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It’s not widely advertised, but when petrol is scarce and the roads are out, bikes are gold.

Bikes offer a simple yet powerful solution to navigate the chaos and disruption that often accompanies natural disasters.

During catastrophes, traditional transportation networks and fuel supplies often get disrupted, rendering cars and public transport ineffective. In contrast, bicycles are versatile, allowing people to manoeuvre through debris, flooded streets, and blocked roads with relative ease.

Bike riders navigate a devastated street in Japan after the 2011 tsunami (Image: National Post)

Bicycles play a crucial role for emergency services, allowing first responders and relief workers to quickly reach affected areas.

Bicycles can be easily deployed and used for various purposes, including delivering medical supplies, conducting search and rescue missions, and enabling communication in areas with disrupted infrastructure. In addition to their functional benefits, bikes promote community resilience and help people come together during challenging times. Their low cost and accessibility also make them available to all.

To illustrate, our feature E-bikes powering up bush life underscores the role of bikes in the 2022 Lismore flood. An E-bike was Seano’s primary mode of transportation for navigating post-flood Lismore and catching up with friends (Image: Sean O’Shaunessy)

 Bicycles have emerged as a vital tool for resilience and adaptation in the face of natural disasters

In his great article, The Bicycle: A Vital Tool and Symbol in Times of Crisis, Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize reflects on the bicycle’s role in wars and natural disasters, both historical and contemporary. In many places, bikes are a core element in disaster preparation drills.

“Citizens prepare themselves for how to tackle the humanitarian needs after a flood, tsunami or eathquake and bikes are the key. This should be standard disaster preparation policy around the world,” writes Mikael. “Just as there are few symbols of human resilience and hope in an hour of need as powerful as the bicycle, there are few inventions that become such vital tools in times of crisis”

Japan in 2011. Cars were tossed around like matchsticks but human on bikes are resilient
Mikael Colville-Andersen)

As natural disasters become more frequent and severe due to climate change, recognizing the adaptability of bicycles is essential. Governments, organizations, and communities should invest in bike-friendly infrastructure to enable communities to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis. 

The accelerating pace of emergencies

July 2023 was regarded as the hottest month in 100 000 years. This raises the likelihood that we will reach 1.5C warming above the long-term temperature average as early as next year. Despite this looming crisis, global fossil fuel subsidies roughly doubled from 2021-2022. As a consequence, weather is becoming more extreme and harder to predict. While there’s no way of preventing what’s rushing down the pipe, we must adapt and develop our resilience.

As calls to slash CO2 emissions get louder, bikes have an important role to play 

For now, 19% of Australia’s emissions are derived from transport. And 60% of that comes from private cars and heavy freight. Indeed, this is likely to grow due to generous tax breaks on huge SUVs. Hence the raft of policies and strategies, both locally and abroad, to prioritise walking, cycling and public transport above private car trips.

We can do our bit but the heavy lifting must come from governments and industry

“For the majority of short trips, the most sustainable way to move around is by active transport, “ says Peter McLean, CEO of Bicycle NSW. “Every 5km not driven saves, on average,1 kg of C02. So, with 6 million daily car trips under 5 km in Greater Sydney alone, active transport investment is essential.”

Compared to other countries, Australia massively underfunds active transport. As a result, our health and the environment are suffering badly, especially kids who are among the planet’s least physically active. Sweden, on the other hand, apportions 18% of its transport budget to active transport. NSW only allocates around 0.3%. That’s not a typo - Zero point three.

“No individual government is to blame for this - it’s a historical default. But governments’ own policies and the urgency require a shift from words to action. After all, 70% of people would ride more with safe, separated infrastructure,” says Peter McLean.

Nelson Street Cycleway in Auckland, also known as “the pink bike path” or “the light path”. NZ has almost doubled funding for cycling infrastructure to AU$877m in order to reduce Co2 (Image: Micromobility Report)

When it comes to decarbonisation, bikes outperform EVs by multiples of 10

Advocates across the country are urging the Federal and State Governments to subsidise e-bikes and active transport infrastructure. Action, however, remains glacial and focused on larger EVs which won’t feed in fast enough.

Meanwhile unlikely quarters of the private sector are stirring. According to Andrew Forrest, CEO Fortescue Metals, “saying we all must do our bit to tackle global heating is flagrant greenwashing.” He added that “there are about 1000 people in the world culpable for climate change and capable of fixing it.” He included himself in that category. As we talk, other countries are rolling out active transport programs and infrastructure and reaping huge rewards. 

While you’re here…

We’d love you to join Bicycle NSW and support our advocacy for better infrastructure and safer streets. You will also ride easy, covered by our comprehensive insurance and enjoy many other Member-only benefits.

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