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World Resources 1996-97
(A joint publication by The World Resource Institute, The United
 Nations Environment Programme, The United Nations Development
 Programme, and the World Bank)
(Data edited by Dr. Róbinson Rojas)

4. Urban Transportation

Box 4.3 Nonmotorized Transportation: What's To Become of
                   Bicycles and Pedestrians?

My work has brought me into contact with a number of local governments interested in forming a new and integrated vision of urban development-- one that focuses on improving general accessibility in the urban sector and that includes nonmotorized transportation as an essential component of a sustainable transportation agenda. Lately, I have come to the conclusion that it is very ineffective to try to convince cities to invest in nonmotorized transportation programs in the context of a broader urban transportation reform. It is clear that merely building bike paths and pedestrian walkways will not solve any city's transportation problems. Unless cities recognize that nonmotorized vehicles and pedestrians need to be a vital part of an integrated urban transportation system, the value of this option is lost.

Sao Paulo, Brazil, with its 15 million metropolitan area residents and 4.5 million privately owned cars, recently announced plans to construct 300 kilometers of bike paths and lanes. Although this is an ambitious program, there have been few attempts to coordinate these efforts with those of other city departments. For example, a massive road construction program is being conducted concurrently, and officials in the city's traffic engineering division contend that they need every single centimeter of road space for automobiles. They even admit that, if it were possible to do so, they would steal sidewalk space for motorized traffic as well.

I sometimes wonder whether the current interest in nonmotorized transportation is really only wishful thinking on the part of environmentally minded city officials. Basically, nonmotorized transportation suffers from the fact that urban development and transportation policies have heretofore catered to the needs of motorized vehicles. Almost without exception, over the past 40 years governments have neglected all other forms of transportation in favor of an automobile-oriented infrastructure. This is true even in developing countries, where rates of car ownership have been low.

This is not to say that nonmotorized transportation is an easy remedy for the urban transportation stalemate. We have to be realistic about the bicycle in the context of today's increasingly global and westernized urban landscapes. There are obvious limitations; bicycles are an effective alternative to cars and public transport only for distances up to about 6 or 7 kilometers (1).

In cities in developing countries, the pattern that is often seen is one in which residents abandon nonmotorized vehicles as soon as motorbikes or cars become economically feasible-- as evidenced in China, India, and Indonesia (2). One wonders whether this will also happen in Cuba, where more than 1 million bicycles were imported from China in 1990 to combat a host of transportation problems (3) (4).

The Netherlands is often used as an example of a country where walking and bicycling are well integrated into daily life, and rightfully so. Bicycles, however, have been a part of Dutch culture for more than a century, and even with the government's intense support, bicycle use has been decreasing while motor vehicle use has rapidly been increasing (5).

Transportation policy is more than a discussion about the effectiveness of various transportation modes. Planners can agree that a sustainable city should be bicycle and pedestrian friendly, but the central question is how are cities to move from the present situation to an urban transportation vision that includes nonmotorized vehicles?

Cities need to begin to develop programs that will curtail car use and promote an integrated, environmentally sustainable urban transportation system with a clearly defined place for nonmotorized vehicles. Transferring the real cost of driving to car users instead of continuing to subsidize car ownership is an important concept to consider. In addition, instead of continuing to expand road networks to meet the spiraling demand, cities need to find ways to reduce existing as well as future travel demand.

Let's stop preaching to one another about technology modes, fuel efficiency, and other subsidiary issues. More important than technology is the vision!

--Ricardo Neves

Ricardo Neves is the president of the Institute of Technology for the Citizen in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

References and Notes

1. Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD)and the European Conference of Ministers of Transport (ECMT), Urban Travel and Sustainable Development (OECD and ECMT, Paris, 1995), p. 86.

2. Peter Midgley, "Urban Transport in Asia: An Operational Agenda for the 1990s," World Bank Technical Paper No. 224 (The World Bank, Washington, D.C., 1994), pp. 14-15.

3. H. Valdes, "NMT: The Situation in Cuba," in Proceedings of the International Seminar on Sustainable Transportation Strategies and Development, Report of the Earth Summit (Global Forum, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1992).

4. Manuel Alepuz, "Bicycles Overtake Bus Travel in Havana," The Urban Age, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Fall 1993), p. 16.

5. Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management, Second Structure Plan for Traffic and Transport (Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management, The Hague, the Netherlands, 1991).

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