Cycling seminar - Thursday 18 October 2012
The Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo is pleased to announce the Cycling Seminar on Thursday 18 October 2012, organised in cooperation with the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and The Green Arm from Egyptian NGO Nahdet al-Mahrousa. The Netherlands is known worldwide as a pioneer in developing an elaborate cycling policy and infrastructure in order to lessen traffic within cities.
Cairo is particularly known for its hugely congested traffic where millions of people on a daily basis squeeze through overcrowded streets and public transport. The streets and transport have long reached their limits and the city's traffic is in urgent need of new original ideas to improve mobility. This is why we organise this seminar to think and discuss together ideas to improve Cairo's traffic problems. During the seminar, transport experts and stakeholders from Egypt and the Netherlands will share their experience, ideas and research related to integrating the bicycle in urban traffic policy. Such integration policies have for example led to positive results in Mexico City and also in other cities.
The Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo has organised, in cooperation with Green Arm and the Netherlands Embassy, a cycling seminar. The fruitful seminar has provided great insights on the role of cycling as means of transportation in Egypt.
Last year, our institute was approached by urbanist Mohamed Elshahed, initiator of the website Cairobserver.com. He wondered whether the Netherlands-Flemish Institute could do something to make knowledge about cycling present in the Low Countries available to Egypt, where cycling is still not sufficiently regarded as part of a solution for mobility problems. The Netherlands Embassy immediately joined this project with enthusiasm, and Dutch cycling experts were easily identified through the recently established Dutch Cycling Embassy, and an active Egyptian partner was found in the Egyptian NGO The Green Arm.
The initial idea developed into a two-day cycling event: on Thursday 18 October a seminar was organised in the library of the NVIC with the title "Cycling in Egypt? Cycling as a Means of Transport". On Friday 19 October theory turned into practice with a bike ride that brought cycling to the attention of a wider audience.
The cycling seminar on Thursday brought together Dutch cycling experts with Egyptian mobility specialists and activists. An overview of the program and the abstracts of the lectures can be found here and here. The seminar attracted a numerous, varied and interested audience, that provided valuable input during the discussions after the lectures. The seminar was concluded with a roundtable discussion during which interesting themes spoken about during the lectures and discussions where discussed again.
It was emphasised once more that attention for aspects such as culture and human behavior are as important as a good transport policy like planning and the work of engineers, and that often the attention that is given to these elements determines whether a mobility policy succeeds or fails.
The role of cycling as an emancipating and egalitarian means of transport was also discussed. In the Low Countries both the laborer as well as the Prime Minister, both men and women, use the bicycle. Different factors in the Egyptian society complicate the promotion of cycling as an alternative means of transport, like social stigma and the image that it is not suitable for a woman to ride a bike. However, these obstacles are solvable. There are different active cycling groups in Egypt, which, by organising cycle tours for people from the middle class, aim to reduce the social stigma. Sexual harassment is also seen as an significant hindrance to get women cycling, but sexual harassment is a general problem in Egypt, and different female cyclists state that they are less harassed when they are on the bike than when they walk or use public transport.
It was repeatedly stressed that during the last century the bicycle had been an important means of transport in Egypt, but it experienced a major setback because of the motorisation in traffic. This evolution also took place in the Netherlands, but in the Netherlands people managed to turn the tide since the 70s of the last century, while in Egypt the bicycle is still losing ground, mainly because of cheap motorcycles.
To promote cycling in Egypt we have a chicken-or-egg dilemma: the government is not going to invest in a bike-friendly policy as long as there is no demand from a large number of cyclists, and the number of bicycles remains limited as long as no cycling infrastructure exists. The solutions lie in organising pressure groups that draw the attention to the opportunities provided by bicycles to alleviate the traffic problems in Egypt and that demand a bike friendly policy.
We hope that this seminar is a step forward in that direction and that it will bring forth further cooperation between experts from the Netherlands and Egypt.
On Friday, we released the call for cyclists to organise themselves in practice. From different places in the city cyclists gathered at the Netherlands Embassy in Zamalek, where a group of some 300 cyclists made their way to the Qasr el Nil bridge for a group photo. The diverse group, dressed in orange T-shirts that called for the car to leave and to use active transport: most of the riders were young Egyptians (about as many boys as girls), but also older cyclists and foreigners were well represented. The Dutch embassy had 150 bikes available, the bikes were gone in minutes, a sign that many people like to cycle, but have not yet taken the step to purchase a bike of their own. After the bike ride, all cyclist gathered in the garden of the Netherlands Embassy for some snacks and drinks. The atmosphere was euphoric, "and we thought we were the only ones cycling in Cairo" was often heard.
Events like this clearly have a dual function: on the one hand it creates awareness amongst a wider public that the bicycle is part of the solution to the mobility problem, but on the other hand it enthuses and activates existing cyclists. Everyone left with a stronger hope that one day Cairo will be a real cycling city.
The seminar is organised in three sessions. The first session concerns non-motorised transport, like cycling and walking, and how those can be planned into a coherent transportation policy in cities. Dr Martin van Maarseveen (University of Twente) will talk about general urban planning theories and how cycling can be implemented into such a policy. Dr Ahmed Mosa (The German University in Cairo (GUC)) will look more specifically at the challenges for urban planning in Cairo and Egypt.
The next session emphasises challenges posed to cycling in urban environments. Leo de Jong M.Sc. will talk about the challenges to develop a cycling infrastructure. Dr Mark Zuidgeest (University of Twente) will discuss how this infrastructure can be developed in Egypt.
In the third and last session we will attend to experiences and socio-cultural challenges for cycling in Cairo. Ahmed Dorghamy will talk about cycling, while Yehia Shawkat will discuss non-motorised transport in general.
Our Thursday night lecture will focus on the day’s topic with an extra lecture by Dr Mark Zuidgeest (for more information check our weekly lecture program).
As space is limited in our library, those interested to attend the seminar are requested to send an e-mail to email@example.com and we will send a registration form.
Further announcements on the cycling seminar will appear on this website.