“I wish I could ride my bike to school every day.” “I dreamt of a day when it’s not all about cars in the cities, and we can cycle again.” This is what young people living in the suburbs of Egypt’s capital Cairo told us. Egypt’s youth is asking for cycling racks and more space for the cycling community in the country, especially in car-choked cities.
Cycling used to be common in Egypt, before being phased out by cars and motorcycles. In recent years, young people in Cairo have started to turn to cycling again. But because of traffic, air quality, and absence of separate cycling lanes, it remains very rare to see someone riding a bicycle on Cairo’s busy streets.
Transport is one of Egypt’s biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. And with millions of cars crowding the streets of Egypt, improving air quality is at the forefront of its environmental priorities.
But in today’s COVID-19 world of empty streets, closed shops, and quiet airports, the reality is changing. Staying long hours at home has led people to find safe ways to exercise, and many people are shifting to cycling to become more active. More and more cyclists have been spotted moving freely around the city. The message is clear; there is a demand for healthier, better cities that service the needs of all.
In 2018, the Ministry of Environment, in partnership with UNDP and with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), launched pilot projects under the comprehensive Sustainable Transport Programme to help people find high-quality alternative means of transportation to limit fuel consumption, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, alleviate traffic congestion and encourage environmentally-friendly modes of transport. In a country with 100 million people with rapidly growing and urbanizing population, and with 20 million people already living in the Cairo metropolitan area, this is an ambitious undertaking.
This programme led to high-quality public buses for the first time in Egypt, as well as various initiatives to encourage non-motorized transport, including cycling especially amongst young people.
In the governorate of Fayoum 100 kilometres outside of Cairo, a pilot project with additional support from the Government of the Netherlands and the UNDP GEF Small Grants Programme established 14 kilometres of cycling lanes, students loans for buying bicycles, and pioneered bike-sharing scheme for the university’s students.
Widespread and subsidized in many high-income countries, bike sharing is not typically found in low-middle income countries such as Egypt. They are often seen as too costly, not fit for subsidies, and not compatible with existing infrastructure. The project is addressing these specific challenges. Inaugurated in February, just before the coronavirus lockdown, the University of Fayoum is now poised to start its bike-sharing scheme once the university opens up again.
One of the firsts in the country, and the first in an Egyptian University, this will provide a healthy and environmentally-friendly transport alternative to 600 students at first. Twelve bike sharing stations are available on and outside the campus and students’ dorms around the city, at inter-city bus terminals and city centre.
On specific component of this scheme is tailored to the needs of women students. With three bike docking stations right in front of their dormitories, the students can now use the bikes to go to university safely.
The project is part of UNDP in Egypt’s efforts to protect the environment and mitigate climate change while helping the government achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Sustainable transport can help transform Egyptian cities into healthier cities for people, and for the planet.