Cycling craze hits Cairo

Mai Samih , Thursday 21 Jun 2018

Growing international interest in cycling as a form of urban transport has led to the building of free cycle racks and a cycle-sharing system in Cairo

Downtown, Cairo
Bicycle rack station installed on Al-Alfi Street, Downtown, Cairo

While the city’s metro system is one of the easiest and fastest ways of transportation in Cairo despite the recent increase in ticket prices, reaching exact destinations with the metro can mean taking another form of transportation as well.

With this in mind, the Cairo governorate and the UN Human Settlements Programme (UNHABITAT) have teamed up to save people having to walk to and from their nearest metro stations by providing them with free cycle racks to park their cycles in.

Bicycle-sharing stations will also be built, allowing people to rent bicycles to go to their destinations and then leave them at another station.

Bicycle lanes — part of a programme called Sekketak Khadra (Your Road is Green), an Egyptian proverb wishing people a path free of troubles —will also be built.

Sekketak Khadra also aims to promote cycling more generally in Egypt, to introduce bicycles into daily lives, and to encourage healthier and more environmentally-aware lifestyles. The project is a milestone on Cairo’s roadmap towards a more sustainable city, said a UNHABITAT press release.

In a first phase, some 100 bicycle racks accommodating up to 200 bikes will be installed in Heliopolis and Downtown Cairo to promote cycling. The launch event took place in May in Heliopolis, where the first bicycle rack was showcased followed by a cycling tour.

The event was attended by Cairo Governor Atef Abdel-Hamid, ambassador of Denmark to Egypt Susanne Shine, and representatives from UNHABITAT, implementing partner Nahdet Al-Mahrousa, and local community partner the Heliopolis Heritage Initiative.

The Cairo governor had earlier signed a memorandum of understanding in July 2017 to build bicycle lanes in Cairo as part of a larger project to develop transportation in the capital.

In his comments at the launch, Abdel-Hamid said that “this project is the beginning of a new trend in urban transportation in Egypt that resembles the European model where bicycles have become a very important means of transportation and have many advantages like increasing fitness and preserving the environment.”

Bicycle racks were being built to provide spaces for people to park their bicycles while taking other means of public transportation, he said, and the proximity of local bus and metro stations would be taken into consideration.

“This initiative aims to promote or provide cycling services or cycling infrastructure like bicycle racks, and it all started with a survey. When asked ‘what do you need to be able to ride a bike,’ most of the 800 responses clearly stated that they wanted bicycle lanes and bicycle racks. So we started discussing the issue with the Danish Embassy in Cairo and got the necessary funding. We then partnered with the Cairo governorate as the official partner and Nahdet Al-Mahrousa as the implementing partner and that is how it all started,” assistant project manager at UNHABITAT Amira Badran said, adding that the idea was to install bicycle racks all around Cairo.

“It was the idea of my boss, Salma Mosallam,” Badran said. “She thought of using bikes as a mode of transportation and not just for entertainment.” The idea was to encourage more people to take their bicycles to work or other destinations in Cairo in order to avoid traffic congestion.

The survey helped in finding out the best way of implementing the project and spreading a culture of cycling in Egypt. “People need to feel safe going to work by bicycle.

The project originates from sustainable mobility planning, which is one of the things we are doing at UNHABITAT,” said Mosallam, mobility programme officer at UNHABITAT.

In May, bicycle racks were installed in Heliopolis and work began on the bicycle-sharing stations.

“There are two different projects: one is the bicycle racks that we have launched, and the other is the bicycle-sharing that will be launched later this year.

Bicycle-sharing is where you rent bicycles for city use,” Badran said, adding that it consists of stations throughout the city with bikes for renting. A customer goes to a station, rents a bike, goes from point A to point B, and then leaves the bike for another customer to use at the station closest to point B.

The idea of bicycle-sharing has proved to be successful in many cities around the world, including in Europe and South America, such as the EcoBici bicycle-sharing system in Mexico City.

Planning For Success

The key to a successful bicycle-sharing system, especially if it is just introduced, is for the sharing stations not to be too far apart because people may not want to cycle for long distances. 

According to Badran, the first bicycle-sharing project in Egypt will be implemented by a different donor, the Drosos Foundation, a Zurich-based foundation that promotes sustainability and environmental projects. It will also be in collaboration with the Cairo governorate, however.

Neither the number of bicycle-sharing stations nor their places have yet been determined, but there are plans to start with the Downtown area and Zamalek and Cairo University. Downtown is ideal since it is connected to the metro and is used by many people for work or other activities. The idea is to cover this area and connect it with the existing transportation systems.

“It is a new adventure, and it is very exciting for us because we are trying to connect the new sharing system with the metro. We are really trying to solve last-mile issues at the moment, meaning that when you go out of the metro station and you want to go to your place, you still need to do a 20-minute walk. But if you had a bike, you could get there in five minutes,” Badran said.

Head of the informal-areas development unit at the Cairo Governorate Khalil Shas said that the cost of building the bicycle-sharing stations would be approximately $1.5 million and would be funded by the Drosos Foundation.

According to a progress report from the implementing partner, 44 bicycle racks have already been installed in Heliopolis. “We are supposed to finalise the bicycle racks on the ground this month. The plan is to build them in Heliopolis, Downtown, and Masr Al-Qadima,” Badran said.

“For the bicycle racks, we signed a memorandum of understanding with the Cairo governorate. We signed another one with the Danish Embassy for the bicycle-sharing project and with Nahdet Al-Mahrousa a year ago to start the implementation of the bicycle racks,” she said.

The governorate is investing in the infrastructure of the projects, like building the bicycle lanes that will be complementary to the bicycle-sharing system. The bike lanes are important because “we can put bicycles all around, but you need to make sure that people are safe.

This is a mandate from the donor’s side, as well as from us, that we need to provide more infrastructure or at least plan for the government to invest,” she added.

Among the aims of the project are “to connect with the existing public transportation systems,” Badran said. “The second aim is really to promote cycling as a mode of transport in general, and not just as entertainment. It is a small thing, but it really does serve a bigger goal, which is relieving the city of traffic congestion. Egypt is losing a lot of its GDP because of traffic congestion at the moment.”

Badran also said that surveys had been used to find out why some segments of society do not like the idea of using bicycles, especially women. These had helped them find solutions to the problem through raising awareness.

“We asked people on the metro, and we talked to a lot of others, some of them women from different backgrounds. Most people were excited about the idea of riding a bicycle, but a lot of them were wondering how it would work,” Badran said. They had concerns that the bikes could be stolen or women harassed, for example.

NEXT STEPS: “Media articles are one method of raising awareness, and we are trying to put videos on the streets with the help of the government as a kind of marketing material explaining why people need to ride bicycles, how to ride a bicycle, what is important about it, and why we are doing it,” Badran added.

However, one awareness campaign will not be enough, and there is always space for more. She believes that next steps need to be carefully studied, especially if the scheme is extended to other governorates. “It is just a matter of understanding where the demand is and how it can be met,” she said, by helping to promote more sustainable transportation in the governorates in question.

“We are co-coordinating with the team installing the bicycle racks to make sure they are installed where the bicycle-sharing stations are going to be. We need to make sure we have room for people to park their bicycles close to the bike-sharing stations and to make sure that things are safe and sound,” she said.

Apart from the social barriers, there are few significant barriers to the work. “The good thing about our work is that we are starting a project with the government. We are not on our own thinking about how we are going to work on it.

Of course, the work has some challenges like all projects, but if you have someone from the government behind you who believes and supports your idea it makes everything much easier.

Governor Abdel-Hamid has been in coordination with us and has made barriers disappear. His vision and good governance have promoted mobility and sustainability,” Badran commented.

“The idea sounds a good one, but will it be safe for women to ride a bike without being bothered,” asked Hoda Mohamed who lives in Giza and sometimes visits the Downtown area for shopping.

“I think bike racks and bike-sharing stations will be a really good and efficient way of moving around in the Downtown area if the price of renting a bike is not too high. It would also be environmentally friendly,” commented Mahmoud Ahmed who lives Downtown.

“There may be people who don’t like the idea at first, but when they find they are safe in the special lanes for bicycles, they will want to use the bicycle racks and the bicycle-sharing stations,” Badran said.

“Eventually, we intend to have a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, which is basically a high-quality system that has dedicated lanes, dedicated stations, pedestrian access and an IT system to understand the routes, timings and frequency of buses.

This system has been introduced in Bogota in Colombia, and in Cairo it will be set up in coordination with the Ministry of Housing’s New Urban Communities Authority.”

“We are working on two corridors, the first from Nasr City to New Cairo and the second from Giza to 6 October City. We are targeting public-transport users with the aim of providing them with cheaper rides,” Badran concluded.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 June 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Cycling craze hits Cairo 

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