Cyclers rally to promote bike-riding in Tunis
Tunis - In the throbbing heart of downtown Tunis, hundreds of people of all ages gathered for “Tunis by Bike,” a cycling initiative promoting bicycle riding in the city.
Begun in 2012 by the Tunisian Association of Velorution, “Tunis by Bike” invites cyclists to take part in a nocturnal bike tour of Tunis’s major monuments and highlights. The aim is to promote cycling to combat pollution.
“Today, we are here to raise public awareness about how using bicycles is a necessary thing that helps avoid traffic jams and pollution, as well as being a means of enjoyment,” said Hamza Abderrahim, one of the event’s organisers. “If road-users see us in this number, they will start respecting cyclists on the roads and the state will improve infrastructure for bike-users.”
“There are many benefits to using bikes in Tunis,” added Walid Ben Omrane, another organiser. “Financially, instead of using metros, you can save an important amount of money. It is healthy and beneficial for the body as well.”
While many see cycling as solely an athletic activity, participants at the event stressed riding a bike can be a form of daily transportation that is economical and ecologically friendly.
“We want to show people there are many of us, which will encourage others who want to use their bikes daily but are discouraged,” said Abderrahim. “We have a great turnout today. Tunis can be an environment for using bikes. It is the alternative to pollution.”
Ben Omrane, who noted that Tunisia is a top exporter of bikes (it ranks 24th in the value of such exports, the World’s Top Exports website stated), explained that an increase in cycling can benefit the Tunisian economy.
“Bicycles are manufactured in Tunisia and repaired and it could solve many problems for people who commute,” he said. “It is less expensive and it is ecological.”
Despite the event’s large turnout, many bike enthusiasts are apprehensive about the dangers of cycling on roads without bike lanes.
“We still have issues with security as many road users and drivers do not respect bike users. In addition, the roads are not equipped with paths for cyclists,” said Ben Omrane, who has been biking to work for three years. He added that authorities do not respect cycling as a means of transportation and that mentality can only be changed by increasing public awareness.
“It is a mentality issue that undermines the importance of bikes,” he said. “Today, you can feel things are changing, which is good. Bikes give you mobility. It is true the road is difficult but you get used to it. With the economic situation, the bicycle can be a great idea.”
Participants at the event, many of whom rode bikes to Tunis from their hometowns, agreed.
“I use cycling for everything and every day,” said Hamdi Khalfaoui, a 21-year-old student. “It is something I enjoy and it facilitates my life. It saves a lot of money and it is good for your health.”
“I almost never walk. I use the bike instead,” added Ala, a 20-year old student. “Unfortunately, no one respects us on the streets. The car drivers cut you off and do not even apologise. We would love to have paths only for bikes like all the cities of the world. Today, I am here to support this initiative. We need to keep this going.”
For some, the best way to enjoy cycling is to avoid crowded streets and use less-populated routes.
“The only way now is to opt for less-crowded streets to avoid issues and accidents,” said Khalil, 26, who said he commutes to work via bike almost every day. “We are here today to promote the idea of using bicycles as a means of transportation. Mentality can change if there are more of us every day.”
In addition to concerns about road safety, female cyclists say they face the additional problem of street harassment, especially in Tunis.
“People are disrespectful, said Mariem Ben Amara, 21, who participated in the event. “It is different to see a girl on a bike and they won’t leave you alone. Harassment is an issue but we shouldn’t care. Let them say whatever they want and that should not keep me from doing this. Bicycles have the right to have roads more than cars.”
Other female participants used the event as an opportunity to reclaim their right to the road.
“I call on more girls to use their bikes until people get used to it and it is no longer an issue,” said Kaouther Labidi, 24. “The more we are, the less harassment we get.”