Abba, who lives two streets behind where I live in Abuja cycles to work daily. The distance from his residence to place of work is about 8.2km through the fastest route by car. With his bicycle, it is a little higher than that, about 9km. It is longer because he has to avoid the huge express ways that offers the fastest route by car. He is cycling in a smart manner you will say, always trying to stay away from the big and busy highways and utilizing neighbourhood access and collector roads, till he finds himself at his office in Central Business District Abuja.
Personally, I think he is courageous. The number one issue facing cyclers in big cities where despite bike lanes have been established is safety. What about in a city like Abuja where there are no bike lanes? But Abba has never been hit by a car. He is courageous still for trying that. However, there are many like Abba who wish to cycle to work or cannot afford a car or cannot stand our deplorable public transport. What options do they have when they can or wish to cycle to work?
Becoming a Sustainable City
This is the point the United Nation’s sustainable development goal number 11 is trying to make. Broadly, it says make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Going deeper, one of the main goals is to provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, especially to disadvantaged groups by 2030.
A sustainable city can only be built if everyone is given an equitable space to live. To make Abuja such a city, it has to give space to people like Abba to cycle to work in safety. And that is by providing dedicated and protected bike lanes. It is not the worst idea you will say, because bigger cities like New York, Paris, Montreal, Berlin, Toronto and many others have bike lanes across many roads. Cape Town and Johannesburg, both in South Africa have bike lanes. Lagos wanted to, but didn’t do much.
New York has a population of 8.4 million people. The city still provided bicycle lanes. More than 36 000 people cycle to work in New York helping to save the city from social and economic losses. If this 36 000 people will abandon their bicycles tomorrow for public transportation and private cars, we can imagine the traffic jam that may accrue on the roads, the time that will be wasted in traffic and the increase in air pollution.
Merits of Urban Cycling
When urban cycling is implemented, it will help the city in all these aspects positively. More time will be spent off the road rather than in traffic jams or slow moving ones, providing more time for work and leisure. Car oriented policies have degraded the beneficial roles urban cycling could provide. Urban cycling enhances smart mobility, offering residents another option of moving around faster.
Another merit of urban cycling is it gives an alternative to a cleaner air. If more people are encouraged to abandon their cars and use bikes, there will be fewer emissions polluting the air. This year, the city of Milan is considering a move to start paying workers to cycle to work in a bid to reduce the air pollution in the business city. There will be fewer emissions if it happens and that means more healthy people and fewer risks to respiratory diseases. A number of people do not have time to exercise their body through physical activities, cycling may be their best option.
How to Encourage Urban Cycling
More and more cities are not only providing bike lanes, but protected bike lanes with concrete slabs or car parks or trees or the likes. It is true that many drivers can be reckless and once hit on a bike, you are more likely to be injured, gravely. Safety is a big issue and often deters a lot of people from thinking about it as an option. Strategies such as protected bike lanes and avoiding dangerous routes can also be employed.
Bike lane in Prague, protected by parked vehicles
For bike lanes to work, it is not only about painting new narrow lanes to separate them from motorists or informing people of the advantages, but also placing factors to motivate people to start cycling. A major hindrance to cycling will be the climate, which is generally hot in Abuja. How about installing shower and changing rooms in offices. When I asked Abba how he deals with the heat, he said he leaves home very early in the morning before it gets hot. He also carries a spare of clothes at times to change and many sweat pipes.
Second motivating factor is to provide bike racks where people can park their bicycles safely. In the United States LEED green building accreditation programme, which certifies buildings as contributing to preserving the environment by gaining points towards becoming a green building, buildings with shower and changing rooms and bicycle racks for cyclers and bicycles earn more points towards certification. It is an all thought way of encouraging people to take up cycling and it makes sense for their well-being.
How Abuja May Begin
An interesting way to move this forward in Abuja is to have a survey of the distances employees commute to work from their homes. I am quite certain there are many people who only drive for 3 km to work. Even if people are not down with the idea, it is up to the government to motivate them in a bid to reduce traffic jams, air pollution like the city of Milan, and move towards a more sustainable and inclusive city.
For the short period of time I live in Germany, all cities, big and small have bike lanes. A number of people of different social classes use bicycles. Thus, not only Abuja, as a rapid urbanizing city may employ it, other cities as well should. I personally use a bike for my transportation in Germany and would love to do that when I return to Nigeria. Would you cycle to work if it is made safe for you in Abuja? Or are you afraid you will get hit by those rough drivers? Or is it the sweat you dread? Please share your thoughts below.