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31 May 2013 / jenbusse

Cair-Vélo – A Bike Sharing Program in Cairo

Below is a post by Heba ElGawish, a finalist in Cairo From Below’s Our Urban Futures Ideas Competition.  Here she explains her vision for Cairo’s urban future.  If you would like to share your vision for Cairo, please write to us at so that we can feature your idea on the CfB site.


The bicycle has been part of the Egyptian culture for generations, both as transport and a means of living (bicycles pushing vegetables and milk carts?). Our infrastructure is not able to support the ever increasing congested traffic anymore. It’s faster now to walk to places rather than take a cab or bus. Then why not bicycle there? It’s cheap (in the light of rising gas prices), it’s fast, and it brings people together through a community that strives for sustainability.

GBI with Cairo Runners in a “Critical Mass” type event (Mostafa Ahmed – GBI Team)

GBI with Cairo Runners in a “Critical Mass” type event (Mostafa Ahmed – GBI Team)

As much as this idea sounds challenging for a city known for its ferocious traffic, by using the right implementation and outreach strategies it can actually be successful. Given Cairo’s flat terrain, biking from one place to another is not very demanding either.

Cycling and running have already become popular in Cairo. Over the past two years, the Cairo Runners and Cairo Chapter of GBI (Global Biking Initiative) have grown to include thousands of active members. People are taking control of their personal health and well-being and reclaiming their streets and public space.

Mostafa Ahmed, A GBI Team member, said “I take the bike because it’s faster, healthier, and on top of that, you do something you love”. He also added that, “When the leaders of our GBI team started to go to their work by bikes, the next thing was other people bought bikes and started to cycle to work too, or leave their bikes at the Smart village, where their work lies, and cycle after work or early before work”.

Cairenes are striving to embrace a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle. A bike share program in Cairo will facilitate these individual initiatives while promoting public health awareness.

Ride Marshall explaining to a curious driver about the bike/ run initiative (Mostafa Ahmed - GBI Team)

Ride Marshall explaining to a curious driver about the bike/ run initiative (Mostafa Ahmed – GBI Team)

The bike share system is a convenient and affordable alternative to motorized transport for both residents and tourists to get around the city. Workers use it to commute to and from work, residents can run their errands, and it’s also a great way for tourists to explore the city. The bikes can be taken from any conveniently located station by swiping a smart card, or punching in a code, then returned to any station at the end of the trip. The smart card also acts as a way to track the bike and prevent theft.

The bike share program also solves the first and last mile connection problem, especially where transferring from a metro station to a bus can be time consuming (e.g. reaching Heliopolis neighborhood to/from Saraya El-Qobba or Helmeyet el-Zaitoun metro stations). Another opportunity would be to connect Cairo’s East side to El-Zamalek and over to the West side without battling the highly congested traffic on the three bridges, 6th of October, El Tahrir, and 26th of July, that can consume over an hour to cross a 2 km stretch.

The program has proven successful in many urban cities around the world. In Barcelona, bike commuting has increased from 0.75% in 2005, to 1.76% in 2007, while Paris has shown an increase from 1% in 2001 to 2.5% in 2007, the year the bike share program Vélib was launched (DeMaio 2009). Washington, D.C. which has recently been named number one in traffic congestion in the Unites States has the largest and most successful bike share program in the nation. According to the 2010 Census, 3.1% reported using bicycling as their primary form of commuting in Washington, D.C.

The idea of a bike sharing system is not only a matter of commuting from point A to point B. The appealing aspect of this program to me is its sociological and societal impact on users and the city as a whole.

 Positive impact on traffic and infrastructure

–      Help formulate some traffic regulations where none exist

–      Alleviate pressure on public transportation: As intensive and multi-modal as the public transportation in Cairo is, it still remains very much congested with no uniform schedule to rely on. Introducing a bike share program will supplement and improve citizens’ ability to get around.

–      Opportunity to improve an otherwise deteriorating infrastructure: By incorporating bike lanes, and making streets more accessible to bikers, the city would have to revisit a lot of the traffic laws as well as improve road and street conditions which have been neglected for a long time.

–      Traffic calming strategy: Sharing the roads with bikers and pedestrians forces drivers to become more aware of their surroundings, slow their speeds down, and use signals to alert their intention.

Positive Impact on Communities

–      Encourage physical activity

–      Create closer knit communities through a common interest

–      Inclusion of all social classes

–      Environmental and public health awareness

The successful bike share programs mentioned above provide guides and templates for new systems to be built upon.


–      Determine sponsorship and means of funding for the system (government, private, non-profit or public-private partnership)

–      Intensive marketing campaigns, awareness and educational assemblies about the bike share program, as well as establishing a cycling safety program before launch

–      Mass launching of the system in order for it to be functional and interconnected

–      Complement existing public transportation network by placement of bike stations at each metro station

–      Connectivity between different modes of transportation as well as last mile connectivity

–      Survey of neighborhoods, especially those within 1 to 2 mile radius of subway stations for likelihood of usage

–      Provide room for expansion in the program


Annual memberships can be made available for daily commuters while a daily or weekly membership is offered for occasional bikers and tourists. Acquisition of membership needs to be accessible to lower income users, especially in light of the fact that the majority of this group might not have access to bank accounts and credit cards. Membership cards can be verified through national ID number and home address and can be purchased through special vendors.

 Ways to increase ridership

–      Provide bicycle parking and showers at work places

–      Implementing strict parking regulations to discourage driving

–      Increase of on-street bicycle lanes for rider safety

–      Locate bike stations at convenient and high pedestrian traffic locations, such as metro stations and central bus stations. This can encourage riders to opt for biking instead of using the highly congested public transportation system.

–      Offer cyclist education sessions for bicyclists and drivers alike to increase awareness and proper safety measures  


–       Theft

–       Safety of riders

–       Redeveloping streets to include bike lanes

–       Cultural acceptance

–       Funding bike

Means of Funding

–      Government (e.g. Capital Bikeshare, Washington, D.C.)

–      NGO/ Non-Profit (e.g. Denver B-Cycle, Denver, Colorado)

–      Private sponsorship (e.g. Citi Bike, New York City)

Bike share programs can be regarded as a form of salutogenic design in urban planning, where the relationship between the public space, bodies, and minds come together through cycling, to create a healthy, sustainable city.


Heba ElGawish has, for the past 6 years, been working in Washington D.C. as a project designer for a structural engineering firm. She has volunteered on urban revitalization projects with Architecture for Humanity in both DC and NYC, as well as with PAO Architecture Summercamp in l’Aquila, Italy. In the fall of 2013, she will be starting a Master of Architecture program in Urban and Regional Design at the New York Institute of Technology. Her goal is to one day work on urban development projects in Egypt to create healthy, sustainable and equitable communities.


Leave a Comment
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  4. Abd / Jan 14 2015 11:57 pm
    Heba check it .. They are working on the same project now in Egypt

  5. waleed / Oct 16 2014 4:21 pm

    Hello Heba,
    I am from Alexandria and i think i have good ideas about how can a share system start here because Alex is more than ready for that. The problem is the fund or how can we get the bicycles !!. I think if there’s a good fund or sponsorship it would be easy to create this culture here :).

    • Heba ElGawish / Oct 22 2014 4:56 pm

      Thanks for your enthusiasm, Walled. I’ll be visiting Cairo from Mid January to first week of Feb. Would be great to meet up and discuss your ideas further!

      – Heba

      • Heba ElGawish / Oct 22 2014 4:57 pm

        Sorry about the typo, Waleed!

  6. NHamilton / Jun 26 2013 10:15 pm


    Here is a great source for innovative bike infrastructure projects from all over the world:


  7. NHamilton / Jun 18 2013 7:55 pm

    I thought I would share with those reading this thread, a link to an artricle from Yesterday’s Atlantic Cities on a “Real-Time Bike-Share Map for the Entire World” It is a pretty cool tool.



  8. NHamilton / Jun 5 2013 9:06 pm

    Henry Grabar just put together an interesting post on Atlantic Cities, “The Biggest Obstacle to Cycling’s Egalitarian Aspirations? Distance” Linked below. His post comes on the 10th day of Bike Share in New York City with its own, very different, set of constraints. Yet many of these are issues that will need to be addressed in a bikeshare system in Cairo as well:

    Everything below this line is a quote from the article:

    “City politics, like physics, is a zero-sum game. Progress in one direction produces resistance in another.

    But for advocates of bicycle infrastructure, the backlash to the boom continues to be a source of consternation. And it’s the tenor of the arguments against bike lanes and bikeshare programs – rather than specific complaints about funding, parking or community involvement – that’s inspiring all the angst.

    Invoked to symbolize gentrification, wealth, whiteness, and oppressive elitism, bicycles have become fuel for the demagoguery of tabloid columnists, talk-radio hosts and politicians. In New York, mayoral candidates have scrambled to distance themselves from Michael Bloomberg’s bike-friendly infrastructure campaign. In Washington, D.C., bike lanes were a sort of kryptonite for former Mayor Adrian Fenty, an insult interchanged with “dog parks” or “cupcake shops” to indicate the mayor’s perceived close relationship with the white community. In L.A., drive-time radio hosts attack the “tyranny of the bike cult.””

    • Heba ElGawish / Jun 7 2013 7:11 pm

      Thanks Nick for sharing the article. I’ve been looking for these kind of statistics on how the biking community, especially those using bike share, lacks diversity, especially among lower income communities. I’ve tried addressing the issue briefly, especially on making membership more accessible to those who might not have access to bank accounts.

      The fast that the bike stations are to be tied with the subway and bus network, this might make low income commuters more exposed to the system, which is a little different than many regions in the states for instance where the public transportation system is not only limited to the poor.

      Fortunately this program has been around for many years now. Lots of trials and errors have been made, and the system is far from being perfected, but it’s impact is unmistakable, positive more so than negative!

  9. hazem / Jun 3 2013 12:22 pm

    heba, link for mesta3gel fb page …… i think alex is more ready for bicycles
    and sure if the project started with all metro stations would be great but some blocks might not be friendly to bikers testing a small scale could change the way we think about such project.
    (i don’t think we can approach “el marg” for example the same way we deal with “el maady” or “zamalek” ………… pricing , infrastructure and even the need for bicycle is different)

    another CHALLENGE u should think about is the heat and summer :)……..I already have a bicycle and love to ride it , but when it the weather is very hot i don’t take my bicycle to work



  10. hazem / Jun 2 2013 9:43 pm

    there is a start up for bike sharing in alex called “mesta3gel ” they are doing some good work there.

    are u going to take it a step further and try to focus in a small zone in Cairo (like heliopolis or el maady ) try to connect metro stations , hacker spaces and cafes . and bike lanes will pop up hopefully or people would find the best route to take anyway 🙂

    • Heba ElGawish / Jun 3 2013 12:29 am


      Thank you. I did not know about the “Mesta3gel” Project. I’m actually going to be in Alex the next few days, so maybe I can try to get in touch.

      I believe the optimum way is to locate a bike station at each metro station with a 3 to 5 km radius connection points. Focusing on one or two particular zones can also be a good way to go.

      Bike lanes do pop up in no time as I’ve witnessed in Washington, D.C. and eventually, protected bike lanes on major roads are constructed for better and safer rides. And there’s always Guerrilla Bike Lanes:)

      Thank you for your feedbak!

      – Heba

      • Hashem Merghany / Jan 11 2017 9:12 pm

        Dear Heba,

        Thank you for the great post. I think that right now the need for bike-riding and bike-sharing in specific has manifest its need even more with the exponentially increasing prices of gasoline and unbearable traffic.

        Yet, implementing a bike-sharing program is a very tricky and , most of the times, expensive business. There maybe best practice guides for implementing bike-sharing systems, yet every city is a case of its own!

        I have been working on planning a bike-sharing program taking all the parameters that we have here in Cairo into consideration. I would love it if we sat down and had a little chat about bike-sharing and how to make it feasible and viable here in Cairo.


  11. NHamilton / May 31 2013 6:01 am


    Many thanks for this excellent post. Those in NYC just got a bikeshare program on Monday and by all accounts has been pretty successful so far.



  1. CfB News: A Second Ideas Competition, Cairo from Below Publication, New Co-Director Heba ElGawish | Cairo from Below القاهرة من الأساس

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