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Almaty to develop bicycling culture
Improved health and environment among benefits
By Olga Pavlovskaya
ALMATY – With summer at its doorstep, Kazakhstan is again trying to spark interest in bicycling with a number of campaigns to make travel on two wheels more popular, especially among urban residents.
Almaty Mayor Akhmetzhan Yesimov has been one of the forces behind the push.
“It is environmentally friendly, and it is healthy,” said Yesimov, who participates annually in bicycle processions to encourage Almaty dwellers to bike. “I have been in four bicycle races myself, and it is very enjoyable.” But cycling hasn’t yet caught on in Almaty.
The city has more than 10,000 regular cyclists – about 0.7% out of a population of 1.4m – according to the Velo-Almaty cycling advocacy group. Ridership is predicted to reach only 2% by 2020, according to the Kazakhstan Institute of Transport and Communications forecasts. In Denmark, one of the world’s most bicycle-friendly countries, 31% of the population regularly ride bikes.
Occasional cyclist Nurlan Zhenaliyev discussed the state of cycling in Almaty.
“I cycle three hours twice a month, and that is enough,” said Zhenaliyev, who said he rents from one of the city’s 20 outlets when he wants to ride.
“There are not enough separate or marked bicycle lanes or lowered curbs,” Zhenaliyev said, admitting a fear of taking to the road.
2 key impediments to cycling
Zhenaliyev’s concerns come down to two basic issues: highway safety and a lack of bicycling infrastructure. Those are the top two challenges Velo-Almaty has identified for cyclists in the city.
Velo-Almaty has long been pushing to make Almaty more bicycle-friendly.
“The first difficult stage in the development of bicycle culture has passed – the government has heard us,” said Svetlana Spatar, a Velo-Almaty spokeswoman. “Bicycle races are regularly held, in which the mayor himself participates, and the development of bicycle infrastructure has been implemented in the general city development plan.”
However, more needs to be done, she said.
“Riding a bicycle has become fashionable,” she continued. “Now the government needs to take the next step – to make everyday bike use safe.”
Government set to improve conditions
Almaty plans to construct more bike lanes and bicycle parking, Sergei Kuyanov, spokesman for the city government, told Central Asia Online. In addition, he said, the city will address cyclist safety problems.
Bicycling infrastructure is part of a comprehensive programme to reduce pollution in Almaty from 2009 to 2018, Shamzhan Mahamatov of the city’s Office of Passenger Transport and Highways added.
“We plan to review and include the plan for bicycle infrastructure in the city’s general plan when developing the general transportation system,” Mahamatov said. The goal is to include these plans in the national budget to ensure financing.
Any large-scale infrastructure, such as bike lanes – Almaty has only one 2.5km-long bicycle lane, along Abay Prospect – must be done by the government, but non-governmental organisations have taken the lead in smaller ventures. In 2011, for example, Velo-Almaty and RTC-Konstruktiv built bicycle parking lots for all seven district service centres, where citizens pay their bills and apply for municipal services.
It is equally important to work with the public to improve safety, Spatar said. Cyclists in Almaty suffer three or four serious accidents yearly - and three or more fatalities - statistics indicate. A cycling school recently opened to teach cyclists how to ride safely, especially in traffic. Velo-Almaty and the city administration also distribute pamphlets to motorists about sharing the road with bicyclists.
The city has also launched programmes such as “Earth Hour on a Bicycle,” “Car Free Day,” and “Bicycle Races for Kids” to increase cycling’s popularity.
The result of all the efforts has been a slight shift in public consciousness.
Bank employee Dmitry Zhukov, for example, has been commuting to work by bike year-round for six years.
“The main advantage is that a bicycle is almost always faster than a car and you don’t have to deal with parking,” Zhukov said. “In the city centre and in the suburbs during rush hour, bicycles generally can’t be beat.”