It is becoming a common occurrence to spot bike-riders cycle past on Sunday mornings across various streets in the capital, a scene that was once familiar with the athletics community.
With the number of riding enthusiasts growing by the weekend, Capital decided to reach out to the cyclist community with the perspective of understanding this enthusiastic sport in light of the much needed boost for non motorized transport in the country.
“On the weekends you would often find us peddling away along the streets with my friends,” Dawit Dagnew, founder of Addis Mountain Biking group narrates as he expresses how his current 77 member team has been expanding, more so after the pandemic.
“I started the group 5 years ago for the purpose of sport, with my friend. And now we have grown in number. The pandemic has also added to the number of cyclists in our group, since COVID-19 was a wake-up call for many to staying healthy and in maintaining a regular exercise routine,” Dawit elaborated.
Dawit and his group members go out riding every Sunday and often maintain contact through social media. “We usually prefer to cycle outside of the city, especially in places which we have neither seen, nor been to,” he said infusing cycling with the spirit of adventure.
In Ethiopia, cities and rural centers are characterized by widespread use of non-motorized modes. Walking is a dominant mode, particularly for low-income groups who travel mostly by foot. In spite of a dramatic increase in motorization in Addis Ababa, the largest share in the capital city among modes of transport still remains to be walking while private cars make up the smallest share.
Cycling has also brought together people from all walks of life leading to a community that has championed great causes as is the case for ‘Egre Menged’ co-founder Maren, a German cycling enthusiast who grew up in the cycling town of Münster, Germany together with Ephrem, her co-founder, who shares the same passion from his early years in Dire Dawa.
“As we enjoyed Sunday rides together, we came up with the idea of inviting more people for them to also enjoy the activity and healthy exercise,” recalls Maren as their community- based cycling group now seeks to promote sustainable/non-motorized mobility as well as develop a bicycle-friendly community and city.
“The longest tour we have ever taken is to Sebeta, south-west of Addis, which was 82 kilometers. But our intention is not to ride long, intense tours but rather doing 25-35km tours so that it is doable for the average cyclist and not only the experienced ones,” Maren said with reference to some of the longest intervals that her cycling group has taken thus far.
In most countries, Non-Motorised Transport (NMT) offers basic and affordable mobility, access to public transport, and health benefits. The situation in Ethiopia however is different in that it is difficult to afford a bicycle in addition to the cities and rural centers, neither being designed for walking nor cycling.
In spite of the widespread use of non-motorized modes, transport planning and the provision of infrastructure, Ethiopian cities have been largely car-centered, underestimating the importance of NMTs.
Moreover, traffic including careless motorized road users is among the challenges of riding bikes in Addis, and as Maren highlights, “Pedestrians and street vendors block the few cycle lanes. Furthermore, there are a small number of existing cycling lanes and the roads we have to use instead are often uneven and have dangerous holes.”
“Little street lighting and harassment especially to female riders are part of the hurdles we face as cyclists,” Maren explains.
In the late 90s, it was normal to see rental bicycles in villages across the country. The widespread availability of bicycles through small scale rental services found in cities across the country represented an opportunity to promote cycling and over the years it seemed to fade away as the price of bicycles in Ethiopia have continued to rise.
In spite of the widespread use of non-motorised modes, transport planning and the provision of infrastructure in Ethiopian cities have been largely car-centered with cyclists sharing travel lanes with motor vehicles; with traffic safety challenges being widespread. The lack of designated infrastructure for cycling has created significant safety issues and concerns on the part of users, which have contributed to experts suggesting for an improved transport system.
It is a widely agreed upon phenomenon that the convenience, comfort, and safety of walking and cycling reduces the demand for travel by personal motor vehicles, helping to alleviate the critical traffic challenges facing many cities. Greater emphasis on walking, cycling, and public transport in the planning, design, construction, and management of transport systems is needed to achieve a more equitable allocation of road space to which cities should provide safe, efficient, and accessible walking and cycling networks to improve mobility for all residents, whilst enhancing access to opportunities.
“Nowadays it’s difficult to ride bikes in the city, especially on main roads since people often have the notion that bikes cause traffic jams on roads,” Dawit says, adding, “even though there are bike lanes in different parts of the city, they are not fully functional.”
“Biking has helped us to explore more and so far we have done more than 300 trips. For us the longest trip has been from Addis Ababa to Weliso, which is a 130 km bike ride,” said Dawit, adding, “besides the distance trips, cycling helps us to promote a healthier lifestyle.”
The cycling community is more than just a sporting community and as Maren explains, “We love to visit and partner with local start-ups, micro-enterprises and community-based programs and promote them on our wide social media reach. We did an awareness bicycle ride ‘The Moving Smile Bike Ride’ for a local NGO to promote their activities. We also joined a tree planting event by the Rotary Family and our plan for 2015 (Ethiopian Calendar) is to provide free bicycle training for women in Addis.”
Non-motorised modes play a fundamental and unique role in the efficiency of transport systems, providing an affordable, low-carbon travel option. In order to improve the walking, and cycling environment, UN Environment and UN-Habitat appointed the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) to assist the Government of Ethiopia through the Ministry of Transport (MoT), Federal Transport Authority (FTA), Ethiopian Roads Authority (ERA), and Ministry of Urban Development and Construction (MUDC) in the preparation of the Non-Motorised Transport (NMT) Strategy 2020-2029 under the auspices of the “Share the Road” initiative.
Ethiopia’s Climate Resilient Transport Sector Strategy calls for an affordable, integrated, safe, responsive and sustainable transport system that enhances the environmental, economic, social and cultural well-being of Ethiopia’s population.
The Government of Ethiopia aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 255 Mt CO2e or 64 percent, compared to business-as-usual emissions by 2030.The reduction includes 10 Mt CO2e from the transport sector. The promotion of NMT and efficient public transport are key means of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and reducing energy use.
If the country’s history of producing world-class distance runners is anything to go by, we should expect to see more Ethiopian riders at the big races in the near future.