UNEP report
UNEP’s Global Outlook for Walking and Cycling report

Recent cycling news in Scotland and the UK has focused on reactions to the few protected cycle lanes we have. The gap between government policy and our reality seems as wide as ever. A recent report highlights that issue but on a very different scale.

The United Nations Environment Programme published its report Global Outlook on Walking and Cycling this week. It compared countries from Africa, Asia and Latin America with a few examples from Europe. The UK wasn’t among them but there were some points that are relevant to us all.

Sadly, the shocking road safety statistics include the fact that someone dies in a road accident somewhere in the world roughly every 30 seconds. The report’s foreword also says “air pollution… is killing seven million people a year”. Fortunately, it’s not all negative.

The report also makes the wider, positive case for walking and cycling. Its chief executive, Erick Solheim, says “affordable, people-powered transport offers huge social, economic and environmental benefits for urban and rural areas”. The report’s introduction continues: “walking and cycling are more than low-carbon modes of transport that enhance urban quality and facilitate social cohesion; they are cheap, flexible, personal modes”.

The report looks at what countries are saying and doing to support non-motorised transport (NMT). It has interesting profiles of low income nations like Bangladesh and middle income ones like Brazil. Most have made limited progress but there are some highlights. Expect a travel article about Windhoek in Namibia – coming soon to a blog near you!

The data about cycling rates in each country is different to many developed nations. Countries like the UK, as a whole, have low modal share. The UNEP report shows many poorer countries have a high percentage for cycling, often due to poverty and poor roads (that’s dirt tracks, not just a few potholes). Many also have high rates of fatalities for people on foot or bikes – two thirds of road deaths in Malawi. The dangers in the city of Blantyre are much greater than its Scottish namesake but some attitudes are similar. Cycling is seen as something poor people do; while the rich drive cars. This attitude is a big factor in China as it develops rapidly and cycling slowly declines.

This global outlook is, almost literally, a world away from the usual tropes of the debate in the UK. There is nothing about red light jumping or middle-aged men in lycra but there are lessons we can learn. The UNEP report touches on issues that Scottish/UK policy often misses. For example: “access and mobility are key not only to sustainable mobility but to sustainable development.” The businesses in Edinburgh’s Roseburn area might not listen to that but hopefully some companies will agree when Glasgow’s Victoria Road is developed

The report’s ‘Five recommendations’ also make sense for all countries, not just the poorer ones. They include: ‘take the first step’, ‘budget for non-motorised transport’ (20% of the overall transport spend!), ‘measure the miles’, ‘work together’ and ‘do as you say’. That last point is relevant to most politicians in Scotland, both at local and national level. Many of them seem to have forgotten it recently. Do they need more demonstrations by thousands of people on bikes to remind them?

A new perspective on the world of cycling