In 1984, with the U.S. involved in an illegal war on Nicaragua a conversation with a friend of a friend, bike mechanic Karl Kurz, resulted in a simple idea: to send bikes (not bombs)* to teachers and health workers as humanitarian aid. We set out to organize bike clubs and churches to donate secondhand bicycles to Nicaragua as a response to the CIA’s drugfunded war, and as a way of empowering ordinary American citizens who felt helpless to stop the actions of their government, but also as a way to demonstrate how basic mobility can massively improve quality of life.
The following year, we incorporated the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. What started with 100 bikes, quickly grew to 10,000, moved beyond Nicaragua, to Haiti and Mozambique, and included efforts to reform the transport policies of both the World Bank and the U.S. government.
Thirty years ago, cycling was considered a fringe element in U.S. transportation research, planning and engineering. “Sustainable transportation” was not yet established as a concept, and proposals for research papers and conference sessions about it were initially rejected. A 1984 World Bank report on China, a country where the vast majority of people traveled by cycling, did not even contain the word “bicycle,” and the World Bank’s Urban Transport Sector Study mentioned cycling just four times in 300 pages, disparaging it as a marginal mode suited just for villages. These policy choices demonstrated just how forcefully American car culture was being exported to the rest of the world, to everyone’s detriment. The World Bank was happy to fund road and railway construction but considered walking and bicycling to be backward modes of travel, not worthy of attention, let alone financial support.
Through conference sessions, publications and letter writing campaigns, our small team challenged the World Bank and other institutions to pay attention to bicycling and walking and the transport needs of the poor. Gradually, we made progress. We got the World Bank to hire its first bicycle coordinator. Invitations to train Bank staff and advise on integrating non-motorized transport into Bank strategies and projects followed in the 1990s.
In a mark of how far we have come in 30 years, in 2012, the eight largest multilateral development banks (MDBs) offered a voluntary commitment to invest USD 175 billion over ten years in more sustainable transport. This action was spurred behind the scenes by ITDP and the Partnership on Sustainable Low Carbon Transport (SLoCaT), which ITDP helped organize in 2009. This brought a new dedication to efforts to advance, measure and report on progress toward sustainable transport.
Though there are still bad ring road motorways and costly metro projects being advanced, many MDBs have adopted sustainable transport policies and initiatives. To accelerate the transformation of lending, we need to continue a long march through the institutions, helping cities develop and operate more efficient and cost-effective urban transport, integrated travel demand management, non-motorized transport and green freight.
It’s amazing to look back and see how much has been accomplished over 30 years, and it’s due to decades of work by ITDP’s dedicated staff, volunteers and donors. I want to say thank you for all you’ve helped us do together.
*Bikes Not Bombs, the group that launched ITDP, is now based in Boston: bikesnotbombs.org .
by: Michael Replogle
Source: ITDP HQ