Cars queuing at Pregny gate with no dedicated access for bikes

Cars queuing at Pregny gate with no dedicated access for bikes Copyright: Joseph Clements

Cycling around The Palais
“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” (Attributed to H.G. Wells)
7 Apr 2023

Faced with a climate emergency, Wells’ quote (above) about cycling is more resonant to us today than when he wrote it. We read a lot about the changes we need to make to combat climate change: eating less meat, using renewables, reducing the number of flights we take, etc. But cycling is a simple and cheap response, and can help mitigate other problems like congestion, pollution, parking, road accidents, as well as improve physical and mental health.

In recent years, UNOG has made some changes to the cycling infrastructure around the Palais, some of them positive, some less so. When I first started at the UN, I thought it would be a leader on sustainability issues – walking its own talk. But, after 18 years of cycling to the Palais, I honestly have to say, it has taken a long time to privilege the needs of cyclists and more could be done.

One of the most important issues for cyclists is safety. We see new bike lanes finally. But at the bottle necks around entrances, like Pregny gate, there is no dedicated bike lane that would make it safer for cyclists.

Why not use the new Peace gate? The other important issue for cyclists is convenience: having to get off and back on your bike at a gate is inconvenient – no one asks car drivers to get out of their cars. This also relates to accessibility. For some cyclists, like me, a disability makes getting on and off a bike more difficult.

Other access issues need to be addressed by UNOG. One is the use of the Chemin de Fer gate, currently closed to cyclists in the morning for ‘safety reasons’. It is no more or less dangerous than the Pregny gate, or cycling on any road in Geneva for that matter. But closing it to cyclists is more inconvenient and limits access.

Since the pandemic, it seems that the number of cyclists to the Palais has increased, but bike parking has not kept pace and is now insufficient for the numbers of staff and visitors choosing to cycle. Why not dedicate more car parking spaces for bikes? After all, a car (usually with one person) takes the space of several bikes.

The reason safety, convenience and access are important for cyclists – and should be for UNOG – is not just because it makes our commute easier, but because it might – just might – encourage more staff to cycle. The less safe, convenient and accessible cycling is, the more reason there is not to try it. And, as research has also shown, the more people cycling, the safer it becomes.

The UN in Geneva should be a model to the world, demonstrating to member States and visitors its commitment to green mobility and showing how cycling can be safer, convenient and more accessible for all. Faster action on green mobility would also help facilitate access for staff who cycle, hopefully encourage more staff to try cycling, and more generally give some credence to UNOG’s statements on climate and green mobility.

And maybe, like Wells, it would even help ease our despair.


To promote the safety and convenience of cycling and reduce congestion in Geneva, please consider supporting actif-trafiC and Provelo

* Joseph Clements works on sustainable investment at UNCTAD
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