Bikes and Sustainability
Turns out, the UN likes bikes. Well, not explicitly, but pretty darn close.
The most recent report from the UN’s Working Group on Sustainable Development (WGSD) affirms 17 ambitious and interrelated goals for sustainable development it hopes will be attained by 2030 (that’s just 16 years away). The WGSD urges governments to address these goals together, what they call “holistic and integrated approaches that will guide humanity to live in harmony with nature and will lead to efforts to restore the health and integrity of the earth’s ecosystem.” The report lists a wide variety of goals for sustainable and equitable development that are laudable and avoid isolating environmental and social issues in separate silos:
1. End poverty everywhere
2. End hunger, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
3. Attain healthy lives for all
4. Provide quality education and life-long learning opportunities for all
5. Attain gender equality, empower women and girls everywhere
6. Ensure availability and sustainable use of water and sanitation for all
7. Ensure sustainable energy for all
8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
9. Promote sustainable infrastructure and industrialization and foster innovation
10. Reduce inequality within and between countries
11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe and sustainable
12. Promote sustainable consumption and production patterns
13. Tackle climate change and its impacts
14. Conserve and promote sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources
15. Protect and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, halt desertification, land degradation and biodiversity loss
16. Achieve peaceful and inclusive societies, access to justice for all, and effective and capable institutions
17. Strengthen the means of implementation and the global partnership for sustainable development
Category 11, “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, and sustainable,” is particularly relevant to bicycle transportation, calling on societies to prioritize “access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport for all, and expand public transport.”
Take a look at each of these categories. Which form of transportation is safe? Bicycles, or the one that kills approximately 35,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands more around the world every year? How about goal no. 3 “attain healthy lives for all”? What’s more likely to achieve that, sitting in traffic for hours a day or riding a bicycle to get to work and school? Affordable and accessible? Bikes win hands down. Sustainable? As we’ve discussed before, there’s no such thing as a “green” car, notwithstanding the auto industry’s attempts to paint itself green to make first world consumers feel better. And goal no. 13 “tackle climate change and its impacts.” Think cars for the world’s 7.5 billion people are going to bring us closer to addressing climate change?
The group calls on societies to “reduce urban sprawl” and “ensure universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible public spaces, particularly for women and children and people with disabilities.” Designing cities primarily around automobile access runs contrary to this goal. Cars are synonymous with sprawl, even if they’re electric, and they are the major hogs of space in cities, destroying safe public space in the name of parking lots, freeways, highways, and other urban “dead zones” suitable for nothing but the car. Cars create danger for pedestrians, especially the young, old, and persons with disabilities. In fact, if you wanted to create an extremely inequitable and unsustainable form of transportation, you’d invent the automobile and design your cities around it.
I realize these sustainable development goals are a long way from being met, but when you think about the larger issues human society faces, the UN has the right idea, and though it doesn’t explicitly endorse bikes, the handwriting is on the wall: we can keep driving, or we can get on the simple bicycle and live sustainably.