New transport system should include bicyles

2013-09-12 00:00

WITH Pietermaritzburg planning a much-needed rapid public-transport bus system to “stitch the city together” (The Witness, September 3), this seems yet another particularly apt moment to urge planners to give very serious attention to the incorporation of the humble bicycle into their scheme for more efficient and user-friendly transport around the city.

Building bike paths to complement the bus routes would be money well-spent by the municipality on something far more useful than fixing parts of the city’s roads that are in no need of such attention.

Designing and building a network of bike paths connecting various key areas of the city, as well as safe lock-up facilities for bikes to be stored at nodal points, could be an exciting challenge for those turning their imagination to designing a new, environmentally friendly transport network.

Many might choose to cycle to their nearest bus terminus, leave their bikes in a lock-up bin there and take the bus for the rest of the journey to town or work — much as many Dutch commuters cycle to their nearest train station, lock their bike away and then board a train for the onward journey.

So, some interesting facts about international attitudes to bikes and pedal-power offer food for thought.

Many countries worldwide have recognised the wisdom of promoting bikes, probably the most efficient and environmentally friendly form of transportation invented yet, as an inexpensive and healthy alternative mode of traversing inner-city areas; one that creates no carbon emissions and improves the sustainability of city life.

There is no requirement for a licence to ride a bicycle, and a bike is much cheaper to buy and maintain than even the smallest car. Riding a bike is therapeutic for the mind and body, offering much more affordable benefits than a health club. Bikes do not cause the same amount of road wear as motor vehicles, and would reduce noise pollution to a minimum.

France, Germany, Denmark, China and some central African countries are among those promoting and facilitating the use of bikes. The average daily journey of motorcar commuting in the average city is estimated at well under 10 kilometres, making the use of bikes the obvious way to reduce carbon emissions.

Estimates are that car emissions, just in France, kill up to 10 000 people every year, as well as cause numerous respiratory ailments, and that motor vehicles produce more than 30% of U.S. carbon emissions.

So it is in the interests of overall health, as well as sound economics, to develop clean, sustainable cities that highlight and promote the health of the environment.

Furthermore, it has been estimated that one car takes the road space of four to eight bicycles and requires 20 times as much space to park.

Even hugely busy cities such as Paris and London have hoards of cyclists weaving through the grid-locked traffic, frequently reaching their destinations more quickly than those waiting in the traffic.

Boris Johnson, the inimitable cycling mayor of London, has sent the infant Prince George “a bouncing blue tricycle to acculturate him to the joys of cycling”.

Many developing countries, such as in South America, have actively promoted the affordability of bikes by establishing micro-credit loan programmes to encourage workers to buy and use bikes rather than public transport, and have constructed enormously extended bike paths.

The New Internationalist (April 2013) reports that the government of Uruguay, which like South Africa is plagued by rising gun crime, has offered to give each person who hands in an illegal weapon a spanking new bicycle. Bikes for guns. What a wonderful green solution to a grizzly anti-life problem.

And another life-enhancing spin-off to this could be that those over-weight people with a sedentary lifestyle might be encouraged to exercise and get healthy.

Yet another imaginative use of pedal power offers a challenge for the many gyms in and around Maritzburg. In many gyms in the U.K. all the pedal and push power generated by exercise machines is being harnessed to produce the electricity required to run the establishment, with the cost of connecting this energy to their grid being fairly quickly recouped from the cost-free power generated. Owners of gyms might then reward clients with various incentives to use their machines.

To those planners of the new rapid-transport network, here is an additional opportunity to convert Pietermaritzburg into a bike-friendly city, which will enhance the city’s strategic importance as the capital of KwaZulu-Natal.

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