Powered by human energy, non-motorised transport is the cleanest form of transport, with no emissions. NMT is also the most space-efficient form of transport. For example, new bike rack designs show up to 15 bikes can fit in a single parking space for cars.
Being able to walk or cycle to reach destinations makes the city environment more enjoyable and raises the standard of living. For example, pedestrianisation projects can reduce pollution, increase economic activity and create vibrant public spaces. The majority of urban trips are short distance, making them ideal for walking and cycling. On a bike, the travel range can increase significantly.
Cities must move from a car-dependent to multi-modal transport system in transitioning to a green economy. When sidewalks and cycling paths are integrated into public transport networks, more people walk, cycle or commute instead of using a private motor vehicle. This is the kind of modal shift highlighted by the International Energy Agency (IEA) as one of the three main sources of greenhouse gas reductions in transport.
Walking and cycling road infrastructure encourages people to either stay out or get out of cars. It also promotes more healthy lifestyles.
Although walking is still the most widely used mode of transport, road infrastructure has not been built for people on foot, let alone cyclists. Since the advent of the motor vehicle, road development has continuously pushed the majority of people onto less and less space. The result is that those who can afford it ride a car while those who cannot have to compete for road space with high-speed motor traffic, often risking their very lives.
Designating road space for pedestrians and cyclists in proportion to the demand for NMT is crucial. It is also one of the most cost-effective actions for saving hundreds of thousands of lives. For example, the top two countermeasures for improving safety in Nairobi, Kenya, recommended by the International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP) are pedestrian crossings and sidewalks.
Safe road infrastructure for all users is emphasized in the global action plan for the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety, 2011-2020, spearheaded by the Make Roads Safe Campaign.
The lack of NMT facilities is one of the top reasons why pedestrians and cyclists make up a disproportionate amount of the 1.2 million who die in road crashes each year.
Cyclists need less than a third of the road space that is used by a car, while a pedestrian only needs a sixth of that space. More people using non-motorised transport means that limited land space is optimized for maximal accessibility.
NMT facilities, such as cycling lanes connected in a network, mean better accessibility for the whole society, especially for vulnerable groups such as the urban poor. Up to 25% of urban household income can be spent on public transport costs. Either to save these high costs or because it cannot be afforded, the urban poor often walk for hours to reach their school or place of employment.
For everyone, well-designed sidewalks and crosswalks are necessary to ensure journeys can be made as safely and quickly as possible. A city-wide cycling network can not only lower household transport expenditures but also increase the travel range. Many cities are developing public bike share systems that provide people with both a bicycle and the necessary road infrastructure to use the bicycle to meet their mobility needs.
Congestion is a major headache for cities worldwide. More people using NMT means less congestion since there are fewer cars on the road.
Taken together, such investments contribute towards sustainable development by promoting all three pillars of environmental, social and economic sustainability in the context of urban road transport. Developing systematic road investment policies for NMT is important for poverty reduction and achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), both directly and indirectly.
Massive savings are possible by reducing the high economic costs of urban air pollution (5% of GDP in
developing countries in healthcare costs alone) and poor road safety (up to 100 million USD a year in lowand middle-income countries, where 90% of road crashes occur). Massive savings are also possible by reducing transport expenditures at both the household and national level, for example reducing the demand for fuel imports.
Also, for millions, especially the urban poor, the bicycle, or handcart, is a tool to earn a livelihood, such as delivery services or taxis. When these people can go about their work on safe and convenient road infrastructure, the result is upward economic mobility.
Investing in walking and cycling road infrastructure is a win-win-win situation: reducing harmful air pollutants & climate emissions, improving road safety and increasing accessibility for all.