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Using the bicycle, instead of motorized vehicles, to move around our cities is becoming more and more popular around the world. The health restrictions of the pandemic were, in many cases, the main incentive for some us to discover the benefits of this vehicle. Nevertheless, at the moment, the increase in fuel prices, as a result of the war in Ukraine, is making of cycling transport to become the best alternative to get around the city in an economical and healthy way. Although it is not a valid option for everyone, either due to physical limitations, health, age, or other factors, the habit of urban cycling may have come to stay.
In 2018, the United Nations (UN) decreed June 3 as World Bicycle Day to promote its use as a sustainable means of transport. On this anniversary, in this blog we address the importance of having adequate infrastructure that facilitates cycling in cities. In addition, we also address the way in which the IDB Group supports the development of cyclist-friendly urban planning in cities of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).
The relevance of safe bike lanes for our cities
Cyclists, along with pedestrians, are one of the most vulnerable road groups because, in the event of a collision, they are at greater risk of injury. Bike lanes, also known as cycle paths, or bike paths, are the most appropriate type of infrastructure to facilitate bicycle travel. Although they have different characteristics, in urban areas they are characterized by being an exclusive lane of public roads appropriately marked for bicycle traffic.
These types of lanes offer at least three benefits for the cyclist:
- Safety: the bike lane is a safe space to circulate around the city, minimizing the risk of having an accident. On many occasions, it allows the cyclist to ride more relaxed and focused on their movement, instead of having to avoid real or potential dangers
- Savings: having a space for free transit favors abandoning circulation by motorized vehicle, reducing the transport budget
- Greater fluidity: The bike lane allows a greater number of cyclists to circulate simultaneously than on streets reserved for automobiles, so the bicycle becomes a fast and fluid transport
Likewise, bike lanes provide a set of benefits for the city and the neighborhood where they are located:
- Reduce traffic jams
- Decongest parking areas for vehicles
- Increases local consumption, favoring small and medium businesses in the neighborhood, and job creation
- They reduce the emission of polluting gases such as sulfur dioxide (SO2), carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen oxide (NOx)
Given that one of the main challenges at a global level is to reduce the increase in the planet’s temperature caused by greenhouse gases, bike lanes and bicycle transport are an ally to make our cities become more sustainable and healthy spaces.
Bike lanes build more sustainable and healthy cities
According to a Greenpeace study, urban mobility generates about 10% of total greenhouse gas emissions, of which self-motorized transport is one of the main causes. Reducing the emissions of harmful gases produced by this type of motor transport is probably the most direct way for citizens to help solve the climate crisis. Traveling by public transport, walking instead of driving short distances, and particularly using a bicycle, are an excellent way to build more sustainable cities.
A recent study in Great Britain has concluded that, if the bicycle (in its electric version) were used to replace self-motorized transport, 0.7 tons of CO2 per year could be saved individually. This is equivalent to half of the harmful gases currently emitted by cars per person. Another study shows that, if one in four residents in Europe chose the bicycle to move around the city every day, around 10,000 premature deaths per year due to pollution would be avoided. It is unbelievable, but air pollution in our cities is reducing global life expectancy by an average of 1.8 years per person. This makes it the leading cause of death in the world! Therefore, having an adequate network of bike lanes, especially in the residential areas of our cities, would not only substantially reduce pollution, but would also have an impact on the health of its inhabitants, in addition to other incredible benefits.
The IDB Group’s commitment to cycling infrastructure
In LAC, the bicycle culture continues to evolve as local authorities work to improve their infrastructure. For example, the Global Bicycle Cities Index (GBCI) 2022 identifies five cities in the region in the ranking of the ninety most cyclist-friendly municipalities in the world. Although the number of kilometers of bike lanes is only one of the factors considered when preparing this ranking, it is exciting to see that the cities of the region do not stop expanding their network of bike lanes. Of the five GBCI cities, São Paulo has almost 700 km; Bogota, 564 km; Santiago de Chile, 400 km; Mexico City, 370 km; Buenos Aires, 272 km; Cali, 192 km; and Medellin, 120 km. This is not little thing…
The IDB Group has been committed to building bike lanes throughout the region for years, financing or providing technical advice to many cities to promote the creation of cyclist-friendly infrastructure. Here are some of the most recent initiatives:
- Dominican Republic: In 2020, the IDB provided technical assistance, in coordination with the French Development Agency AFD, in the definition of sustainable urban mobility plans in several cities in the country. Specifically, in Greater Santo Domingo, the IDB transversally accompanied INTRANT, as a regulatory agency, in prioritizing up to 10 km of new bike lanes.
- Honduras: The IDB Cities Lab, together with the Mayor’s Office of Tegucigalpa, and Naranja Urban Lab, supported the implementation of the first 3.8-kilometer bike lane pilot project in the historic center of the Honduran capital in 2020.
- Brazil: In Manaus, capital of the State of Amazonas, the IDB has put into service 2,221 km of bike paths, within the “Social and Environmental Program of Manaus and Interior III” (Prosamin III). Currently, the IDB has just given the green light to open the international public tender which, among others, includes the construction of 1,746 km of bike lanes, within the Prosamin+ program. In parallel, in the Mane Dende project, in the city of Salvador in the State of Bahia, a total of 2,200 km of bike lanes are being built with financing from the IDB. Likewise, the Procidades program in Brasilia built 4.9 kilometers of bike lane in the “Area of Economic Development” (ADE) Polo Juscelino Kubitschek and is about to inaugurate, in August, 17 additional kilometers in the ADE Ceilândia.
- Uruguay: IDB Invest, the private sector branch of the IDB group, has granted in 2022 a US$46 million loan to a construction company to design, build, rehabilitate, operate and maintain a 78 km stretch (Montevideo-San Ramón) of Route 6 that connects the country with the Brazilian border. The work includes, among other aspects, the construction of bike lanes.
- Argentina: In Mendoza, the IDB finances -through a loan- the construction of metropolitan bike paths within the second Development Program for Metropolitan Areas of the Interior (DAMI II), an initiative whose objective, among others, is that “every 5 blocks the citizens of Greater Mendoza have access to a bike lane”. The first stage of this project contemplates the construction of a total of 81.5 km, whose percentage of progress is 13% from September 2021 to January 2022. Likewise, in the province of Neuquén, the Bank is financing 4.4 km of a cycle path, known as Senda Recreativa to Catritre, in the Lanín National Park.
Sustainability and safety with pedals
The IDB Group is firmly committed to promoting more sustainable and safer cities for all its inhabitants. Work is constantly being carried out with authorities and citizens so that the cities of LAC can be traveled and enjoyed safely by bicycle. Although the road ahead is still long, we are getting closer to achieving a cyclist-friendly urban planning.
If you liked this blog, please, do not hesitate to share your opinion in the comments section, and of course, on your social networks!
Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Alejandro López-Lamia for his valuable review and comments. Also, to Nora Libertun and Jorge Silva (CSD/HUD), Gustavo Méndez (INE/WSA), Alejandra París (CSD/CCS), Jose Luis Lobera (KIC/URC), Natalia Soler (CSC/CAR), Claudia Olivera (CSC/CBR), Diego Álvarez (KIC/DCC), Sofía Alonzo (CSC/CUR) and Patricia Reinoso (CID/CDR) for their support and direct or indirect coordination.