|Environmental Limits to Motorisation (SKAT, 1993)|
This book is the result of a three-month sabbatical leave offered by the Swiss Government through its development aid agency, the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC), between two postings in Bangladesh and in India. A trip around the world was the basis for the data collection. The most striking feature of this trip was the range of very different perceptions about non-motorised transport made by our dialogue partners at each stop-over. The trip was like an Odyssey with Scilla and Charybdis of optimistic heights and pessimistic depressions. The reader should interpret the following pages as a modest and still incomplete collection of information, the purpose of which is to support the development of a thinking process leading to country-specific policy decisions. Given the wide spectrum of cultural, historical and socio-economic realities within the group of countries studied here, solutions can only be country-specific. Here follows a short summary of the different country perceptions encountered:
The first destination, the Netherlands, is a paradise for non-motorised transport: the bicycle is recognised as a very modern form of urban transport which is complementary to public transport. They are both promoted as a means of slowing down the growth of motorised traffic. In Great Britain, at the other extreme, the government is planning for a 142 % increase in motorised traffic by the year 2025 and recently doubled the yearly budget for highway construction . In the United States, the car is a necessity for survival and bicycles play a marginal role in inner cities. In Washington, hope was awakened when visiting the World Bank, where the topic of non-motorised transport in general is taken very seriously, both at the executive and policy levels, and where a report on non-motorised transport in Asian cities had just been published.
In El Salvador, the potential to promote non-motorised transport is considerable. A bicycle promotion project has been initiated with the help of SKAT, but the achievement is no more than a drop in the ocean. In Hanoi, the expected bicycle paradise is a reality: where else can one cross a city of 3 million in 17 minutes at rush hour on a bicycle? Soon, however, the paradise will be lost as everybody is dreaming of a motorbike. Bangkok, in contrast, showed the ugly face and nightmare of untamed motorised traffic in a newly industrialised country: traffic jams at a speed close to zero km/h, but with 250 hp engines turned on to keep on the air conditioning of the car.
Back in Europe, reading through piles of documents about bicycle promotion brought back some optimism: a broad consensus seems to emerge among policy makers on the objective to free inner-cities from cars, with the help of public transport and bicycle promotion. In this respect, the bicycle seems to be an ideal "vehicle for a small planet" (Worldwatch) and a serious option for urban traffic management in many European towns.
My posting to Bangalore in June 1992, before finalising the manuscript proved subsequently to be most timely. The first weeks in that thriving city of 5 million inhabitants gave ample opportunity to reflect more on the content of my study. I discovered that my Indian colleagues in the office could not possibly identify with the main conclusions of my study: except for the messenger and the watchman, they all had just "luckily" got rid of their bicycle and had bought a scooter, to meet the needs of their whole family. One colleague told me: "No wonder, you are fond of bicycles in Europe; you all have a car in the garage. In India, it is unthinkable for a member of the emerging middle class not to have a means of transport matching his status in society: how could I be taken for a watchman? After all, I struggled very hard to get a decent job. And how would my family react, if I decided to ride a bicycle?"
Only when my wife and I bought two very fancy bicycles, did I realise the deep association between low status and bicycles: people in Bangalore looked at us as if we were very exotic animals. When cycling to the elitist "Bangalore Club", we were almost thrown out by the watchman, the bicycle parking being reserved to employees. Even the Club members who live around the corner come by car.
In any case, traffic in Bangalore is so aggressive that the idea to cycle can only be born from a strict economic necessity, all the more since the pollution caused by two-stroke engines is dreadful.
Daily life in Bangalore demonstrated how the exponential growth of motorbikes on the road and a choking urban pollution are crucial dimensions of the studied matter. In the Indian context, it appeared clearly that the development of electric vehicles - especially mopeds and three-wheeler taxis - should also be considered as a policy option. This seems - paradoxically - less utopian than to imagine that a city like Bangalore might become bicycle-friendly again, like in the past.
This book, in an attempt to bring together different experiences in different places, aims at showing the urgent need to look for sustainable transport policies adapted to each country. If transport policies do not change, we are heading for an environmental disaster. "Laissez-faire" means an increase in motorised transport to such an unbearable level that our children will not have much air to breathe, especially in the fast growing cities of the Third World.