor accessibility, pollution, poor urban air quality and energy consumption, having adverse effects on both the natural and built environment (McClintock, 1992; Alayo et al., 1998). [Motor vehicle] “traffic, instead of serving cities, is consuming them” (UITP 1996). It is increasingly recognized that as we suffer the increasing costs accompanying ever-rising motor vehicle traffic growth, it is no longer viable to solve these problems simply by increasing car transport supply and providing for transport needs in a demand-led, ‘predict and provide’ fashion (Richardson et al. 1993). Instead, we must consider how to prevent the underlying increase in car traffic demand, for example altering our lifestyles and patterns of consumption. Embedded in this is the need to shift the balance between travel by car and travel by alternative environmentally-friendly modes in urban areas (UITP, 1996). Bicycle transport must be an integral part of the transportation solution for the cities of the future.
A key element in promoting cycling and making it an attractive alternative to car use is that it should be safe. The National Cycling Forum (1999) states that “making the roads safer is a powerful incentive in persuading people to cycle more”. People will not choose to cycle unless they see it as safe to do so. Fears of injury can become a major obstacle therefore, to promoting and encouraging non-motorized modes of transport (Eltis, 2003). A survey by MORI showed that nearly half of those questioned said they would cycle for short journeys if roads were safer (National Cycling Forum, 1999). Often there is little real safety risk, but perceptions of danger may still persist and efforts must be made to ensure such misconceptions are allayed (Preston, 1990). Even where fear of risk does not deter the cyclist, professionals should seek to minimize it so as to reduce the resulting social and economic costs of death and injury (European Transport Safety Council, 1999).
The design of urban traffic systems focuses predominantly on car-users and is often ‘unfriendly’ to cyclists. Non-motorized transport such as cycling has often been marginalized within transport planning and where it is provided for, is often done so on a retrospective basis, adding to existing infrastructure whilst trying to cause minimum disruption to vehicle traffic (World Bank, 2002). Efforts should be made to make the road network more ‘cycle-friendly’ and to include cyclists in transport policy and planning as equal road users rather than as ‘left-over’ in infrastructure (Eltis, 2003).
Cycle tourists represent a growing and valuable tourist market for local economies. They generate local trade, support local businesses, services and attractions and promote development of cycle hire and holiday operations. (Sustrans, 1999). In rural areas especially, they could play a major role and cycle routes could become “key economic lifelines” for isolated villages and towns (EuroVelo, 1999). The C2C route in northern England created a new annual tourism market of approximately £2 million (€2.8 million) in a rural area of unemployment (Insall, 1999).
A modal shift from motorised transport to cycling could have significant public health benefits. Increased cycling has the potential to directly improve the health of the individual, in terms of fitness, reduced risk of certain diseases, self-esteem, longevity and quality of life, whilst also indirectly improving the health of society as a whole by reducing atmospheric and noise pollution (Shayler et al., 1993; I-ce, 2000; BMA, 1992) and reducing road danger. For the individual, cycling is an excellent way to develop physical fitness and reduce the risk of health problems. There is a need to raise awareness of the health consequences of individual travel choices and of policies on transport and land-use planning.
Transport has been described as “one of the most polluting of all human activities”. Motorized traffic in particular is the single largest source of air pollution in urban areas (CTC, 1991). Traffic and transport’s share of global environmental pollution is increasing every year (I-ce, 2000). However, current planned measures to reduce vehicle emissions will have limited effect if car use continues to grow as expected (CTC, 1991). In the UK, The Department of Transport (1989, in CTC, 1991) predicted that between 1988 and 2025 traffic would increase by 83-142%. In this time, carbon dioxide emissions, the main cause of the greenhouse effect, could more than double (CTC, 1991). This will have a profound impact upon the environment.
Cycling education and training are approaches are widespread and well-established in some European countries, for example, the UK and the Netherlands. In the UK, the average adult receives 25 hours training and is examined before being permitted to drive on the roads. In comparison, most cyclists, who use the same roads, are given no formal training (Hudson, 1982). Cyclist training and education have a vital role to play in improving cycling knowledge, skills and behavior and hence they have been encouraged on this basis (RoSPA, 1993). If people learn the appropriate cycling skills then this can greatly enhance their ability to safely use the roads (Franklin, 1997). Not only that but it is likely that increasing general awareness of cycling is likely to increase levels of cycling (Osborne, 1998). The way forward to encouraging cycling might be to teach cyclists the necessary skills to help them to cope better with the road system in its current state (Franklin, 2002).
An efficient transport system is a key element of a successful economy. It is suggested that quality of transport should be measured considering factors of time, convenience and cost to the traveler, the transporter and society as a whole. When comparing these factors, cycling often seems to “come out on top” (I-ce, 2000). Motorized transport imposes high costs on societies, both directly (e.g. road construction and maintenance) and indirectly (e.g. casualties, pollution and congestion). In particular, it incurs high external costs or ‘negative externalities’ with regards to its detrimental social and environmental impacts (I-ce, 2000). In comparison to motorized transport, cycling is a low-cost transport mode, both for the individual and society as a whole and also in terms of direct and indirect costs incurred.
Current and projected levels of car use in cities are undesirable and unsustainable. Nowhere is this more evident than in urban areas where the problems resulting from motorised transport are becoming more apparent. Urban congestion, pollution, accidents, reduced mobility and loss of quality of life are all partially blamed on rising car use (Alayo et al., 1998). There is increasing recognition that something must be done to alleviate these problems and that the solution to transport problems in cities must no longer simply increase transport supply in line with demand, but must instead focus on managing travel demand on the transport system and in particular, reducing the need to use the car (Richardson et al., 1993). Richardson et al. (1993) note that there is a significant “need to consider the way in which to plan urban transport to achieve a vital and sustainable future” and help cities evolve in a more ecologically sustainable fashion.
Read the full 12 papers in www.velo.info under entry points.