The transport system in Egypt is the focus of the world’s attention – We are striving for an “evolving comeback” of bicycles
Dr. Ahmed El-Dorghamy, Basic Services and Climate Change Program Officer, UN-Habitat (United Nations Human Settlements Program)
The vision of UN Habitat Human Settlement Program – Egypt office of Transport in Egypt
Egypt is witnessing rapid development and progress in the transportation system amid the challenges of climate change and environmental risks resulting from excessive reliance on private cars and the emissions resulting from them. These challenges invite us to think of other alternatives that create a healthy lifestyle and a safe urban environment that includes various means of transportation suitable for different needs and distances. Thinking about these alternatives reminds us of the necessity of planning within the scope of the concepts of green growth, as there is a remarkable progress in awareness and culture in Egypt and a rapid development in the means of transportation in the city and between cities and governorates. El-Dorghamy points out to the need for a so-called “humanization” of the city, which includes safety on roads, preservation of heritage and public spaces, and limiting the types of visual, audio and air pollution in order to complete the image of a sustainable city.
Will the image of the sustainable city be complete after the completion of giant projects of mass transportation such as the underground, monorail, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), and road expansion?
According to global experiences, there is an upcoming challenge called “Last-mile”, which means the citizen’s experience in the first and last part of the journey from his home to the stop or from the destination. There is also the so-called “only-mile” and refers to short distances that do not require a car or mass transportation to consolidate the concepts of design of compact cities and mixed use cities, which aim to reduce the distances necessary for citizens to reach their intended destinations without resorting to cars and excessive energy and space consumption waste of time and citizen fatigue.
In order to achieve this, it is necessary to work on achieving a successful experience for the citizen’s journey through maintaining and expanding afforestation for shading and mitigating the phenomenon of heat islands, developing road safety for pedestrians, securing frequented areas for children, the elderly, the sick and people of determination, raising the efficiency, quality and illumination of sidewalks and expanding them, controlling noise, air pollution and availability of crossing areas of pedestrians and other interventions that motivate citizens to use various types of transportation, including walking and bicycles.
Are bicycles an innovative and new means of transportation for Egypt?
El-Dorghamy says that bicycles were part of our culture. In 1957, the founder of Assiut University was inspired by ideas that motivate walking and bicycles. There was also a program that provided financial facilities to motivate students to ride bicycles, in addition to safe parking spaces, environmentally friendly paths, pedestrians, and most importantly, that was the promotion of the same culture and the participation of girls.
What is new with UN-Habitat, and what steps do you have available to enable young people to use bicycles as a means of transportation?
We seek not only to restore healthy lifestyles and participate in all segments of society through an advanced return of bicycles in which technological development and digital infrastructure are introduced. The Bike-sharing system provides bikes for young people in strategic places through a mobile application at low prices. This system is called “Cairo Bike”, and it aims to provide about 500 bikes distributed over 45 stations in places near the underground stations and various youth destinations. The purpose of the Bicycle Sharing Project is to provide an additional choice of bicycle use without the burden of owning it or commuting with it in trasnportation.
Upon questioning him about the memorandum of understanding that was signed between the United Nations Human Settlements Program, Cairo Governorate, the Danish Embassy, and the “Green Arm” initiative at Nahdet El Mahrousa Association for the Green Railwayinitiative to provide bicycle parking lots in Cairo Governorate, Dorghami indicated that the initiative was launched in 2018 and was part of the action plan of interventions that includes gradual provision of parking spaces for bicycles. As for safety challenges, he explained that there are different types of safety, such as personal safety that relates to the possibilities of bullying, harassment or crime, and there is another type of road safety that establishes proper traffic etiquette. Through the “Green Railroad” project, several awareness campaigns were presented in partnership with Cairo Governorate, the community and development partners to consolidate the idea of having a place for bicycles and in preparation for the upcoming development in the city and the promotion of general culture. The campaign also aimed to raise awareness of women’s participation and safe driving, as well as to spread public awareness to accept the idea of equitable distribution of public spaces, which should not be limited to parking only.
What is the necessary infrastructure for bicycles from your point of view? And in line with other countries?
In areas where the speed of vehicles exceeds 30 km/h, there is a plan for further development in the downtown area and adjacent areas by the Ministry of Housing and the Governorate and leading Egyptian consulting offices in this field and in consultation and coordination with the traffic departments to gradually move towards the new idea so that the existing designs include an integrated network of separate lanes for bicycles without affecting the number of traffic lanes. In areas with lower vehicle speeds, these spaces are left for common use, but traffic etiquette awareness campaigns should be intensified. Dorghami indicated that an Egyptian code for the infrastructure and tracks of bicycles is currently being prepared through a committee headed by the National Center for Housing Research.
What about the expected accomplishments for the success of this project?
It is expected that this project will contribute to reducing emissions as a result of reducing dependence on cars and replacing them with an environmentally friendly means of transportation. This project aims not only to encourage healthy patterns, but also to have a pleasant experience in interacting with the city. The idea of enjoying is important for a country like Egypt, which is characterized as an open museum and a tourist attraction with natural and heritage origins.
As for the economic results of using bicycles, the pedestrian- and cycling-friendly area benefits from several economic returns, such as the increase in the value of the property, the return on commercial activities, and the improvement in the return on domestic and foreign tourism, as well as the economic return on improving the health of the citizen due to the lifestyle and improving the productivity of the individual. El-Dorghamy notes that bicycles should be viewed as part of a package of solutions that includes parking management policy and limiting their use to reduce congestion as well as setting car fuel standards. Therefore, the United Nations Human Settlement Program seeks to think of the logic of a “solution package”, an example of which is the rapid bus system (RBT) linking the 6th of October City to Giza, in which buses below global emissions standards will not be allowed and will include many considerations for the service of pedestrians and cyclists.
How do you counter the common misconceptions about bike paths that lead to congestion?
Dorghami refers to two points; the first is that the expansion of the sidewalk in favor of pedestrians and bicycle paths increases the demand for pedestrians to use the sidewalk and not resort to the river of the road. The second is what has been proven from the experiences of the world’s cities and research results that narrowing some roads in favor of pedestrians or bicycles, i.e. widening the sidewalk, results in “traffic evaporation” and the reasons are due to citizens’ adaptation to the new situation and a partial change in citizens’ choices, lifestyles and daily movement.
Relying on the results of other countries is only for guidance and learning from the mistakes of others, as the circumstances of each term may differ from the other. Therefore, studies have been prepared to assess the traffic impact resulting from bike path scenarios in consultation with the concerned authorities and the leading consultancy offices in this field to ensure that no harm is caused and improve safety on the road.
A general understanding of global experiences makes us understand part of the puzzle of preserving public spaces in overcrowded cities, and how they maintain an environment conducive to pedestrians, bicycles, trees and other endangered elements. This is what many cities such as Tokyo, Singapore and others have adopted, and it is called “city people” and this is what we are looking forward to in the coming stages. Egypt’s awareness of environmental and social issues and the principles of sustainable cities makes it reach what the cities of the world have achieved.