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World Bicycle Day: Meet the man who made it happen

Yohan Senarath's picture
Photo: CIFOR/Flickr
Three years ago, Professor Leszek Sibilski embarked on an academic project to explore the role of bicycles in development. Little did he know then that his project would evolve into a massive advocacy effort, backed by the Sustainable Mobility for All initiative, to have the United Nations designate a day to celebrate and promote bicycle use around the world. He succeeded. On April 12th 2018, all 193 UN member states adopted General Assembly Resolution A/Res/72/272, which declared June 3 as World Bicycle Day. The resolution was sponsored by Turkmenistan and co-sponsored by some 56 countries.
 
I sat down with Professor Sibilski himself to learn more about this inspiring story.
 
Yohan Senarath: Did you ever expect this project to end up delivering a UN resolution?
 
Professor Leszek Sibilski: Well Yohan, I strongly believe that it was part of my destiny to help bring this to fruition. Let me explain why. For ten years I was a member of the Polish national cycling team. I obtained my Masters in physical education with a specialty in cycling. After that, I worked as a sports reporter for the Polish equivalent of Sports Illustrated, covering professional cycling around the world. Cycling was my life. Now, combine all this cycling experience with my commitment to social work. I completed my PhD in Applied Sociology specializing in Social Action and Social Movements, and at one time served as a member of the Experts Group that was helping to put together the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In other words, I was a cyclist who wanted to make a difference!

Video: Getting commuters onto bikes in the Philippines

James I Davison's picture

A couple weeks ago, blogger Chris Pablo wrote here about a project designed to get more people in the Philippines riding bicycles by creating and designating separate bike paths in Marikina City, a medium-sized city at the eastern edge of Metro Manila.

Chris writes:

The project, which started in 2001, seems to have achieved its demonstration effect. From a survey done in 2006, the share of bike trips to all trips in the city increased to 9.5%, from 4% in 1999. Bicycle ownership also grew.

The short World Bank-produced video below gives another look at the successful project:

Facing traffic and pollution, Philippines city invests in bicycles

Chris Pablo's picture

During the Martial Law years in the Philippines (1970s to early 1980s), there was a story widely shared (discreetly) about a popular TV variety show host who was made to ride the bicycle all day in a military camp. According to accounts, he apparently displeased the rulers at the time for making a quip about the government's running slogan that goes, "sa ika-uunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan."Loosely translated, it means, "for the country to progress, discipline is what is needed."

What the TV host jokingly proclaimed was – "sa ika-uunlad ng bayan, bisikleta ang kailangan" ("what the country needs for progress is the bicycle"). True or not, the story fascinates me to this day. First, because some people just can't take a good joke. More importantly, because I thought the TV host must be a real visionary! He may have foreseen the traffic and pollution conditions some 15 years in the future and the need for cheaper alternatives for mobility.

Bicycle-sharing programs starting to appear in Asian cities

James I Davison's picture

When I think about the biggest frustrations that typically come with living in, or simply visiting, a big city, bad traffic probably tops my list. For me, few things are more maddening than being stuck in a slowly moving (or worse, stand-still) line of cars. This is why it's not too surprising that bicycle-sharing programs have become quite popular here in Washington, D.C., and in several North American and European cities.

Now in Asia, these programs, which provide people with free or affordable access to bikes, are apparently starting to take off in popularity. The Springwise entrepreneurial blog points us to ambitious new bike-sharing organizations in the Taiwanese cities of Taipei and Kaohsiung City, as well as similar programs in Changwon, Korea and Hangzhou, China.

Cities and communities love and often support bike-sharing programs because they help reduce traffic congestion, noise and pollution. And the rentals are usually cheap, giving another option for transportation to more people. I suppose bicycle congestion still has a potential of being an annoyance, but at least they don't smell of exhaust and can't honk at you.

Image credit: mywayaround at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.