Uphill battle but Tehran aims to become bike-friendly

One sunny day, Tehran’s mayor and foreign diplomats rode bicycles through the Iranian capital to promote cycling — no mean feat in a city of steep roads, heavy traffic and toxic fumes. The metropolis of more than eight million people is choked with vehicles running on subsidised fuel and has limited infrastructure for alternative modes of transport.

But the city’s mayor, Pirouz Hanachi, believes trying to make a dent in the city’s traffic and pollution problem by promoting a bike-sharing initiative is worth the effort. 

Hanachi has tried to promote cycling by launching “Tuesdays without cars” when he and other team members use pedal power to get to and from the office. “We are not saying this is the solution, but it’s a short-term, accessible, cheap and productive” way to help “ease traffic and pollution a bit”, he said. “It won’t be like Amsterdam, but it can be a new experience.”

Downtown Tehran is notorious for its traffic jams and is regularly covered in vehicle exhaust smog, worsened by pollution from factories around the city limits. That is why the municipality is supporting a bike-sharing start-up called Bdood (“fumeless” in Farsi), the mayor said. The company’s orange bikes can now be seen in 147 stations across Tehran, according to its website

For the mayor, Tehran residents would ideally commute to work by cycling to the nearest metro station then taking the train. The municipality is “increasing cycling paths and trying to make bicycles more accessible,” he added.


Yet cyclists say a lack of dedicated infrastructure makes it difficult for the city to be bike-friendly. 

“Not at all,” laughed Farshad Rezayi when asked if Tehran were accommodating to cyclists. “Like, no way!” The 32-year-old chef, who said he is “addicted” to cycling, rides more than 30km a day to get to and from work.

He crosses highways and streets with few dedicated bike lanes. Where they do exist, he said, they have mostly been taken over by motorbikes. It is commonplace in Tehran to see motorcycles speeding down pavements. “A lot more infrastructure is needed for regular cycling to be a thing,” Rezayi said, adding that motorists and pedestrians mostly regard cyclists as “intruders”.

“Sometimes drivers harass you, pedestrians get nasty — from snide remarks to physical stuff, dangerous moves that could get you killed.”

Tragedy struck in June when a professional cyclist died in the capital after she was hit by a car. In her memory, a group of Tehran residents have launched a campaign called “White Pedal” to raise awareness about cycling. Part of the initiative involves purchasing bikes for impoverished children, said its co-manager, Mahboubeh Kohanzad.

Bdood co-founder Gholamhossein Qasemi said he dreams big, imagining an Iran with electric vehicles and “clean transportation”.

In the meantime, the bike-sharing service costs about 10 US cents for 30 minutes — about the same as a short shared-taxi ride — and can be accessed using an app.

Sarfaraz, unlocking a Bdood bike at Tehran’s bustling Valiasr Square, said he’d been using the service for more than a year and a half and was “very satisfied”. The 30-year-old marketer said he preferred the gearless bikes to taxis, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic — but not for long distances or uphill. 

Animator Nastaran Jabarnia, 29, said Bdood’s bikes inspired her to repair her own old one, although she said being a woman cyclist in Tehran posed certain additional challenges.

“Being cat-called, whistled at, or even cars tailing you and passing at high speed” were some of the problems she faced, she said. 

Aside from the physical and environmental hurdles, there is another challenge for Iranian women cyclists: ultra-conservatives consider it to be immoral. “I go out fully covered but still get stressed,”Jabarnia said. — AFP

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Amir Havasi
Amir Havasi
AFP reporter in Tehran, Iran. Formerly Business Journalist at Fintribune.

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

ANC’s rotten apples on the chopping block

Now that the NEC has finalised its step-aside guidelines for those facing corruption charges, a swathe of officials will struggle to cling to their positions

Sisulu and Dlodlo punted to be on their way out

Because President Cyril Ramaphosa won the step-aside order in the ANC’s national executive committee, a cabinet reshuffle looms, with Sisulu and Dlodlo’s names on comrades’ lips

More top stories

Analysts expecting another attack ‘in the next few months’ in...

The extremist insurgency in Mozambique has been an ongoing threat since 2017. SADC needs to act now, say analysts

SIU probes how master of the high court fleeces the...

While the SIU delves into dozens of allegations of fraud, corruption and misconduct against officials at the master of the high court, many families have been left destitute after the death of their loved ones.

Somi’s Holy Room breaks the sounds of silence

Somi’s latest album, recorded live with a big band, was released as an ode to music-starved fans and empty theatres

New cyber scam targets property sales

Suspects appear in court on charges of fraud and forgery to intercept payments for title deed transfers and associated legal fees
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…