Ethiopian Cities Missing the Environmental, Health and Economic Gains of Cycling

Located some 273 KMs south east of Addis Ababa, Hawasa city rests on a vast plain land adjacent to the beautiful lake Hawasa. Coupled with its conducing weather for cycling, its residents for many years used to ride bike both as a means of refreshment as well as urban mobility.

But along with the modernization and expansion of the city, cycling has not grown proportionally, according to Tariku Tamene, Transport and Road Development Office vice head with the city. To re-encourage the use of bicycle the city the office undertakes various incentives and promotional events where people get education on the health and environmental benefits of cycling.

In Addis Ababa too, cycling is not popular or preferred mode of transport, according to various studies. According to a study by Getu Segni, M. Hadgu , A.G. Tarekegn the focus of the city officials was to construct a roadway for motorized traffic instead of non-motorized. Although the city government has made some effort to improve the Non-Motorized Transport (NMT) environment, the attention given to bicycling and bicycle infrastructures are almost negligence (Eshetu, 2015; Addis Ababa City Administration, 2018; Teklu, 2015), which include lack of bicycle infrastructure, dangerous intersection or crossing bicycle riders and poor maintenance as most transport investment in the past has gone for building of motorized traffic infrastructure (Ministry of Transport, 2011).

But the United Nations recommends the increased usage of bicycle for many important reasons. Increased bicycle use means lower greenhouse gas emissions: Cycling contributes to mitigation of carbon dioxide emissions as it possesses an intrinsic zero-emission value. In addition Cycling leads to a healthier life: Cycling leads to increased cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength and flexibility. It improves joint mobility and helps decrease stress levels. Economically, cycling saves money: Bikes are free to ride and a stress-free mode of travel.

World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that there are already more than two billion bikes in use around the world. By 2050, that number could be as high as five billion. Over 50 percent of the human population knows how to ride a bike. In China, 37.2 percent of the population use bicycles. In Belgium and Switzerland, 48 percent of the population rides. In Japan, it is 57 percent, and in Finland it's 60 percent. The Netherlands holds the record as the nation with the most bicycles per capita. Cyclists also abound in Norway, Sweden, Germany, and Denmark.

The Danish capital, Copenhagen, is considered the most bicycle-friendly city in the world. It's known as the "City of Cyclists," where 52 percent of the population uses a bike for the daily commute. Bicyclist commuters are generally healthier than those who drive motor vehicles to work. They also remain unaffected by OPEC decisions about crude oil production or the price per barrel.

For many years, the world has produced over 100 million bicycles per year. In comparison, car production oscillates at around 60 million units per year. Bikes are used every day and on every inhabited continent, in the most affluent nations as well as developing and the least developed countries. This makes sense; cycling is often the fastest, most flexible, and reliable way of getting around cities.

In Europe alone, 655,000 people are directly employed in cycling production, services, tourism, and other facets of the industry--more jobs than in mining and quarrying and almost twice as many that work in the steel industry. The European Cyclists' Federation has a very simple message for governments and local authorities: "You know that investing in cycling is justified from your transport, climate change, and health budgets. Now we can show clearly that every cycle lane you build and every new cyclist you create is contributing to job growth. Investing in cycling provides a better economic return than almost any other transport option. This should be your first choice every time."

The bicycling industry not only provides economic benefits, but shifting trips from cars to bicycles helps reduce congestion, air pollution and CO2 emissions as well as improve riders' health. The value of the contribution of cycle use in Europe has been estimated at between €143-155 billion annually, with 80 percent of those benefits arising from reductions in mortality alone. Danish research found that the risk of death for daily cycle commuters is almost 40 percent lower than for non-cycle commuters, even after taking into account leisure transport and other physical activity (Andersen et al, 2000).

World Bicycle Relief (WBR) is a nonprofit organization whose motto is, "Mobilizing People through the Power of Bicycles." Since 2005, WBR has distributed more than 200,000 specially designed, locally assembled bicycles to students, healthcare workers, and entrepreneurs across Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia. They also have trained more than 1,000 local candidates as field mechanics to ensure that bicycle owners have access to qualified maintenance.

According to the WBR, compared to walking, children and adults with bicycles are able to reduce their commute times by up to 75 percent. As a result, they have more time to study, are more productive, and experience less fatigue. With a bicycle, entrepreneurs can now travel four times further, carry more goods (load capacity is increased five-fold), and increase profits up to 50 percent. In schools where students were given bikes, attendance rates rose by an average of 27 percent and academic performance improved by up to 59 percent. Healthcare workers on bikes have also been able to visit more than twice the number of patients per day.

In South Africa, where there are 16 million schoolchildren, 12 million walk to school. Of these, 500,000 walk more than one hour each way, spending two or more hours getting to and from school each day. Undeniably, giving these children bicycles would have a positive impact.

Problems related to congestion in the cities of the emerging world continue to grow and will grow faster than any investment in new roads could match. India's motor vehicle fleet is forecast to grow from 73 million in 2005 to 364 million by 2025 (Gakenheimer and Dimitriou, 2011, p 207. Investing in facilities for cycling as a clean, healthy alternative to motorbikes and cars will help reduce congestion and pollution. It will also provide access to cheap transportation in countries where up to a quarter of a person's income is currently spent on mobility.

The Sustainable Development Goals include sustainable transport, but presently the main focus is on public transport. With careful investment--including making sure there is a provision for bikes in every major transport project--the high levels of cycling in the developing world can be fostered and maintained. This offers huge potential for cost savings and reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. The World Bank Group already recommends the development of better infrastructure for cyclists, but too many schemes still only deal with increased motor traffic or public transport that is beyond the financial means of the poorest.

BY ZEKARIAS WOLDEMARIAM

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