Inspirational Corner: Do Not Invent A Bicycle, Just Ride It
In many urban areas of the world bicycle is a common means of transportation. It is ecologically clean, healthy and helps to stay fit. Amsterdam is the world’s best city accommodated for the cyclists. In the U.S., the Bicycling.com published the list of cities with at least 100 thousand population that provide the best conditions cycling. These include bicycle lanes, parking lots, bike rentals and repair shops. The list is topped by the cities such as Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Denver etc.
While in many cities around the world the bicycle is a ubiquitous and ordinary way of travelling, in Armenia there is yet the need to develop a bicycle culture. What exactly stimulates or hampers the use of bicycle as a means of transportation in our country?
According to the cyclists, in order to develop a comfortable city a number of preconditions should be met: the authorities and especially the car drivers should heed to the needs of the cyclists. Most importantly, the public should support and generate the need, demand, and culture of bicycle traffic.
Yerevan is Armenia’s most densely populated city. Congested traffic and transportation does not meet the public need. The situation could be amended if people realized the potential of integrating the bicycle into the transport system.
For the insight, Kanchastan looked into the public opinion by conducting a survey in all the 12 communities of the city. Of 124 randomly selected respondents the majority (72%) could ride a bike on amateur level but only few (14.5%) owned a bike. The respondents mentioned the main factors inhibiting the use of bicycle in the city, such as lack of bike lanes (73%), intolerance of drivers (43%), lack of bike parking stations (40%). They mentioned also advantages that the bicycle has over other means of transport, namely it being a healthy choice (72%) and ecologically clean (55%):
The interest in cycling has increased in the recent years in Armenia due to the rise of environmental and healthy lifestyle activism initiated by the youth. «Hetsaniv +» (Bike+) is an non-profit eco-organization that takes steps for solving the above-mentioned issues first of all by teaching how to ride, use and take care of a bicycle.
Young environmentalists started using bikes for drawing public’s attention to ecological issues in the country. It turned out that many wanted to join and support the activities but could not ride a bike. The co-founder of “Hetsaniv+”, Samvel Hovhannisyan, who is a professional bicyclist and coach, shares that the problem generated the idea of teaching people how to ride a bicycle. This could contribute to a wider use of the bike for travelling. Samvel personally knows some 150 people who regularly cycle in the capital and also participate in the bike rides outside the city. In other cities of Armenia such as Vanadzor and Yeghegnadzor groups of bicycle-lovers are formed as well.
In the effort of institutionalizing bicycle use, “Hetsaniv+” activists are especially inspired by the example of Dubna, Russia, where the local officials, businesses and the bicyclists came together for making bike use official.
Theoretically even today it is possible to cycle to work, school or university. According to Samvel there is a law on transportation that stipulates the bicycle should travel on the street not on the pedestrian pavements. Some drivers, however, demand that the cyclists get out of their way and drive on pavements. It is a priority to have at least traffic signs accommodated to cycling. It would be helpful also to raise the awareness of drivers and have bicycle parking in public spaces such as colleges, shops and others, so that the bicyclists could safely store their nonetheless expensive and beloved vehicles. Samvel believes that these conditions can encourage the use of bicycle for everyday travel. The cyclists themselves must develop and propose the demand for the separate bike lanes and involve city officials in the process.
Meanwhile, before the lanes are there, Samvel advises the cyclists not to give in to the adverse attitude of drivers, watch out for cars in the traffic and follow a few simple safety rules: wear a helmet, avoid taking sharp turns, and when riding at night, turn on the headlight and rear light.