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Promotion of non-motorised transport

Non-motorised transport
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Non-motorised transport (NMT) is often a key element of successfully encouraging clean urban transport. It can be a very attractive mode of transport for relatively short distances, which make up the largest share of trips in cities. The key to reversing the trend towards more private vehicle use is making walking and cycling attractive, together with improving public transport. This can be done by a range of activities including construction of sidewalks and bike lanes, bike sharing programmes, urban planning and pedestrian-oriented development. NMT is a highly cost-effective transportation strategy and brings about large health, economic and social co-benefits, particularly for the urban poor. The main barriers are the perceived low status of NMT, and the current focus on car-oriented planning.


Non-motorised Transportation (also known as active transportation and human powered transportation) includes walking and bicycling, and variants such as small-wheeled transport (cycle rickshaws, skates, skateboards, push scooters and hand carts) and wheelchair travel. These modes provide both recreation and transportation (VTPI, 2010; gTKP, 2010), and are especially important for short trips up to 7 kms, which take up the largest share of trips in urban areas (Witting et al., 2006). NMT can be stimulated by a policy package consisting of investments in facilities, awareness campaigns, smart urban planning, improved public transport and disincentives for the use of motorised private vehicles.

Specific ways to improve non motorised transportation are, inter alia (VPTI, 2010; Litman, 2009):

  • Improve sidewalks, crosswalks, paths, bicycle lanes and networks.
  • Public bicycle systems (automated bicycle rental systems designed to provide efficient mobility for short, utilitarian urban trips).
  • Develop pedestrian oriented land use and building design.
  • Increase road and path connectivity, with special non motorised shortcuts
  • Traffic calming, streetscape improvements, traffic speed reductions, vehicle restrictions and road space reallocation.
  • Safety education, law enforcement and encouragement programs.
  • Bicycle parking.
  • Bicycle integration in transit systems (e.g. racks in metro or on bus)
  • Address security concerns of pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Congestion pricing
  • Vehicle parking policies
  • Fuel taxes

Additional information on Non-Motorized Transport, targeted at developing country policy makers, can also be found in a reading list compiled by GTZ which is available here.

Figure 2: Non-motorized transport in Bogota (Hook, 2003)

Feasibility of technology and operational necessities

Increasing the modal share of NMT is possible in any country; however the successfulness depends on many country-specific factors, including climate, geography, culture, political commitment, public awareness, policy effort and consistency, long-term vision and the attractiveness of the alternatives. Several of these are interdependent, and as shown by the example of Bogotá, strong NMT policies, awareness campaigns and political commitment can bring about a shift in public attitudes towards NMT and a 4-fold increase in cycle trips (Witting et al., 2006; IPCC, 2007).

The main barriers towards implementing a successful NMT policy are (based on ICE (2000):

  • Private-vehicle-oriented transport and spatial planning, which is business-as-usual in most countries, particularly developing.
  • Public perception and status: walking, cycling (and public transport) is perceived as the transportation mode for the poor. The richer part of the population often has a disproportionate decision power, which makes NMT-focused policy risky. Often in developing countries there is a gender bias towards male cyclists.
  • Safety: pedestrians and particularly cyclist are vulnerable, and therefore need separate road space, or at least be respected and taken note of by vehicle users. Lack of social safety, especially for females can also be a barrier. NMT users have a higher risk of being involved in accidents than car users, particularly in developing countries (IPCC, 2007).
  • Lack of convenient public transport, which is required to make NMT a good option for multi-modal trip (i.e. the combination of cycling and rapid bus or rail systems).
  • Chicken-and-egg problem: people don’t start cycling if there are few cycle lanes, and planners don’t build these when there is no interest in cycling.
  • Lack of overall long-term, integrated vision and planning.
  • High costs for bicycles, including taxes.

Status of the technology and its future market potential

In many developing countries, NMT takes a larger share of trips than in developed countries. However the reverse is often true for the trends: modal shares of walking and cycling decreases in developing countries, and (slowly) rises in the developed world. However it’s hard to make generalisations, as modal splits are highly country and city-specific, with NMT shares between 10% and 66% for different Western-European cities, and cycling in urban areas varying between 1% (US) and 27% (The Netherlands) of total trips (VTPI, 2010).

NMT is mostly used for short-distance trips, with cycling particularly relevant up to 7.5 kms, and walking up to 2.5 kms. As up to 70% of cars trips cover less than 5 kms, NMT has a large potential to replace car travel (IPCC, 2007). Several studies have shown that 5-10% of car trips can be replaced by NMT provided good policies are in place (VTPI, 2010).

One of the key parameters is urban density, with typical American cities having relatively low density and more car-oriented policies than European (see also the figure below). Most cities in developing countries are high-density and therefore very suitable for NMT-oriented policies, and with their rapid expansion and development now taking place, there may be opportunities to choose a lower-carbon path than the developed countries have done.

Figure 1: Modal shares in cities (UITP, 2006; courtesy of SYSTRA)

How the technology could contribute to socio-economic development and environmental protection

Good walking and cycling opportunities are a key part of any sustainable transport and planning strategy, and provide an overall improvement of the quality of life (Penalosa, 2004). More specifically, sustainable development benefits of NMT are:


  • Air quality improvement
  • GHG emission reduction

Non-motorized transport does not emit greenhouse gas emissions, nor local air pollutants. Every increase in NMT therefore leads to a direct decrease in emissions.


  • Congestion reduction
  • Health benefits due to exercise. For example, cycling for 30 minutes a day reduces the chance of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes by 50% (Witting et al., 2006).
  • Gender benefits: cycling can be particularly suitable for the many short trips women in developing countries take
  • Social equality and poverty reduction: cheap, fast and reliable transport opportunities, and public space development directed towards all segments of society (ICE, 2000)
  • Safety: increase in bicycle use is often accompanied by a reduction in cycling accidents and an increase in safety in public areas (Vanderbulcke et al., 2009; Witting et al., 2006)
  • Noise reduction


  • NMT, particularly cycling, is easy, flexible, cheap and fast
  • More attractive cities for tourists and residents, particularly if car-free zones are included
  • Reduced travel times due to improved traffic flow
  • Energy security due to lower vehicle energy use

Financial requirements and costs

Generally speaking, NMT policies and investments have a positive benefits-cost ratio (often larger than 5), particularly when co-benefits for health, safety and quality of life are taken into account (VPTI, 2010; Wittink & Godefrooij, 2009; ICE, 2000). For a detailed description and review of costs and benefits of NMT policies see Litman (2009).

Figure 3: Overview of estimated benefits of NMT in developed countries per mile travelled (Litman, 2009)

For Latin American cities, costs for increasing bicycle modal share by 1-10% have been estimated at 14 $/tCO2, and a policy package covering bus rapid transit system, cycle lanes and pedestrian upgrades at 30 $/tCO2 (IPCC, 2007). The cost of bicycle paths, including construction, maintenance and awareness campaigns, has been estimated at being $ 200,000 per km (Wittink & Godefrooij, 2009). For many developing country citizens, purchasing a bicycle is a substantial investment, which can be a barrier even though the owner is likely to become more productive (Witting et al, 2006).


  • IPCC (2007). Transport and its infrastructure. In Climate Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [B. Metz, O.R. Davidson, P.R. Bosch, R. Dave, L.A. Meyer (eds)], Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. [[1]]
  • Witting, R. J. Rijnsburger, D. Wijnen, A. Pettinga (2006). Cycling, a smart way of moving. Second edition, January 2006. [[2]]
  • Hook, W. (2003) Preserving and Expanding the Role of Non-motorised Transport. Sustainable Transport: A Sourcebook for Policy-makers in Developing Cities, Module 3d. GTZ Transport and Mobility Group, available from [[3]]
  • Litman (2009) Quantifying the Benefits of Nonmotorised Transportation For Achieving Mobility Management Objectives. Victoria Transport Policy Institute 24 September, 2009.
  • Vandenbulcke, G., I. Thomas, B. de Geus, B. Degraeuwe, R. Torfs, R.Meeusen, L. Panis (2009) Mapping bicycle use and the risk of accidents for commuters who cycle to work in Belgium. Transport Policy 16 (2) 77-87
  • VPTI (Victoria Transport Policy Institute) (2010) Nonmotorized Transportation Planning. Identifying Ways to Improve Pedestrian and Bicycle Transport. TDM Encyclopedia, [[4]]
  • Penalosa, E. (2004) Socially and environmentally sustainable transport. Presentation [[5]]
  • gTKP (Global Transport Knowledge Partnership, 2010). Non-motorised transport. [[6]]
  • Witting, R., T. Godefrooij (Eds.) (2009) Cycling-inclusive Policy Development: a Handbook. [[7]]=
  • ICE (Interface for Cycling Expertise, 2000) The significance of non-motorised transport for developing countries. Strategies for policy development. [[8]]

Author affiliation:

Energy research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN), Policy Studies