Huot, Christian, Canadian Dimension
In the cavernous church basement in Montreal's east plateau, bikes are carefully piled up in every direction that meets the eye. In this dim and oddly medieval-looking den, Claire Morissette, founder of the new organization Cyclo Nord Sud (Cyclo North South) is glowing as she talks about her new project. Last October, she sent her first shipment of nearly 500 bicycles to the Federacion de Mujeres de Cuba (Women's Federation of Cuba). Soon after, 500 more bikes were leaving for Cuernavaca, Mexico. Collected from the innumerable bikes gathering dust in garages of the Montreal region, and then swiftly fixed up, they are prepared for a new career in the South, where they can be used as tools for a convivial and ecological development. "Our old bikes can easily see their lives extended by about 30 years in the South," Morissette says.
At a time when Indonesia and China, these bastions of cycling, ban human-powered two- and three-wheelers to clear the way for the progress of automobilization, this idea is going against the current. But Morissette never lets that get in her way. Essentially, the activist is simply taking her fight South. Over the past 25 years, the Montreal bicycle pasionnaria has coordinated the anti-car movement alongside local legend "Bicycle Bob" Silverman, the poet/activist who coined the word "velorution" (velo means bike). With him, she launched "Le Monde bicyclette" -- another play on words meaning either people on bikes or the World on a bike. Specializing in spectacular and colourful actions, they worked for and won practically everything that counts in Montreal in terms of bicycle infrastructure and events. And these are relatively abundant. A few years ago, after all, Montreal was voted the best cycling city in North America by Bicycle Magazine.
Morissette, who also set up Communauto, the first car-sharing service in the country, then decided to pursue an old dream and become involved in international work. She says that "very few development organizations address transportation issues. They don't understand it very much. Yet, the bike is a simple and efficient solution, perfectly adapted to the Third World. In these countries, the car is a complete disaster!"
Disaster in the South
Cyclists and drivers, indeed, are waging a tough battle for the streets of the Third World. Although the South's car fleet is still miniscule compared with the North's, it is growing at twice the rate. Consequently, cars are insidiously invading traditional bicycle grounds. In Indonesia, becaks taxis are being outlawed and tossed into the ocean. In China, where until recently the sound of traffic consisted mostly of the tinkle of bells, people are striving for the signs of prosperity and the city streets are filling up with the roar of motor vehicles. Beijing now has nearly a million motor vehicles and authorities are issuing new driving licenses by the tens of thousands every year. Meanwhile, the Worldwatch Institute points out that if the Chinese adopted the driving habits of North Americans, global greenhouse-gas emissions from the transportation sector would double.
Recently a group of prominent Chinese scientists courageously challenged the central government's plan to develop a car-centered transportation system. They said that the country simply did not have enough space both to feed its people and to build the network of roads, parking spaces and highways that such a system would demand. Already, the government of China estimates that 200,000 hectares of arable land disappear under urban development each year. But the trend is continuing unabated, not only in China but also in most of the Third World. And already, traffic jams in numerous cities such as Taipei, Bangkok, Mexico City and Delhi far exceed anything seen in the North.
One of the results of this increased driving is that the air pollution in large Third World cities is often atrocious. In Delhi, for instance, it is estimated that two-thirds of children have harmful levels of lead in their blood. …