Bicycles touted as ‘first modern post-fossil vehicle’

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Cycling is not only good for the health, but can also help tackle global challenges like climate change and oil dependency, specialists argued at the world ‘Velo-City’ conference in Brussels this week.

Jörg Schindler, a campaigner at the Energywatch Group, an NGO, said “oil will be less available and more expensive in the coming years,” as proven reserves dry up and fewer new fields are discovered or exploited.

“Transport relies to well over 90 percent on oil, be it transport on roads, by ship or by aircraft,” according to NGO’s oil report

“Peak oil is now,” Schindler warned, saying that he expected electric-powered bikes to turn bicycles into “the first modern post-fossil vehicle”.

Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a scientist who sits on the United Nation’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), underlined that CO2 emissions from transport had recorded their highest increase for the past twenty years.

“2.1 million tonnes of CO2 are produced only by trips to school,” said Philip Darmon, chairman of Cycling England, a UK Department of Transport initiative.

“There is growing recognition that cycling contributes to tackling obesity, traffic congestion, climate change or even improving quality of life,” said Darmon, “but the potential role played by the bicycle for economic development is mainly ignored by decision-makers”.

Darmon further stressed the health benefits of cycling: “It reduces the risk of dying prematurely from heart disease, of developing diabetes, of developing high blood pressure or colon and breast cancer, but also helps controlling weight and reduces feelings of depression and anxiety.”

Thus “medical care expenses can be heavily reduced,” he said.

Francesca Racioppi of the World Health Organisation (WHO) stressed that all studies had shown that the “weight of benefits is higher than negative points”.

She said cyclists are no more exposed to pollution than car drivers or pedestrians, as they can avoid main streets and do not sit in traffic jams.

Racioppi also explained that countries with more cyclists (Norway, Switzerland and Denmark) have fewer overweight and obese citizens.

The Commission is set to present its action plan on urban mobility in a few months’ time, said Commissioner Tajani’s spokesperson. “After an impasse at the end of December 2008, Vice-President Tajani is now convinced that it is possible to find member states’ and local authorities’ support,” he told EURACTIV.

The European Commission's Green Paper on urban mobility launched in 2007 suggested that cycling should become an integral part of urban mobility policies.

Transport Commissioner Antonio Tajani has repeatedly confirmed his commitment to present an action plan in 2009 that would propose concrete measures to promote cycling in Europe's cities (EURACTIV 22/04/2009).

To encourage safe cycling, the EU is funding cycling infrastructure, for example via its Structural and Cohesion Funds. For the period 2007-2013, an estimated budget of more than €600 million will be used to invest in cycling infrastructure across the bloc, the Commission said.

Projects related to cycling have also been funded through the STEER Programme, which promotes more sustainable energy use in transport, and CIVITAS, an EU initiative that helps cities to achieve a more sustainable, clean and energy-efficient urban transport system. 

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