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 CairoFromBelow@gmail.com 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.
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.
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
– Safety of riders
– Redeveloping streets to include bike lanes
– Cultural acceptance
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.