Luis Roberto Escoto, a World Health Organization (WHO) consultant on family and community health, is proud to report that Buenos Aires is well on the way to becoming a model Latin American city when it comes to bicycle usage.
More than 14 million people live in and around the Argentine capital, and like all large agglomerations, the city suffers because of high population density.
According to Escoto, the 21st century’s health problems are largely related to population aging, urbanization and climate change.
“These are the three great topics, whose effects translate into health problems. It is interesting to see how bicycling directly affect them,” Escoto, a Honduran who received his degree in medicine from the National Autonomous University of Honduras, told dpa.
The WHO Health and Transportation Program states that a sedentary lifestyle is the main health risk in industrialized nations. Some 1.9 million people die each year all over the world from illnesses connected with not getting sufficient exercise.
Bicycle use as part of daily life, half an hour five times a week, contributes towards strengthening muscles, bones and tendons, among other benefits.
“It has an effect on diminishing premature arthritis, heart ailments, osteoporosis, certain kinds of cancers and diabetes, and it also contributes to emotional wellbeing,” Escoto said.
Cities also benefit because transit and gas emissions diminish and residents get healthier lives.
Physician Claudia Valenti, an advisor to the Argentine Health Ministry and head of Paediatrics at the Jose Maria Penna General Emergencies Hospital, said that around 40 percent of children and teenagers are obese or overweight.
“When physical activity is prescribed for clinical reasons, many say they don’t have the money to go to a gym. Sending people to walk when they are overweight is to increase their joint pain. We usually tell them to ride a bicycle. Therefore, bike lanes are extremely important,” she added.
Buenos Aires City Hall has made its “Better on a Bike” program a priority and the intention is to encourage residents to use bicycles on a daily basis to improve their health.
“The only way to deal with global warming is to change the way citizens act. A key point is fuel use because automobile exhaust fumes are the main polluters, not factories,” Buenos Aires Deputy Transportation Secretary Guillermo Dietrich, said in an interview.
“It is essential to incorporate bicycles to diminish environmental pollution,” he said.
Following trends set by other large cities such as Paris, Barcelona, New York and Bogota, the Argentine capital also seeks that bicycle use become a strategic ally to alleviate traffic jams.
Under the plan, by the end of 2011 the city will have built 100 kilometers of protected bike lanes connecting to train stations, universities, and other areas where crowds gather, such as office districts.
The city has completed 25 kilometers and a growing number of Buenos Aires residents are using them in the crowded downtown area.
The project includes parking lots, a rental system, promotion and driver education so that society can learn about cycling as well as a corporate social responsibility program so that private and public institutions and schools and universities can encourage employees and student bodies to use bikes.
Escoto said that if the policy is kept up success is practically guaranteed and Buenos Aires in eight or 10 years could be a model city on a world scale in the use of bicycles as a healthy and sustainable means of transportation.
He said that Buenos Aires has the advantage of being a flat city, unlike others in the region, and that bicycle use is necessary in a city with “more and more inhabitants and whose streets are collapsing because of the heavy transit.”
Escoto said city authorities must guarantee appropriate places where to leave bikes, deploy additional police agents and educate the population.
Some Buenos Aires residents have voiced concerns about the safety of bicycles for those who ride them and others, because drivers are unfamiliar with them.
“As bicycles become more common and people come to see them as a regular form of transportation, drivers too will begin to respect them,” Escoto said.
The China Post
“Buenos Aires residents get on bikes for ‘green’ exercise”
July 15, 2010
By Juan Ignacio Pereyra, dpa