In its paper issue of Sunday 26 June 2022, Watani is publishing a story on an aspiring project, Cairo Bike, recently launched by Cairo Governor Khaled Abdel-Aal. For starters, the project’s English-language name begs the question why an Arabic denomination was disfavoured, reflecting the obvious invasion of much that is foreign into Egyptian life: in institutions, urban projects, facilities, stores, activities and products. No surprise then that “Cairo Bike” may join the retinue, while none seem to mourn the Arabic language.
Cairo Bike is implemented through partnership between Cairo Governorate and development partners, with support of the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-Habitat). It is funded by the Swiss Drosos Foundation, while technically supervised by the Institute for Transport and Development Policy (ITDP). The project aims at spreading the use of bicycles to promote them as alternative means of transport in the capital in order to alleviate traffic congestion and reduce pollution. Bike stations distributed in spots where the project is implemented have been chosen according to studies of traffic axes and their connection to public transport stations. Users may rent a bike from the Cairo Bike fleet, to roam the streets easily in order to do errands without incurring the hardship and inconvenience of traffic and the hassle of finding parking spaces, to say nothing of contributing to pollution reduction.
Before jotting queries which beg answers, and lest officials think that nothing they do pleases the public, I will first list the main features of the project as announced by the relevant authorities.
The Cairo Bike project will be implemented in two phases. The first will start mid-July in Downtown Cairo with 250 bikes in 26 stations, the second in mid-September in Zamalek and Garden City with 250 bikes. The project will then be implemented in other Cairo neighbourhoods.
The project aims at reducing the growing dependency on cars and machine-based public transport, replacing them with healthy ecofriendly means. It aspires to reduce traffic congestions through the use of technological applications that would allow users, for a specific fee, to rent a bike from a station, use it, and leave it at another station.
Officials say that the bike project is already applied in European countries including the Netherlands and Denmark; also in China, Japan and South Korea. It has the added value of improving the physical fitness of Egyptians through spreading a culture of bicycling whenever possible instead of riding or driving.
A few crucial points, however, are missing; unless these points are adequately addressed, I do not expect this project to achieve its intended objectives.
The project hinges on spreading the culture of bicycling among children and young people, workers and employees, and even older people who hold senior positions and businessmen. For this culture to thrive, it has to start with children and grow with them.
The project announcement mentioned bike stations, but said nothing about bike lanes in the streets, whether in Downtown Cairo where the project will start or in the other neighbourhoods that would follow. Do officials assume that the targeted users, once they rent a bike, would boldly barge into the notorious Cairo street chaos of crowding private and public vehicles and motorbikes, and even the reckless bike drivers used to snaking in between? I do not believe that the category of users targeted would risk their lives or safety in order to relieve traffic congestion or reduce pollution, among other civilised objectives.
I find it amazing that Egyptian officials would mention models of the bike project in countries such as the Netherlands or Denmark, where streets are fitted with special lanes for bikes, parallel to pavements and completely removed from car lanes. The special bike paths have their own traffic lights to regulate circulation, and are respected by everyone, vehicle drivers or pedestrians alike. Where do we stand from such discipline?
No official has mentioned any plan to adapt the streets of the neighbourhoods intended to host the bike project. So, given the absence of bicycling culture among Egyptians, and the generally declining driving norms in Cairo, I can clearly see that Cairo Bike—in English—carries serious hazards in Egyptian.
24 June 2022