You would think a conference on sustainable development would give bikes the importance they have in the path for healthy cities and a sustainable future. And considering biking in Rio de Janeiro is on the rise thanks to the city’s successful bike sharing system, it seemed only natural to integrate the event with it.
But there is little presence of the subject anywhere, and a painful lack of bike friendliness in the conference itself. As said earlier, the fact that the different venues the events are taking place are so far away from each other doesn’t help, but even inside of spaces such as Park of Athletes or to move from there to Riocentro (which are separated by the equivalent to five blocks, on opposite sides of a road), bikes could have helped to make the rounds more pleasant.
Even if you brought your own bike, which I did, there are no practical places to leave it safely and it’s not even allowed inside Riocentro.
At the negotiations level, bikes were barely mentioned and the final draft text’s comments on sustainable transportation do not mention bikes in specific.
To try and bring the subject into the conversation, a group of bike campaigners from Buenos Aires under the project Bikestorming is doing some activities at Rio+20: apart from actually pushing security and organizers to let them get a bike into Riocentro, they placed a poster for people to share their ideas on how to make events like this bike friendlier and they’re organizing, along with other initiatives like Bike Anjo and Rio Plus You a bike ride tonight aptly named Rio Plus Bike (if one thing, this event has a catchy and flexible name). The ride has the motto, “This is not a protest, it’s a proposal.”
Another thing they did, outside the conference, was to participate in a day at the group of favelas Complexo de Alemao teaching kids to draw bikes, a way to engage them in loving this vehicle. Bringing a different way to look at bikes can have an impact in kids who see a car or motorcycle as an aspirational item.
“Bicycles are a key tool for achieving the vision of a bright future for cities around the world. Our generation is adopting them as key symbol of hope and change. So we should see them a lot more often on UN's actions, conversations and framework when talking about sustainable development and the future we want,” says Matias Kalwill, founder of Bikestorming, which aims to promote the use of bikes as an effective way to reduce carbon emissions (disclaimer: I know Matias from Buenos Aires and we’ve worked together in a few projects). They are supportive of including a transport-specific sustainable development goal and a cycling-specific target.
All this begs the question: Can we be serious about bikes? For a means of sustainable transportation that has spectacularly grown in popularity in the past years and which is transforming cities around the world, it seems it is not receiving the attention and recognition it deserves.
The theme sure came to my mind, and I believe to the minds of every person sitting inside dozens of buses and cars, at what seemed like a never ending, abrupt-braking-every-second, two hour trip to Riocentro on the day of the official launch. Looking through the window and longing to just get out and walk, which was not allowed for security reasons, I saw a working man on his beaten bike, cruising around traffic.