EghtesadOnline: Despite initiatives by Iran's Department of Environment and anti-air pollution campaigners, the use of bicycles and related projects has failed to take off across the country.
As a cheap means of transportation, cycling is regaining its 19th-century status because of the environmental challenges facing the world, such as high air pollution and global warming, which are posing threats to people’s lives.
However, compared to the population of Iranian metropolises, the number of cyclists is very low despite the heavy traffic, high level of air pollution and the risk of Covid-19 infections in public means of transportation.
Officials in Tehran, the capital city, which has paradoxically pioneered the establishment of cycling lanes and amenities, no longer appear enthusiastic about promoting the eco-friendly mode of transportation.
Parviz Sarvari, the deputy head of Tehran City Council, told YJC, “Expansion of cycling is an ideal plan for a polluted city like Tehran, but it is not a priority.”
Currently, he believes, all efforts should be centered on streamlining public transportation and adding more buses and subway wagons to the city’s fleet.
Sarvari stated that before investing in the expansion of cycling in the capital, measures should be taken to reduce the city's persistent air pollution.
“Cycling necessitates fresh air ... The activity should be carried out with careful attention to air quality,” he philosophized.
The official is surely putting the cart before the horse by saying healthy air should precede efforts for fostering cycling.
This is evident from the muted calls of Tehran officials for promoting public cycling or expanding bike lanes.
Only 4 Cycling Lanes in Tehran
Kambiz Mostafapour, the mayor of Tehran’s District 14, earlier said 19 kilometers of cycling lanes will soon be ready in the southeastern part of the metropolis.
“Around 11 kilometers of the lanes have already been built and the project will come on stream once the final 8 km are completed,” he said.
Mostafapour noted that to build an integrated cycling network throughout the city, the new routes will be connected to the adjacent districts 12, 13 and 15, through Basij and Mahallati highways as well as Abouzar Boulevard.
Tehran bikers have access to a total of four cycling lanes in the capital, the latest of which was established last year in June.
This lane is located in the eastern part of Taleqani Street, which crosses districts 6 and 7 in the city center.
Stretching over 1 kilometer between Mofatteh and Shariati streets, the lane is equipped with signage, lane markings and fences.
However, the other three lanes are located in one area, Tehran’s District 6, where Karimkhan, Iranshahr and Mofatteh streets have one bike lane each.
The fuzzy state of cycling development is not restricted to the capital city of Tehran.
Officials in the northwestern province of Ardabil believe that cycling is a foreign concept to the general population and significant efforts should be made to foster the culture.
Speaking to reporters, Massoumeh Samadian, the head of Ardabil Cycling Club, said even a proper cycling venue for professionals, let alone urban amenities for the people, is lacking in the province.
Officials in Khorasan Razavi Province are adamant that cycling, particularly for women, should be limited to cycle parks, and urban development plans need not encourage public cycling infrastructure.
However, sporadic efforts are being made to improve the cycling network in Isfahan, the central city of the province's name.
According to Ahmad Zandavar, the head of Transportation Commission at Isfahan City Council, there is an untapped potential for developing motor-less transportation in the metropolis.
“Plans are underway to launch 777 km of cycling tracks and equip the city with bike racks and safety facilities,” he added, calling for the collaboration of officials to commence the process.
Zandavar noted that the potential health risk of public transportation in the face of Covid-19 transmission offers an opportunity to foster the culture of cycling that will also help curb Isfahan’s air pollution.
The relatively stronger interest of Isfahan’s residents in cycling became evident from the fact that the city was Iran’s first metropolis to enforce “Car-Free Tuesdays”, a people-driven campaign endorsed by the Department of Environment.
On Aug. 2, 2016, Isfahan Municipality banned all vehicles from entering Charbagh Street, one of the city’s main thoroughfares, from 4-10 p.m. to promote the use of bicycles and encourage people to walk.
The campaign was started a year before in Arak, Markazi Province, by environmentalists who had grown weary of being held hostage to the unremitting air pollution.
Shortly after its launch, the campaign was publicly endorsed by senior environment officials. Various cities in every province, including Tehran and Mashhad, adopted the campaign, with varying levels of commitment, for a short while.
Officials believed that the campaign could help unite people under a common cause and even improve living standards. However, the trend fizzled in society and enthusiasm waned, with few people now cycling on Car-Free Tuesdays.
The diminishing interest in cycling, both among the Iranian public and urban planners, dashes any hope of popularizing the healthy mode of transportation.
While many people in 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 crowded streets.
A few years ago, to find out which cities provide cyclists with better services and amenities, a study was conducted by a bicycle company 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 cycling havens while Iranian cities did not feature even among the world’s top 100 cities in this regard.