David Suzuki: The benefits of cycling go beyond reducing climate change

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      Cities cover just two percent of the world’s land area, yet they account for about 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the United Nations, 59 percent of us now live in cities; in developing countries, 81 percent of people are urbanites. And those figures are rising every day.

      Even though cities are a major source of emissions fuelling climate change, “they are also places where the greatest efficiencies can be made,” according to Joan Clos, executive director of UN-HABITAT. “With better urban planning and greater citizen participation we can make our hot cities cool again.”

      The benefits of doing so go beyond reducing the risk of global warming. Cities designed for humans rather than cars are better places to live, with lower pollution levels, less traffic congestion, more parks and public spaces, improved opportunities for social interaction, and healthier citizens.

      Making cities more livable with lower environmental impacts requires a range of solutions, including growing food so we don’t have to import so much, improving energy efficiency in buildings, increasing population density, investing in public transit, and reducing reliance on private automobiles.

      With longer days and blossoming trees making Vancouver brighter, my thoughts turn to the joys of bicycling. Getting people out of cars and onto bikes won’t solve all our climate and pollution problems, and bicycling isn’t possible for everyone, but the more people cycle, the better off we’ll all be. It’s also a great way to stay in shape and make the commute more enjoyable—and often faster.

      I’m particularly excited this year as the international cycling conference Velo-city Global is being held in Vancouver June 26 to 29. The event is expected to bring together about 1,000 traffic planners, cycling advocates, architects, educators, politicians, and others from around the world “to share best practices for creating and sustaining cycling-friendly cities, where bicycles are valued as part of daily transport and recreation.”

      Gil Peñalosa, who will open and close the conference, says Vancouver has done a lot for cycling but it’s “not great yet.” Peñalosa, director of the Canadian non-profit organization 8-80 Cities and former commissioner of Parks, Sports and Recreation in Bogota, Colombia, believes North American city dwellers could learn from Europeans when it comes to encouraging cycling.

      “Even in Europe, a lot of the bicycle infrastructure has been done in the last 30 years. And it didn’t get there by chance,” Peñalosa said in an interview with the European Cyclists’ Federation, noting that in Amsterdam, cycling infrastructure and rates increased only after active campaigning by citizens. He also said that bicycle-friendly planning can complement well-designed public transportation systems.

      One of the first steps is to reduce local traffic speeds. “It’s a real paradox,” he said. “People actually want to have 30 kilometres an hour in their own neighbourhood, but where they don’t live they want to go fast.”

      Reducing speeds also saves lives. According to the European Transport Safety Council, if a car hits you at 30 kilometres per hour, you have a five per cent chance of being killed, but at 65 kilometres an hour, you only have a five per cent chance of surviving.

      The next step in encouraging cycling is something Vancouver is moving toward: “You need physically separated bike ways. And you don’t just need one separated bike path. You need a whole network,” Peñalosa said.

      The European Cyclists’ Federation says that providing segregated bike lanes on arterial and other busy roads in urban areas isn’t as big a task as many would expect, as these roads typically represent only about five to 10 per cent of the urban landscape.

      I hope the Velo-city Global conference will get more people in Vancouver and beyond excited about cycling. Those who ride know one of the best reasons is that it’s fun. It’s also good for you. Regular cycling reduces the risk of a range of health problems, from obesity to heart disease to stress. And that helps the economy by decreasing overall healthcare costs.

      That it will also contribute to lower greenhouse gas emissions and pollution and that it can make cities more enjoyable places to live are even more reasons to get on your bike whenever you can.

      Dr. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author, and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation editorial and communications specialist Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.




      Mar 14, 2012 at 1:50am

      Once again, Thank you Mr. Suzuki. You Rock.


      Mar 14, 2012 at 9:36am

      That's why David always cycles when he goes to Ottawa...

      Rex Flash

      Mar 14, 2012 at 9:52am

      I have been a bicycle commuter for over 25 years and enjoyed all the advantages of aerobic enrichment on my way to and from work and shopping. I have been convinced that with proper equipment, a bit of training and orientation on riding skills and good transportation infrastructure, cycling can and should be a viable alternative to the single-occupant motor vehicle. Slowly, city planners are realizing that if you give people an optional way to get around, both for recreation, work and errands, they will use it. Happy Trails!


      Mar 14, 2012 at 12:05pm

      He probably would if he was younger, actually. Bad argument Goldorak.

      Johnny Canuck

      Mar 14, 2012 at 4:03pm

      Separate paths? Just another way to spend taxpayers money for little gain in cycle traffic. Enthusiasts for such paths need to have a cold, hard look at the cost of the infrastructure being promoted - and the hidden problems of use.

      Example - look at the photo that goes with this Suzuki commentary, showing SUMMER users in DAYLIGHT, on separated paths that are cleared of any obstruction. Summer is when more commuters are on holiday and kids aren't cycling to schools. So optimal season/diurnal time = less need for a cycle path system.

      However, the downfall of such paths are winter use at night, especially with bad weather. Because nobody will be cycling at those times, roads need to be built that will accommodate peak use without any such paths.

      Same reason why electrical generators can't depend on wind or solar energy - it won't be there when you need it. Same for these boutique cycle paths - they won't work when you really need them. UNLESS you spend a fortune on a total path lighting system - because few cyclists have any lights, fewer still have sufficient lighting.

      Even then, because heavy vehicles aren't clearing the paths with their passage, junk ends up on the path and cyclist accidents result. People - especially children - will walk on cycle paths and end up gravely injured when collisions occur with 200 lb commuters cycling at 20 kms/hr.

      Cycling engineers like John Forsyth against cycle paths - he proposes wider roads instead. Street lighting already on roads, cars clear the area, and cyclists should act like proper vehicle operators.

      soft peddling this week

      Mar 14, 2012 at 7:59pm

      I love riding my bike and have since a child. The benefits are numerous and the costs are minimal. The exhaust from cars is too much in cities especially where it so condensed like Vancouver. Car insurance isn't cheap either and the cost of maintaining the roads and highways are steep. A little sweat from a bike ride to work is a break our hearts can not afford to go without and will save health care a bundle. It would be beneficial to move over to small electric autos and bikes while putting more focus on light rail. There is no future for the environment in carbon fuming autos and the health hazards are evident. Bikes and small electric autos will mean the air we breath will not be so polluted to start with. This is a good thing.


      Mar 15, 2012 at 3:47am

      Bicycles are bad because the health benefits are proven to extend the average life of humans. Bicycling must be banned to help reduce population, in order to reduce global carbon emissions 62.389% by July 28th, 2019. Every time you get on your bike you are indirectly slaughtering baby polar bears.

      Horses are the future. We can rip up all the roads and plant wheat. Then the horses will shit all over everything and fertilize the fuck out of the wheat.


      Mar 15, 2012 at 4:46am

      Skywalker i'm 70 yrs old if i go anywhere i go on a bike
      haven't had a car in 10 yrs do about 10 k a year on my bike
      your argument isn't valid

      Saferide and mini van just collide

      Mar 15, 2012 at 1:16pm

      Just seen it and couldn't help but think is there a safe ride and started to think of the stats to support it. Number one cause of auto accidents is people distracted, especially on the phone. This isn't happening when your biking both hands are on the steering wheel and if you crash into anything but a car a scrapped knee is usually the damage done, no more.
      Sex is also better after biking and a ride on a beautiful spring day will take away those rainy day blues. No ice, hardly any snow and rain drops falling on my head makes it easier to commute.
      I had a friend to used to bike to work during heavy snowfalls when living in Alberta and stuck to the highway but no thanks anyways and don't forget to keep your eyes on the road.