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We will get there faster by bicycle

by Giovanni Burga

BiciEKLA Climate Action for Latin America and the Caribbean

What is active mobility?

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Recently, the UN proclaimed as a human right to live in a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, due to the "triple planetary crisis" (term used by Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP) which are: (1) Climate change, (2) Loss of nature and biodiversity, and (3) Pollution and waste. The proclamation made by the UN is a voice that seeks to urgently address this situation and to think and implement multiple actions that address these crises from different complementary aspects in pursuit of the same goal: to sustain the future and welfare of humanity. 

Within the mix of GHG emitting agents, urban transport stands out among the main ones in Latin America with 35% of total emissions and with the highest growth trends due to the increase in private vehicles (mainly combustion vehicles) and air pollution (including noise pollution, depending on the place and time), considered by PAHO as "the main environmental risk to public health in the Americas" with multiple effects on people of all ages, especially those living in central areas with little access to spacious and "green" public spaces. Therefore, increasing active mobility emerges as a high-impact, low-cost, and dual-effect strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and harmful health gases. 


But what is active mobility?

Active mobility refers to all forms of travel where the use of the human body functions as the main "motor", such as bicycles, skateboards, scooters and, of course, walking. Reducing the use of motorized vehicles in cities has a positive impact on both climate and health. Decarbonizing the transport sector must go beyond electric mobility because both determine an inefficient use of public space/inhabitant, with the consequent traffic or traffic jams and energy consumption in those long waits between traffic lights.

Therefore, sustainability plans in cities should focus on increasing active mobility, which would generate better uses of public space, in addition to the physical health benefits that are so important due to the high rates of sedentary lifestyles and obesity in Latin America. According to the WHO, 84% of adolescents in Latin America do not get enough physical activity and UNICEF warns that 3 out of 10 children under 10 years of age are obese. Practicing intergenerational solidarity (a value coined to promote the narrative against climate change), also means worrying about these figures and working to reverse them because the future is the same. 


The bicycle: Badge of active mobility 

Let's imagine this scene: we have an urgent meeting neither so close nor so far from our home (let's say 4 km), we turn on google maps and a map with red lines appears, our destination would be a slow procession of vehicles and we know we will not arrive on time. Walking is an option, but we would be late, so we turn our eyes and see it, parked and upright, its 2 wheels and marks of use: our bicycle. We go to it, check the tires (are they inflated?), test the brakes (are they adjusted?), adjust the seat and off we go. Deep breath, eyes on the horizon and strength in our legs. We arrive on time.
This may be a scene that many of us have experienced in our cities or that many of us experience in our daily lives. The bicycle has ceased to be just a means of recreational transport to become a common way to move around the cities: fast, healthy and, above all, sustainable. That is why it is necessary to promote and massify its use.

When we talk about promoting active and sustainable mobility, we must start from the infrastructure and the environment, this sum is what creates or discourages the user. Creating interconnected bicycle lanes that recover space on the asphalt, without reducing sidewalks (remember that the pedestrian is the pinnacle of sustainable mobility), coupled with incentive campaigns (closure of avenues or bicycle loans), road safety education campaigns, work incentives (days off, income flexibility), etc., help to spread the use of this practical and healthy means of transport. Although these actions have been carried out to a lesser or greater extent in Latin America, partly driven by the social distancing measures of COVID-19, there is still a lot of pedaling to be done because the infrastructure gap is wide and the environment is still rarefied because of the poor integration of bicycle lanes and confusing signage, social problems such as robberies, sexual harassment, poor driver education and even cultural paradigms, given that the use of private vehicles has a strong aspirational charge (social status), something that the sustainability narrative has not yet been able to undermine.

Although the latest IPCC report mentions that the "window of opportunity" in the face of climate change is closing, being optimistic and realistic (in that order), it is still possible to go through it... but on two wheels. Among the multiple measures and recommendations provided by the IPCC, the bicycle has a special place as a strategy that is simple in its application, cheap in its implementation and means an important impact on the individual carbon footprint of people, in addition to the benefits to mental and physical health and the reduction of air pollution. 

Cities of the future (increasingly present) must adapt to impending change and mitigate the causes of change to create sustainable, just and democratic societies. The goals may be uphill, with obstacles, competing interests and unexpected events that divert our path. However, humanity's path is one of challenges, one foot after the other we left the caves, founded civilizations and now explore space. Walking together we can get everywhere, and if we ride a bicycle, we'll get there faster! 


So, check the wheels, test the brakes, adjust the seat, take a deep breath and join us to ride through Latin America encouraging climate action with BiciEKLA. Let's pedal together!

Watch the video and learn more about Climate Action's BiciEKLA for Latin America and the Caribbean

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Giovanni Burga

Giovanni Burga

Project Manager +51 934 346 675


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