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Bicycle production rises again.

Some 108 million bicycles were produced worldwide in 1993, outstripping global automobile output by a factor of three-to-one. Since the mid-1970s, the trend i world bicycle production has roughly paralleled that of China, which, as the largest producer, accounts for more than a third of the total. The resumed clim in global output since 1990 largely reflects China's recovery following a 1988 surplus that forced the bike industry to stockpile some 13 million bicycles and to scale back production for two years.

China's image as the Bicycle Kingdom suffered a jolt in 1993, as officials in Guangzhou and Shanghai announced their intention to ban bicycles from certain thoroughfares in order to make way for cars and trucks. But in a country with some 250 bicycles for every automobile and with precious little space for roads such decrees are hard to justify, let alone enforce. At least in Guangzhou, the mayor--blasted by an immediate public outcry--was forced to alter his proposed ban.

In other developing countries, a long history of government discrimination has failed to dislodge the bicycle as the most widely used vehicle for private transport. Despite decades of scorn and bias in transport policy, people in muc of Africa, Asia, and Latin America depend heavily on bikes and load-carrying three-wheelers to commute to work, reach remote rural communities, and haul vegetables to market. In many cities in Asia, pedal power--including cycle rickshaws--accounts for 20-60 percent of people's trips.

In countries with high automobile ownership, by contrast, the extent of bicycle use has been heavily influenced by swings in both public policy and popular attitudes. Particularly in North America and Australia, heavy government spending on highways and a rush to acquire cars meant bicycles were neglected i the 1950s and 1960s. But oil shocks and unprecedented environmental awareness i the seventies inspired renewed respect for bicycling from industrial-country governments and citizens alike. The bicycle's nonpolluting and energy-saving advantages helped stimulate a surge in world bike production in the early to mid-1970s.

During the past two decades, railway passengers in Japan and Europe have increasingly relied on bicycles as a convenient, affordable way to reach train stations. On a typical weekday, nearly 3 million bicycles are parked at rail stations throughout Japan. In Denmark, 25-30 percent of commuter rail passenger set out from home on a bicycle. And the Netherlands National Railway noted in a recent policy report that "on average, the bicycle is regarded as by far the most important means of transport to the station."

Although a growing number of bus and rail systems in the United States are providing bicycle racks and lockers, "bike-and-ride" remains far below its potential. Pedaling all the way to work is more popular; the number of U.S. commuters who do so regularly has roughly tripled during the past 10 years, to an estimated 3 million. In what is perhaps the clearest sign that bicycles are increasingly considered "serious" transportation, police officers are now using them in more than 300 bike patrols nationwide.

Recent changes in government policy mean the bicycle is gaining ground even where it has long been ignored. In the United States, federal law now requires every state to appoint a bicycle coordinator and each state and metropolitan area to have a long-range bicycle plan; state and local governments also have new flexibility to provide bicycling facilities with much of the federal fundin formerly reserved for high-ways.

Cuba suddenly discovered bicycles to be indispensable in the early nineties whe the demise of the Soviet Union cut the nation's motor vehicle and oil imports t a trickle. Today one out of three trips in Havana is made by bicycle.

In Lima, Peru, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, officials are aiming to reduce smog and improve transport efficiency by building bikeways, subsidizing purchases fo low-income workers, and educating people about the advantages of cycling.
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Author:Lowe, Marcia D.
Publication:World Watch
Date:Sep 1, 1994
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