In the early sixties, my uncle bought a Bicycle called Raleigh that was highly celebrated in our village, with enough palm wine and ‘Ogogoro’ (locally brewed gin) to drink; and prayers were offered by the elders. It was a symbol of “I have arrived”. It’s like buying a car today; and you know what follows – celebration.
Every morning, it was a thing of joy taking the bicycle to the nearby stream to give it a bath. With the bicycle, one could see the swagger in my uncle as he became a ‘local champion’, a celebrity of such in our community. He became “Oga” at the top, dining and wining with the elders. And within six months, he took a third wife. That was then.
As the country was changing, so has its perception of cycling as a sign of backwardness. After, came the era of motor-bikes. There were several of them: Suzuki, Honda, scooter and Kawasaki, just to mention a few. That was in the seventies.
The era of cars came; bicycles became the property of the poor, by the poor and for the poor. But there were those bikes that were known as ‘chopper’; you can call them designer bicycles owned by children of the elite. Seeing them riding on ‘chopper’ bikes was a thing of envy for us children of the upcoming.
But, what goes around comes around. Today cars and motor-bikes are becoming one of the worst pollutants of our environment, with their health associated problems. And the bike has now become the alternative to rescue the situation.
The bicycle is one of the few modes of transportation with double barrel advantages of improving ones health as well as being cost effective. The bicycle represents an affordable means of transportation that improves health, reduces pollution, recovers public space, quicker in traffic congestion prone routes and reduces cost of transportation.
Not too long ago, many countries round the world, were not bike-friendly; it took years of policy changes and urban planning for their cities to become what it is today.
As bicycle has become the solution, we can now learn a thing or two about establishing cycling culture in Nigeria from China, what was once the Kingdom of Bicycles.
According to a 2008 report by the Earth Policy Institute, between 1995 and 2005, “China’s bike fleet declined by 35 percent, from 670 million to 435 million, while private car ownership more than doubled, from 4.2 million to 8.9 million. Blaming cyclists for increasing accidents and congestion, some city governments had to close bike lanes.
But since 2011, prompted by 120-kilometer, nine-day traffic jams and mutinous U.S. consulates reporting on China’s air quality, the Chinese government has made a U-turn in transportation policy, encouraging its citizens to get back in the saddle through bike share programs.
Meanwhile, despite China’s decline in cycling, and a perception of biking as too utilitarian to win the kind of tribal following it has in Western cities, hipster bike culture seems to be catching on.
The prevailing world order, ‘To drive a car, to live in a city’, and “to get rich is glorious,” come with social and environmental costs. Bearing in mind that the bicycle is a Western invention, and that the recent resurgence of cycling came from beyond China’s borders, a culture of cycling would give China a chance to hold its own as a socially and environmentally responsible superpower.
Since efficient transportation remains a critical factor to the economic and social prosperity of any nation, it is imperative for government to articulate an all inclusive, people oriented and sustainable modes of transportation.
The desire to respond to the ever increasing transportation and traffic bottlenecks in Nigerian cities and the need to rise up to the challenges of increasing cost of transportation to families, environmental pollution, and health problems resulting from lack of exercise informs the need to include Bicycle transportation as part of existing modes of movement.
In addition, an efficient and planned bicycle transportation system will have positive impact on national vehicle usage and by implication, road traffic crashes and even national fuel consumption.
To reduce air pollution, traffic congestion and the health problems linked to sedentary lifestyles, many cities around the world — from Beijing to Boston, and Montreal to Mumbai — are working to encourage residents to bicycle more. These and hundreds of other communities have established bike sharing programs, regularly close down streets to attract walkers and cyclists, and are investing in cycling-specific infrastructure.
Studies have shown that while urban cycling has risks, generally attributable to motorists, the societal benefits far exceed them, as all potential bicycle-promotion policies have unique trade-offs.
Thus, there is the need for Nigeria to join the ongoing global drive to drift from motorized modes of transportation to non motorized means of movement especially in urban centers. More importantly, introducing planned bicycle transportation system in Nigerian cities conform to Nigeria’s Vision 2020 on Road Traffic Crashes which seeks to place Nigeria among the first 20 nations in the global safest roads ranking from its present 91st position.
Some time ago, a study conducted by the FRSC indicated that virtually all the 20 nations presently in the global safest roads ranking have successful, planned bicycle transportation. Therefore there is the need to support the moves by the Federal Road Safety Commission to make bicycle a major means of transportation in the FCT and other cities in Nigeria.
It is therefore a wakeup call to all Nigerians to partner with FRSC and the National Stakeholders Forum on Bicycle Transportation set up for this all important purpose. It should be in our collective quest to get Nigerians riding in pleasure along our streets and roads without concern of being trapped in traffic, fuelling and getting places to park their cars or even worry about wasting time and money to get to the gym as they will be exercising daily while making their trip.