Bike Power

Sustainable Transportation

The bicycle is the perfect transducer to match man’s metabolic energy to the impedance of locomotion. Equipped with this tool, man outstrips the efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well.

Bicycles let people move with greater speed without taking up significant amounts of scarce space, energy, or time. They can spend fewer hours on each mile and still travel more miles in a year. They can get the benefit of technological breakthroughs without putting undue claims on the schedules, energy, or space of others. They become masters of their own movements without blocking those of their fellows. Their new tool creates only those demands which it can also satisfy. Every increase in motorized speed creates new demands on space and time. The use of the bicycle is self-limiting. It allows people to create a new relationship between their life-space and their life-time, between their territory and the pulse of their being, without destroying their inherited balance. The advantages of modern self-powered traffic are obvious, and ignored. That better traffic runs faster is asserted, but never proved. Before they ask people to pay for it, those who propose acceleration should try to display the evidence for their claim. Energy and Equity. by Ivan Illich: Toward a History of Needs. New York: Pantheon, 1978.]

Scientists generally agree that fossil fuel combustion is the primary reason for the increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and for the phenomena we now call climate warming. Worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are rising faster in transportation than in any other sector.

In addition to global warming impacts, a wide body of literature and scientific data points to the other costs of motorized transport, in terms of human lives lost, pollution and negative social impacts.

According to the World Health Organization in 1998 alone, over 1 million people were killed and 10 million were seriously injured around the world. At least three times as many are seriously injured. Cars make noise, create traffic jams, pollute, which then create more health problems. They require immense amounts of space and massive public investments that can be better used in other ways. The unsustainable nature of car-based transport is illustrated by the fact that the problem gets worse as societies grow richer.

Tour d’Afrique was conceived in part to champion bicycle as an alternative to the automobile. The tour will point out that a group of individuals can even cross a continent such as Africa in 100 days. By biking and by delivering the message for a rational approach to transportation we hope to make an impact both on decision makers and on the people around the world.

Man on a bicycle can go three or four times faster than the pedestrian, but uses five times less energy in the process. He carries one gram of his weight over a kilometer of flat road at an expense of only 0.15 calories.

Bicycles are not only thermodynamically efficient, they are also cheap. With his much lower salary, the Chinese acquires his durable bicycle in a fraction of the working hours an American devotes to the purchase of his obsolescent car. The cost of public utilities needed to facilitate bicycle traffic versus the price of an infrastructure tailored to high speeds is proportionately even less than the price differential of the vehicles used in the two systems. In the bicycle system, engineered roads are necessary only at certain points of dense traffic, and people who live far from the surfaced path are not thereby automatically isolated as they would be if they depended on cars or trains. The bicycle has extended man’s radius without shunting him onto roads he cannot walk. Where he cannot ride his bike, he can usually push it.

The bicycle also uses little space. Eighteen bikes can be parked in the place of one car, thirty of them can move along in the space devoured by a single automobile. It takes three lanes of a given size to move 40,000 people across a bridge in one hour by using automated trains, four to move them on buses, twelve to move them in their cars, and only two lanes for them to pedal across on bicycles. Of all these vehicles, only the bicycle really allows people to go from door to door without walking. The cyclist can reach new destinations of his choice without his tool creating new locations from which he is barred.

Energy and Equity, Ivan Illich: Toward a History of Needs.

The Social Effects of Motorized Transport

The United States puts between 25 and 45 per cent of its total energy into vehicles: to make them, run them, and clear a right of way for them when they roll, when they fly, and when they park. For the sole purpose of transporting people, 250 million Americans allocate more fuel than is used by 1.3 billion Chinese and Indians for all purposes.

The model American male devotes more than 1,600 hours a year to his car. He sits in it while it goes and while it stands idling. He parks it and searches for it. He earns the money to put down on it and to meet the monthly installments. He works to pay for gasoline, tolls, insurance, taxes, and tickets. He spends four of his sixteen waking hours on the road or gathering his resources for it. And this figure does not take into account the time consumed by other activities dictated by transport: time spent in hospitals, traffic courts, and garages; time spent watching automobile commercials or attending consumer education meetings to improve the quality of the next buy.

The model American puts in 1,600 hours to get 7,500 miles: less than five miles per hour. In countries deprived of a transportation industry, people manage to do the same, walking wherever they want to go, and they allocate only 3 to 8 per cent of their society’s time budget to traffic instead of 28 per cent. What distinguishes the traffic in rich countries from the traffic in poor countries is not more mileage per hour of life-time for the majority, but more hours of compulsory consumption of high doses of energy, packaged and unequally distributed by the transportation industry. Energy and Equity. by Ivan Illich: Toward a History of Needs.

Motor vehicle transport usage is rising steadily throughout the developing world, and creating even higher levels of energy consumption and CO2 emissions. Global passenger car production reached a record 39 million vehicles in the year 2000, rising three percent in 1999.

Car use in Third World cities is very regressive: It absorbs massive public investments for road infrastructure building and maintenance, taking resources away from the more urgent and important needs of the poor; creates jams that hinder the mobility of the bus riding majorities; pollutes the air; makes noise; road arteries primarily for private vehicle users become obstacles to lower income pedestrians; it leads to a progressive invasion of scarce pedestrian spaces by parked vehicles. There clearly are contradictory interests between motor vehicles and human beings: The more a city is made to accommodate motor vehicles, the less respectful of human dignity it becomes; and the more acute the differences in quality of life between upper income and lower income groups. Children, the old, handicapped and vulnerable populations are particularly alienated by increasing motorization and the processes that come with it. Enrique Penalosa, former mayor of Bogota

While automobiles may be the vehicle of choice for a limited circle of affluent, bicycles continue to be the primary means of transport for millions of people, the world over. The WorldWatch Institute estimates that 20 percent of the world’s population can afford cars, while 80 percent of the world population can afford bicycles. Yet with the exception of far-sighted cities like Bogota, bicycles are increasingly being pushed to the margins of transport policy in developing countries, even in China, where bicycle travel is the most intensive in the world. In many developing countries, motor vehicles typically account for more than 40 percent of energy consumption, creating a huge drain on foreign currency. (World Resources, 1992-93).

The Tour d’Afrique, by promoting bicycle travel as a high-status mode of travel, will help raise awareness of the crucial importance of bicycle travel as a part of transport, environmental and social policy planning, not only in the media, but also among policymakers and residents of the continent and around the world.