Bicycle Mayors champion cycling-friendly and inclusive public spaces

BYCS blog cover

Author: Yichen Wang

It’s World Bicycle Day and time to celebrate pedal power! BYCS is expanding its Bicycle Mayor Network to foster more cycling-friendly cities worldwide. In this blog, Yichen Wang describes inspiring initiatives led by Bicycle Mayors worldwide, promoting cycling and inclusive public spaces.

Why cycling?

Cycling is one of the most inclusive, sustainable, and affordable modes of transportation. It enables children, caregivers, women, and low-income residents to access key neighbourhood locations such as homes, schools, workplaces, markets, shops, parks, and playgrounds. Active mobility, including cycling and walking, improves physical health, mental well-being and the environment. Yet, few cities prioritise bicycle-friendly infrastructure or programs.

BYCS is changing that.

The Amsterdam-based global NGO, BYCS, believes that bicycles transform cities and cities transform the world. It promotes cycling in cities through advocacy, infrastructure projects, and behaviour change programs to make cycling more accessible, safe, and enjoyable for all urban residents.

Bicycle Mayor Network

BYCS Bicycle Mayor Network comprises civil society leaders representing 145 cities in 40 countries. Bicycle Mayors are the face and voice of cycling in a city. They bring creative diversity and organising power to inspire and accelerate local action towards cycling-friendly cities. Through the network, Bicycle Mayors can engage with peers from other cities to discuss challenges and share ideas and solutions.

Below are three ways Bicycle Mayors are championing cycling and inclusive public spaces to encourage safe and active mobility in cities.

1. Bicycle Mayors Champion Open Streets

According to UN-Habitat, streets in cities account for 75% of public space. In most cities, streets are designed and prioritised for cars rather than people. Open Streets programs temporarily close streets to cars and open them up to people. They reimagine streets for play, active mobility, and social interactions and create inclusive spaces for pedestrians, cyclists, children, and adults.

Recently, Iraís González Maya and Parra Molina, the Bicycle Mayors of Mexico City and the Metropolitan Area of the Valley of Mexico, organised an open street event in Chimalhuacán. During the event, participants rode their bicycles freely, and the streets came alive with children playing games, performing dances, and participating in classes. Children and adults participated in activity booths set up for face painting, knitting, chess, and first-aid workshops.

Similarly, the Bicycle Mayor of Milan, Italy, Ilaria Fiorillo, planned an open street event in her city where children were able to play basketball and have push bike races, and adults were able to sunbathe on the streets.

These events temporarily transformed city streets from car-dominated places to fun, sociable and relaxing spaces for people. People of all ages were welcomed, but the actions were especially ideal for young children who could maximise streets for play, cycling, and fun activities. Such low-cost temporary street closures are vital to show city officials and local communities the possibilities of streets as inclusive and accessible public spaces and inspire action at scale.

2. Safe and active journeys to school

Streets and public spaces in cities should be safe and friendly for different users to protect lives, enhance public health and well-being, and promote active mobility. This is particularly important for streets near schools, where young pedestrians and cyclists are most at risk of road traffic incidents.

The Bicycle Mayor of Tbilisi, Georgia, Mar Mikhelidze, organised a demonstration for safe school zones to make streets around the school safer. As part of this initiative, teachers and young pupils gathered to design creative signs for safer school zones. The signs were presented to the motorists to remind them to slow down and wait for children crossing the street.

In Abuja, Nigeria, the Bicycle Mayor Emmanuel John launched the Safe Streets to School Abuja Project to promote safe and active journeys to school. Interventions around the pilot school included adding bicycle parking infrastructure, installing low-speed road signs and speed bumps, and painting zebra crossings. Some students also received bicycles to kick-start their cycling.

In Quito, Ecuador, a similar initiative was hosted by the Bicycle Mayor Amanda Padilla as part of BYCS’ Prioritizing Youth Voices project. Through participatory workshops, school students brainstormed and developed ideas to improve the cycling conditions in Quito, mainly inspired by their daily journeys to school, and presented them to local leaders.

These initiatives reach a wide range of audiences, encourage cities to invest in inclusive city planning and policies and showcase possibilities for change.

3. Rediscovering outdoor green spaces and play through cycling

With rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, cities around the world are facing the disappearance of green and open spaces. Decreasing air quality and increasing road traffic further prevent people from enjoying the outdoors. In Meerut, India, polluted air and unsafe roads are key reasons children rarely play outside.

To address this concern, the Bicycle Mayor of Meerut, India, Priya Bhattacharji, is promoting initiatives to encourage children’s outdoor play and active mobility. As part of this initiative, Priya encouraged children to rediscover green neighbourhood spaces through cycling and organising outdoor play activities. She also discussed with them the benefits of being outdoors and connecting with nature. As a result of her efforts, more children in Meerut are cycling and reconnecting with nature, improving their health and developing sustainable mobility habits.

Children playing outdoors in Meerut ©Priya Bhattacharji

Are you inspired by the  Bicycle Mayors featured in this blog? Do you want to bring more pedal power to your city? If yes, join a local cycling advocacy group, connect with the Bicycle Mayor in your city, or learn more about how to become a Bicycle Mayor.

About the Author

Yichen is the Bicycle Mayor Network intern at BYCS and a master’s student in Urban Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Her passions lie in active mobility, placemaking, and facilitating knowledge exchange on urban challenges between the Global North and South.

We are grateful to Cecilia Vaca Jones for reviewing this blog.

The Public Spaces for Children series showcases ideas for action, innovation, programmes, policies and practices that make public spaces child-friendly. Read more of our blogs here.

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