IN CONVERSATION WITH LESZEK SIBILSKI

Leszek Sibilski is a Polish-American sociologist and a longtime advocate for issues related to climate change, the environment, public policy, global poverty, youth, and the role of women in contemporary society. He is a former member of the Polish National Olympic Cycling Team.

In 2015, Leszek Sibilski wrote an article published on the World Bank’s People, Spaces, Deliberation blog entitled: “Cycling is Everyone’s Business”.

This article was extremely popular and received excellent feedback prompting him to originate and spearhead a global campaign for the United Nations to establish a “World Bicycle Day”.

On April 12, 2018, his effort came to fruition when the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted Resolution A/RES/72/272 that declared June 3rd “World Bicycle Day.”

In this chat, Leszek Sibilski discusses more about the World Bicycle Day and other initiatives around it.

Leszek Sibilski

What is the idea of “World Bicycle day”?

The idea of “World Bicycle Day” is to, according to the text of the Resolution, “(encourage) the Member States to devote particular attention to the bicycle in cross-cutting development strategies and to include the bicycle in international, regional, national, and sub-national development policies and programs. (Stakeholders should) emphasize and advance the use of the bicycle as means of fostering sustainable development, strengthening education, including physical education, for children and young people, promoting health, preventing disease, promoting tolerance, mutual understanding, and respect, and facilitating social inclusion and culture of peace. Encourage the Member States to adopt best practices and means to promote the bicycle among all members of society, and in this regard welcomes initiatives to organize bicycle rides at the national and local levels as means of strengthening physical and mental health and well-being and developing a culture of cycling in society.” Ultimately, to create and foster a global cycling culture, complete with dedicated individuals, groups, and events, is the primary aim of “World Bicycle Day.”

How did the movement grow worldwide?

Our movement grew thanks to grassroots supporters, ranging from students to bicycle shops. Social media has been a major aspect of our movement’s growth, as anyone can participate by sharing a fun photo or kind word. I encouraged many of my college students to participate, and it has only blossomed as professional athletes have joined in to promote that holiday. World Bicycle Day as a cycling holiday is smoothly evolving as an opportunity to celebrate this wonderful human invention, the bicycle, on all inhabited continents (including the space station).

Are there any rules for the riders and who can participate?

There are no rules. Be creative. Just go for a bike ride to enjoy and share the freedom provided by this instrument of active mobility. We encourage posting the rides with photos on social media with our hashtag: #WorldBicycleDay. We are planning to retire our previous #June3WorldBicycleDay hashtag, so #WorldBicycleDay is definitely the one to use going forward. If someone can’t do it on June 3, doing it before or after is fine too. We are more focused on having the bicycle become more integrated into ordinary life. We are happy to see individual spontaneous rides and organized group or mass cycling events. We just love people on bicycles.

What are your long-term goals?

Our ultimate goal for promoting the bicycle is achieving 100 percent global cycling literacy, which unfortunately stands currently at 50%. The bicycle should be a central tool of physical education and civic and economic education in schools the world over. In addition, contemporary global society must appreciate that it is a means of active mobility, competition by elite athletes, recreation, and an affordable, readily available tool for living healthy, productive lives. This goal can create a truly clean and green bicycle revolution for upcoming generations, Olympic hopefuls, and future entrepreneurs and leaders alike.

Tell us about the “World Bicycle Day of the United Nations Award“?

Basically, we want to recognize those who are unsung heroes of our global community of bicycle enthusiasts. There are plenty of individuals within our community who day in and day out quietly contribute to promoting bicycle usage. On another hand, there are plenty of cycling experts who are well-known but were never properly recognized for their work. These guardian angels of bicycles need to be energized, enriched, and encouraged.

USA (L to R) Stone Ridge of Sacred Heart Middle School, Maryland teachers: Lauren Winkler and Krystyna Sibilska.

Do you have a personal favorite amongst this years’ recipients of the World Bicycle Day of the United Nations Awards?

For obvious reasons, I can’t name a favorite. Each of the recipients is doing something to better the world. This year, 15 laureates of the World Bicycle Day Award were chosen, including four from the United States and eleven cycling enthusiasts/advocates from other nations, including Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Ghana, Germany, India, France, Poland, The Netherlands, Russia, Slovakia, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom. The 2021 #June3WorldBicycleDay awardees represent five continents and come from many walks of life, including a cycling coach, professional cyclist, middle school educators, diplomats, university professors, an entrepreneur, a TV commentator, a medical technician, cycling influencer – a UN Permanent Mission, and NGO executives. In a Special category, a Head of State and his wife, whose birthday coincides with World Bicycle Day, a politician, and two women mayors of major cities. Seven awardees are women. In addition, a Group category was created to recognize collective efforts. The 2021 winners of the Group category are a Fire Department for promoting safe cycling amongst first-graders, an NGO in a developing country for providing medications, food, and other essentials on bicycles to the vulnerable and elderly during two waves of COVID-19 lockdowns, and a group of students utilizing a bicycle for a 70-day summer ride for successful fundraising and vigorous engagement of communities in the fight against cancer across the country. Two of the laureates are planning on nominating one of the awarded projects for the Nobel Peace Prize!

The Netherlands – Auke van Andel – influencer and founder of facebook group Bicycle World.

According to you, how can cycling grow among women and children?

First of all, bicycles should be part of the global Physical Education curriculum. This is a major survival skill, perhaps next to swimming. Parents should be paying attention to raising kids with the ability to ride a bicycle. In terms of how to increase the number of women and children in cycling, my answer is very simple: go for a ride with your spouses and families. Set an example. Yes, it may require additional adjustments, but the outcome will be worth the effort. For example, my wife and I go for rides together quite frequently. Recently, we even entered a few mass-organized events along with our friends. We, who care about cycling for all, have to be creative and patient.

Ghana – Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative – Bernice Dapaah – entrepreneur.

Are there any plans to promote Road Safety?

Great question! The Resolution is very clear about that and ” … encourages the Member States to improve road safety and integrate it into sustainable mobility and transport infrastructure planning and design, in particular through policies and measures to actively protect and promote pedestrian safety and cycling mobility, with a view to broader health outcomes, particularly the prevention of injuries and non-communicable diseases.” Safety is and should remain a very important component in promoting mainstream cycling. Personally, I always encourage cyclists to apply common sense when navigating highly trafficked roads. With proper infrastructure and safety, we will see more women and children on bikes.

India – Relief Riders – Sathya Sankaran – providing essentials for the elderly and disabled during the lockdowns.

Will the current pandemic-led cycling boom change commuting patterns forever?

According to transport historians, we are in the midst of the third global cycling revolution. After each of them, we were returning to the status quo, where the car was the priority at the bicycle’s expense. However, the pandemic has given people an immediate reason for using a bicycle. Climate change too has solidified many people’s minds about sticking with their bicycles to lower their carbon footprints. The main issue going forward will be to maintain higher quality standards for bicycle manufacturing, as, for example, in the first revolution, lower quality bicycle manufacturing discouraged users from purchasing them.

Canada – H.E. Ambassador Leslie Scanlon.

What is your message to the politicians with regards to promoting active travel?

Our politicians’ policies are downstream of their constituency’s opinions, namely and ultimately: the people. We, the voters, need to make cycling a major issue, an issue where both new and incumbent representatives take notice of what the public feels about sustainable, active travel. People should study whether certain politicians are bicycle-friendly or not, and then express themselves at the ballot box. It took three years and five grueling consultation rounds to adopt the World Bicycle Day Resolution by all member states, which makes this a very powerful document; therefore, we have to use it wisely and treasure it. The date of June 3 was selected upon very careful consideration to include every inhabited continent. We won’t have a second chance, as some of the UNGA members raised some issues in the introductory process. The idea of this legislation was to unite all bicycle lovers at every conceivable societal level. Hail to the bicycle! Happy riding!

Connect with Leszek:

twitter: @leszek33

facebook: @Leszek Jan Sibilski

Photo credits: Leszek Sibilski/photographers

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Author: Vijay Malhotra Mumbai

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