Bike-Friendly City Fails to Gain Traction

The bikes and lending stations remained a showpiece as few people chose to commute by bicycles.The bikes and lending stations remained a showpiece as few people chose to commute by bicycles.

Despite efforts by Iran’s Department of Environment, Tehran Transport and Traffic Department and anti-air pollution campaigns, the use of bicycles has failed to gain popularity in the capital and across the country.

Bicycle, as a cheap means of transportation, is regaining its 19th-century status against the environmental challenges the world is currently facing, such as high air pollution level and global warming, which are two daily threats to people’s life.

Iranian metropolises don’t see many cyclists in the streets despite the heavy traffic, high level of air pollution, and the growing number of people suffering from diseases caused by the lack of adequate physical exercise.

In January 2016, the Tehran Cycling Board, affiliated to the Cycling Federation of Iran, announced that 120 bike-sharing stations would be set up across the capital as part of the initiative known as “Smart Bike Program” under the auspices of Tehran Municipality’s transport and traffic department.

A bike-sharing system in which bicycles are made available (normally at very low cost) to people on short-term basis, allows people to borrow a bike from point A (a storage hub) and return it at point B.

Omid Seraji, board director, said 200 billion rials ($5 million) was allocated to upgrade or purchase smart bicycles (with GPS and locking systems) for the program by the Tehran City Council, as reported by ISNA.

To encourage bicycles as a mode of transport in the bigger cities like Tehran, Mashhad and Yazd, as part of the clean commute drive, bicycle lending centers were constructed at education centers and in travel zones.

Although the stations have been set up at busy intersections in Tehran (and the other cities), the project never really took off and the bikes just remained a showpiece as few people chose to commute by bicycles.

In Tehran, 50 terminals were set up across the city mostly in crowded downtown areas and near interchange subway stations and tourist sites that offer a total of 7,000 gearless bicycles. The stations are still situated at several main city squares including 7-e-Tir, Tohid, Enqelab, and Azadi.

However, the system seemed to have failed to bring about the desired results as there were also a number of shortcomings in the scheme in terms of returning and retrieval of the bikes.

The only city that seems to have succeeded somewhat in using bicycles as a means of regular transport is the central Iranian city of Isfahan, known as the country’s cycling capital.

Only bicycles are allowed to ply some of the city’s main roads during certain hours of the day. Isfahan’s local politicians as well as city councilors are also famous for using bicycle as a means of transport.

   Promises Unfulfilled

Deputy Head of Tehran Transport and Traffic Department, Jafar Tashakkori Hashemi had promised in October 2014 that his department was looking to construct bike racks instead of bicycle lending centers across the city, IRNA reported at the time. But that promise, too, does not seem to have been kept.

Bike racks are more efficient because within this system, bicycle users normally use a subscription system where a bike is rented via a mobile phone call or the mobile app, which provides the locking code and times the usage. The system eliminates the need for returning the bike to a particular station (in exchange for personal ID) and the bike can be left at any docking station across the city using the locking code generated by the mobile phone app.

While many people in the big overcrowded cities spend  hours stuck in traffic jams, using bicycles is good for people’s physical and psychological health and also less stressful in the crowded streets.

A few years ago, to find out which cities provide cyclists with better services and amenities, a study was conducted on the directive of a bicycle company located in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, to rank the world’s metropolises in terms of their degree of commitment to developing and implementing bicycle-friendly policies.

The results of the study showed that only three non-European cities ranked among the world’s top 20 best metropolises for cyclists while Iranian cities were not even among the world’s top 100 cities in this regard.

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