17 Nov Can Samoa be a nation of bikers?
17 November, 2017. Bonn, Germany. – Samoa’s struggles with nutrition, obesity and non-communicable diseases are well-known. There are many strategies for addressing these and much good work being done already. Perhaps another possible solution for us to consider, is the humble bicycle?
A visit to the German city of Bonn is to notice bicycles everywhere. People of all ages and sizes are riding bicycles, to work, school, and everywhere else.
There are parents on a bike, with a wagon attached for a baby…a toddler…or two! There are elderly folk pedalling by with a loaf of bread in a front basket. Lively groups of small children whiz down the street on their bikes, followed by teenagers.
Walking down the cobblestone streets, it’s not unusual to see a woman dressed in chic corporate office wear including high heels – riding a bicycle.
A stroll through the neighborhood in the early hours of the morning, you will see an entire family of bicycles parked and locked outside a house. Bikes are very much a family affair here.
There are also many places where you can hire a bicycle, easily, quickly and affordably.
Could we become a village of bikers? A nation of bikers?
Let’s not forget that there are other advantages to bicycles. They are cheaper to buy and maintain than a car. Lighter and smaller than cars and so cause less road-wear. Which means fewer of our tax tala’s will go to repairing roads. They take up less space on the road and in the parking lot, so are easier to store.
And the big plus of course – bikes produce no harmful pollution. So it’s a giant win for the environment.
What’s required to get more of us biking in Samoa?
Talk to a cyclist like Darren Young and he will tell you some horror stories about biking on our roads. He and his triathlete training buddies have had beer bottles thrown at them, cars swerve to try and hit them because it’s “funny”, buses that drive too close to the edge of the road and terrify anyone cycling or walking. And always, there are packs of dogs who think chasing cyclists is a bloodsport. It’s why Young does his bike sessions at 4am because there’s fewer cars on the road.
For all those reasons, most people in Samoa would not consider cycling as a good alternative to travelling by car or bus. And allowing their children to ride a bicycle to school in busy morning traffic? Forget it.
What would need to be done then to make Samoa a bicycle-friendly country?
In 2010, the city of Bonn in Germany committed to becoming a ‘bicycle capital’ by the year 2020 and thus remove 20% of carbon dioxide emissions produced by cars on their roads.
For Bonn, ensuring bicycling is safe has been a key focus.
According to an article from Deustche Welle Broadcasting, the city’s plan included: establishing more cycle paths in the city; increasing public trust in cycling by assuring that cyclists are safe on the roads; building more bike stations and improving bike parking; and having an integral transport system that accepts bicycles throughout the city.
For Samoa to become a nation of bikers, we would need to have clearly marked cycle lanes on our roads – a challenge when many roads still do not have sidewalks for people yet! But it is not impossible, especially as we are building new roads throughout the country and it would not too much of a reach for planners to incorporate bicycle paths.
In some sections of Bonn, cyclists share the sidewalks with pedestrians. There are clearly marked spaces for bikes to pass and cyclists use their bike bell to alert pedestrians that they are coming through.
Another challenge would be integrating bicycles into our lifestyles. Cycling in our sweltering tropical humidity is very different from cycling in the temperate climate of Germany. And biking to the office in your puletasi or ie faitaga might be problematic, especially if you arrive to work drenched in sweat. Those of us accustomed to either hopping into a quick taxi or driving our cars to an appointment, would need to adjust the way we plan our schedules because cycling somewhere takes longer and we would no longer be able to ‘dash’ in at the last minute.
(There speaks the Samoan who has been struggling to get to meetings on time here in Bonn because of all the walking involved!)
It would require a change in attitudes as well. We tend to see biking as something that only ‘sporty fit’ people do, because those are usually the only people we see out on a bike, chasing some exercise.
But in a city like Bonn that’s trying to be a bike-capital, you realise that cycling is not just the domain of athletes.
It’s for everybody.