I rode my bicycle to and from work on the streets of Ahmedabad, India. A city where out of 100 residents only 15 to 18 use the existing public transport system and the streets are notoriously clogged with traffic. Some thought me crazy, but I was able to incorporate exercise into my routine and interact with my surroundings. I didn’t have to pay a bus or rickshaw fair and it gave me the satisfaction of feeling as though I was contributing to making the world a better place, one bicycle at a time.
Naturally, as a fan of the bicycle I was elated to see a recent news articles regarding Doha’s plans to be the region’s first bicycle-friendly city. But what, if anything, does that mean?
According to Sa’ad Mohammad Khodr, senior transportation engineer at the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning, the Qatar National Bicycle Master Plan aims to make Qatar the focal point of bicycling in the Middle East.
In response to concerns about the hot weather, Sa’ad claims bicyclists would be able to ride at least six months of the year despite the range in Doha’s weather from 44-113 degrees Fahrenheit.
“People do not take to cycling, not because of the heat, but because it’s not safe. Now in all our new projects we have to draw up a plan so that the streets are adapted to bicycle traffic,” he said, in the Qatari daily The Peninsula.
The cycle routes are said to be planned for nearly the whole country. “It’s not just the bicycle as a means of transportation, but it’s about creating more chances for people to have leisure time,” he was quoted as saying.
I am an advocate of leisure time, but I also wondered about additional motives behind the initiative – could a decreased environmental impact have been a factor?
According to gulfnews.com, bicycles are popular among young boys and Asian expatriates. (I would hope the concept will catch on with Qatar’s growing population and maybe even with women…?) According to the Qatar Society of Engineers, the population has been growing rapidly over the past 10 years reaching 907,229 inhabitants by 2007 compared to a population 70,000 in the 1960s.
Perhaps it was the never-ending Doha Development Round of trade agreements, or because I had to represent Qatar in a Model United Nations simulation, or maybe just my curiosity for the country which houses Al-Jazeera’s headquarters. Whatever it may be, Doha seems to be back on the radar as somewhere I would consider living. At the very least, I would have a bicycle path.