The 5 Transformative Urban Impacts of Cycling for Transportation
Who will you meet?
Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.
Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.
Many cities around the world are working to increase the number of cyclists. Ask them why and you will get a mixed bag of responses – we are overcrowded with cars, our air quality is bad, we saw someone else do it, etc. The message is unclear, the plan uncertain, the future vision for the city undefined, and thus, progress gets stuck. But there is an incredible opportunity to transform our cities, if we can get the message right.
At BYCS, we believe that if we put cycling at the heart of our future city plans, we can unlock vast social, economic, and environmental benefits for everyone on the planet.
BYCS is an Amsterdam-based social enterprise driven by the belief that bicycles transform cities and cities transform the world. We work internationally with governments, businesses, and nonprofits to initiate and scale breakthrough ideas that accelerate cycling in cities. We then invest our profits into game-changing programs that can be adopted around the world.
Cycling is Transformation
In Amsterdam, bikes outnumber people. But when you come here, you might not see a single ‘cyclist,’ just thousands of people getting about on bikes: going to school, to work, to the shops, to meet friends. No lycra or high-visibility spandex, as if dressed for a battle. You’ll find big open spaces; once streets and car parks, now public parks and playgrounds as the space has been reclaimed for the community. It is enviable for many places and in our work, we are helping more global cities to adopt the ‘Dutch model.’ Here as many as 75% of secondary school children cycle every day. It is no coincidence that UNICEF says that Dutch teens are amongst the healthiest and happiest in the world with amongst the lowest rates of depression and obesity.
But there’s so much more to it than that. Looking beyond our own streets, we wanted to understand how far these benefits went, so we started to distill the best of what we are seeing around the world to map the five transformative impacts of cycling.
Cycling is often referenced for its health benefits, but in friendly and fluffy terms that don’t give the issue the weight it deserves. Lack of physical activity causes one in six deaths in the UK, for example. If you cycle regularly, you can reduce your chance of heart disease by as much as 52% and some cancers by as much as 40%. It also reduces the risk of type two diabetes and stroke. And it has remarkable benefits for mental health, helping to manage stress and anxiety, and helping to prevent depression. This is hugely significant given that one in six of us are experiencing mental health challenges right now.
A lot of conversations on cycling get stuck here. Bikes get us from point A to point B efficiently and in good health. Done. But crucially, they also get us from point A to E, where ‘E’ stands for education, employment, and essential services. This is taken for granted by many of us but is out of reach for many millions of people around the world. Thanks to the simplicity and affordability of the bike, most people of most ages, incomes and abilities can get access to a better life through cycling.
By giving everyone this access, we can build stronger communities. Everyone is equal on a bike and by opening up you connect more with the people around you. It helps us to create inclusive and safe places with more engaged, integrated citizens at their heart. That’s why we need to ensure everyone can cycle safely and confidently, whether they are 8 or 80 years of age.
Cycling connects us to the world around us and makes us sensitive to the changes we can affect. We know that climate change – or rather climate breakdown – will reach all of us and addressing it can feel overwhelming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has some simple advice: we all need to cycle more. And then there’s air pollution, responsible for nine million deaths a year. Our clean, green bicycles help tackle this.
Businesses that encourage their employees to cycle to work tend to perform better – they attract the best talent, and those people become more present, creative, and productive; they drive greater success. Scale that up and towns and cities that embrace cycling are also stronger economically. One study in the UK showed that non-motorists spend 40% more money each month in neighborhood shops, compared to motorists. Even more excitingly, is the way that a city’s philosophy – it’s DNA – shifts when it prioritises cycling. It inspires and informs a more sustainable and circular economy to be established.
Putting all of this together, we see that cycling helps every city to address a broad range of its most pressing challenges. And yet no place on earth has so far realised the full potential of what the bicycle can do because they are failing to connect all these points. Cities serious about the future will stop talking about cycling as a mobility issue alone. They will stop trying to determine if autonomous car taxis are the future. They will call cycling transformation, not transportation. Ideas for cycling progress will then come from all corners of the community, investment in cycling will flow more freely but all budget holders and the people blocking its progress will become its champions.
You can hear more about these impacts and the ways to bring them to life in my TED talk.
A Bold Mission
At BYCS we have set as our mission something we call ‘50by30’ – half of all urban trips by bike by 2030. Ambitious? Well, a little… But we believe only by making such audacious goals can we frame our thinking appropriately, reflect the significance of the opportunity, and force ourselves to develop the real ideas and approaches that we need.
Infrastructure is important to make progress of course – we need cycle lanes, we need to show that bicycles are taken seriously, and get past the perception that it’s not safe for some people. And this does require investment, but this is the smartest investment any place can make. One pound, euro, or dollar in gets many back. If we got the daily cycling figure in the UK up from 3% to 25%, for example, it would yield annual benefits worth £42bn.
Cities only thinking about infrastructure will never achieve their goals. They must act in other ways to stimulate change, including:
- Inspiration – showing a positive picture of the future, and empowering every one of us to reimagine the places around us.
- Innovation – never settling for ‘good enough’ but always thinking ‘what next?’ Looking for new ideas and solutions for each local context, to keep up momentum.
- Activation – enabling and encouraging everyone to ride more by improving access to bikes, targeted communications and increased opportunity.
- Leadership – listening to all parts of the community, then making bold decisions and getting everyone on board with your plan.
For Every City, a Bicycle Mayor
The last point I just mentioned – leadership – is so important and the lack of it so profound in many places, that we have established a global non-profit network of independent leaders for towns and cities that we call Bicycle Mayors. They identify local solutions and then unite the whole community to make it happen. The best ideas are then shared through the network, around the world instantly. From Beirut to Bangalore, on every continent Bicycle Mayors are showing how we can accelerate change.
In Cape Town, Lebogang Mokwena has been teaching girls to ride in townships, and these girls have been able to get from point A to ‘E’ for the first time. In Sao Paulo, JP Amaral leads an army of 6,000 volunteers helping to improve confidence in people riding to school or work. And in India – where we have 12 Bicycle Mayors – they are collaborating across the country on challenges around air pollution, highway safety, and community empowerment.
In Amsterdam, we also need to keep making progress and here the Bicycle Mayor Katelijne Boerma has been working with local schools to find ‘Bicycle Heroes’ to role model and discuss cycling improvements. We worked with her to elect the world’s first Junior Bicycle Mayor, and now nine-year-old Lotta Crok is showing us how we must act on the voice of the next generation if we are to be fit for the future.
As a social enterprise, we invest our profits into helping to grow this Bicycle Mayor network, and we also need others to join us in this effort. That way, any organisation working with us is not only advancing their own ambitions, but also joining a collective movement on the journey to 50by30, as well as benefiting from the application of the global insights we gather from the work of the Bicycle Mayors in diverse locations around the world. We believe every city can benefit from having a Bicycle Mayor. You can get a flavor of the energy behind our network in this short film.
This other work to accelerate cycling progress includes the below (and there’s more info on all our work here):
BYCS Labs – community-owned creative laboratories for new solutions for cities, operated anywhere between 24 hours and permanently.
BYCS to work – getting commuters on to bikes (and improving business effectiveness) using gamification and behavioural science.
Bicycle Architecture Biennale – a showcase of cutting edge building designs that are facilitating bicycle travel and showing how it is transforming communities around the world.
To implement these programs (and to develop new concepts), we rely on forming powerful collaborations, and working together on shared ambitions is essential to implement the changes our cities require. We hope many more will join the journey to 50by30.
So stop asking how many people can we move down the street and start to picture your future city, and ask ‘Where can the bicycle take us?’
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.
Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
The development of public, open-access middle mile infrastructure can expand internet networks closer to unserved and underserved communities while offering equal opportunity for ISPs to link cost effectively to last mile infrastructure. This strategy would connect more Americans to high-speed internet while also driving down prices by increasing competition among local ISPs.
In addition to potentially helping narrow the digital divide, middle mile infrastructure would also provide backup options for networks if one connection pathway fails, and it would help support regional economic development by connecting businesses.
One of the most visceral manifestations of the combined problems of urbanization and climate change are the enormous wildfires that engulf areas of the American West. Fire behavior itself is now changing. Over 120 years of well-intentioned fire suppression have created huge reserves of fuel which, when combined with warmer temperatures and drought-dried landscapes, create unstoppable fires that spread with extreme speed, jump fire-breaks, level entire towns, take lives and destroy hundreds of thousands of acres, even in landscapes that are conditioned to employ fire as part of their reproductive cycle.
ARISE-US recently held a very successful symposium, “Wildfire Risk Reduction – Connecting the Dots” for wildfire stakeholders – insurers, US Forest Service, engineers, fire awareness NGOs and others – to discuss the issues and their possible solutions. This article sets out some of the major points to emerge.
Whether deep freezes in Texas, wildfires in California, hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, or any other calamity, our innovations today will build the reliable, resilient, equitable, and prosperous grid tomorrow. Innovation, in short, combines the dream of what’s possible with the pragmatism of what’s practical. That’s the big-idea, hard-reality approach that helped transform Texas into the world’s energy powerhouse — from oil and gas to zero-emissions wind, sun, and, soon, geothermal.
It’s time to make the production and consumption of energy faster, smarter, cleaner, more resilient, and more efficient. Business leaders, political leaders, the energy sector, and savvy citizens have the power to put investment and practices in place that support a robust energy innovation ecosystem. So, saddle up.