15 JUNE 2012


Dutch Ambassador Herman Schaper presented Ban Ki-moon with a big orange cycling bell to signal for the distinguished participants to get on their bikes. Nairobi's "Boda Boda" is in the forefront.

When a Dutch Ambassador announces that riding a bike is the healthiest and least expensive way to get to work, listen. His compatriots are so highly reliable on both counts. In a country of 17 million people, there are 18 million bicycles. Another Dutch trait is discreet efficiency. A U.N. Bike Ride event on Friday, 8 June, organized mainly by the Netherland's mission in preparation for the upcoming Rio+20 Conference went ahead with pleasant efficiency. While the serious issue of transportation impact on climate change was repeatedly highlighted by introductory speakers, a light casual atmosphere -- and clear skies -- helped make the event truly enjoyable. Ambassador Herman Schaper's diplomatic demeanor did not preclude highlighting the fun aspect of taking a bike. The Deputy head of Habitat projected some funny moments, though perhaps unintentionally. Winds blowing the flag nearby did not stop her from a determined reading of her written text and, with a somewhat puzzled Kenyan Ambassador next to her, looked for him before presenting the "Boda Boda" (a riding bicycle not at all related to "Bunga Bunga," but certainly more appropriate for the occasion!).

Gathered casually yet distinctly between the General Assembly and Delegates entrance across 45th Street and First Avenue, assembled diplomats and Secretariat officials took the occasion in stride. Though some did not look "bike-ready," everyone seemed enthusiastic for the cause. A brief statement by New York's dynamic Commissioner for Transportation Janette Sadik-Khan reflected a determination to push a bicycle agenda; 10,000 bikes were promised for the U.N. neighbourhood. By then, our distinguished Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had donned the helmet handed him by Ms. Sadik-Khan. "How do I look?" he asked to cheerful applause. Touchingly, he mentioned that where he grew up in Korea, he could not afford a bicycle; only above average income households could acquire them. He later became an avid cyclist, he said, adding: "I would much rather see bicycles and bike riders around here than limousines, armoured SUVs, and other gas-guzzling cars that we all use at the United Nations." Polite applause did not mean that the attentively-listening Permanent Representatives would be rushing to change their vehicle registration over the week-end. However, they were ready to take a bike when Ban Ki-moon started ringing a big orange cycling bell presented to him by Ambassador Schaper, who invited participants to join him after the brief ride for refreshments at his residence.

The Bike Ride was a welcome event, a positive cheerful step on a wider path. As the Secretary General put it: "Bicycles are important...but they are part of a bigger picture: our global effort to achieve truly sustainable development. Our challenge is to get the world to use renewable energy to power our trains, planes, buses, and boats. This is especially important for the cities."