How often do cycling campaigners get told that providing decent infrastructure for cyclists is "too expensive" ? Or that it's simply a waste of money ? In many countries cycling gets a pittance compared with other modes of transport.
There is clearly a lot of muddled thinking going on. Cycling is not a problem, but is part of the solution so far as reducing dependency on foreign oil, improving people's health (which makes companies more profitable) and leads to a happier society. What's more, encouraging cycling simply makes good financial sense.
A few weeks ago I came across a graph showing the "Current Account Balance" (it's explained at that link) of various different countries. It actually explains itself as "a country's net trade in goods and services, plus net earnings from rents, interest, profits, and dividends, and net transfer payments (such as pension funds and worker remittances) to and from the rest of the world during the period specified."
Green shows a positive balance, red shows a negative balance, or rate of increase in debt. The length of the line shows the size of this trade balance.
Let's look down the list of the top ten nations.
China of course gains its wealth these days due to its incredible level of exports of manufactured goods. It is famous for having a lot of bikes (though sadly cycle usage is dropping), Japan also has a lot more cycling than average. Germany has around 10% of journeys by bike. Saudi Arabia and Russia have oil and gas. Switzerland has about 6% of journeys despite being a mountainous country. The Netherlands has around 27% of all journeys by bike, and leads the world. Norway earns its position in the list due to being an oil exporting country as only 4% of trips are by bicycle there, Kuwait also has oil, and Singapore is another big trading nation with high public transport use.
Now let's consider the three countries which come in behind the Netherlands for the cycling rate. Denmark, where 18% of all journeys by bike, has a small population so is disadvantaged for a position in this list but is still positive at position 38, Similarly Finland and Sweden take 3rd and 4th place for cycling with 11% and 10%, and both of these are also positive. So, the top four countries for cycling are all in the green, doing well financially, and they also have good social policies.
If we look at the other end of the scale, the countries with the fastest growing debts, we find this collection. Not one country at this end of the chart has a high cycling rate.
The USA, UK and Australia have amongst the lowest cycling rates in the world at around 1% of journeys. Italy and France are at 3%. Perhaps the worst position of a country with a reasonably high rate of cycling is India at 11th from bottom. However, that is a country where cycling is associated with poverty and people cycle predominantly because the have to. Mind you, they're still doing better than the bottom ten are.
Of course, correlation isn't causation. I'm not saying that these countries are at this end of the list purely because people who live there are reluctant to cycle. However, it is perhaps interesting to reflect upon the way that the Dutch sometimes refer to their cycling policy as a fiscal measure. Getting people to cycle means spending less on road maintenance, less on imported oil, less on fixing diseases which are caused by a sedentary lifestyle and makes workers more productive.
I've mentioned it before, but the top four countries for cycling, all of whom have positive balances in this comparison, are also the top four for childhood happiness. Is it not worth trying to copy such a success ?
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