New Era (Windhoek)

17 January 2006

Namibia: Let's Look to the Bike

Windhoek — With the ever-increasing population in the City of Windhoek and daily influx of people in search of job opportunities, the level of road congestion due to heavy traffic is becoming a matter for concern.

While the city is said to be accommodating 233 529 residents, the growth rate of 4,44 percent is putting a severe strain on existing infrastructure such as roads. It is further estimated that the population will stand at half a million by the year 2020. This massive urbanisation of the city is placing a burden on the city's roads. Just last year, the City Mayor Matheus Shikongo officially opened Robert Mugabe Avenue to help ease the traffic congestion on the old Simon de Wit Bridge.

Although this may alleviate the traffic flow especially during peak hours when road users travel from Katutura to the City Centre and vice versa, the use of bicycles can somehow address this concern as well, according to Michael Linke, the managing director of the Bicycle Empowerment Network (BEN) Namibia.

Currently, this organisation has been in close consultations with the Windhoek City Council to begin installing cycle lanes and plans for integrating cycling for an improved public transport system.

According to a City of Windhoek transport study, serious congestion problems are expected in the next six years unless something is done to address the issue. Therefore Linke sees cycling as part of the solution.

For some people who cycle their way to work every day, cycle lanes would bring a welcome relief as it can sometimes be dangerous for them due to the heavy traffic build-up in the city.

"I cycle from Katutura to my job in southern industria every day, but sometimes I get scared because there are no lanes for me to ride in on the roads and this gives me a headache," said one regular cyclist.

Such comments are regular from people that use bicycles on public roads, whilst the majority have opted for the safer taxi, even though it costs them more at the end of the day.

The use of municipal buses has also declined tremendously over the years because people feel they are slower than the ever-present taxis on the city's roads.

Only less than 1 percent of all journeys made are by bicycle and BEN Namibia in consultation with the City of Windhoek wants to improve this situation.

Linke says BEN Namibia looks forward to Windhoek and other major towns becoming leaders in cycle usage.

"It doesn't cost much to put bike lanes on existing roads, but the social and economic benefits are huge we (therefore) hope that the addition of cycle lanes and paths will see a dramatic rise in commuter cycling throughout Namibia, especially on routes from the northern suburbs into central Windhoek," explained Linke.

As an environmentalist, he added that with oil prices on an upward spiral and increased concern about climate change from burning fossil fuel, cycling is set to become a more popular mode of transport in Namibia.

In view of this, BEN Namibia has been involved in the distribution of affordable bicycles throughout the country.

Donations of over 1 000 bicycles from North America and the United Kingdom are already scheduled this year for the organisation to distribute. Just last week, a third container of 350 pedal cycles arrived at its Southern Industria warehouse, also consisting of a cycle rickshaw, as well as six wheelchairs for donation to HIV/Aids home-based caregivers and organisations of people living with disabilities.

Since it started in May last year, BEN Namibia has distributed 400 bicycles and is set to hand out 2 000 more this year at affordable prices ranging from N$200 to N$400 each. HIV/Aids organisations in Oshakati and Ombalantu received around 100 refurbished pedal cycles handed to volunteers to conduct frequent home-based care activities.

Linke says that the aim is to help assist the lower income groups who would get affordable bicycles for use.

He added that this year, some beneficiary groups have started their own bicycle shops in partnership with BEN Namibia, "providing them with a source of income and ensuring that the bikes are well maintained," he said.

One such place is Mr Elephant's Bicycle Garage in the DRC camp in Swakopmund, while similar ones are also planned for Katutura, Tsumeb, Oshakati and Outapi this year.

Comment was not available from the City of Windhoek at the time of going to press.

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