On your bike? Africa in a jam as ‘poor man’s transport’ ignored

Bike sharing has struggled to take off in Africa where road networks tend to favor motorists. (Reuters)
Updated 10 October 2018
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On your bike? Africa in a jam as ‘poor man’s transport’ ignored

  • Experts are keen to increase cycling across the continent as it could reduce traffic jams and air pollution and enable more people to get around their cities
  • Sitting in Nairobi’s notorious traffic jams costs $16.2 million a year in wasted time and fuel

NAIROBI: Bike sharing in African cities has lagged due to lack of dedicated lanes and the perception that cycling is for the poor, worsening traffic jams and pollution, experts said on Wednesday.
Bike sharing has expanded across North America, Europe and Asia as authorities seek improve boost the health of city residents and the planet, but it has struggled to take off in Africa where road networks tend to favor motorists.
“When governments only construct highways for vehicles, they are conditioning people to own cars,” Amanda Ngabirano, an urban planner at Uganda’s Makerere University told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of a Nairobi bike sharing forum.
“The attitude toward cycling is still bad across Africa. It is seen as a poor man’s form of transport and has been pushed aside by planners.”
Morocco’s Marrakech was the first African city to get a bike share program in 2016 with the support of the United Nations as it prepared to host a climate conference.
Experts are keen to increase cycling across the continent as it could reduce traffic jams and air pollution and enable more people to get around their cities, improving job opportunities.
“Simultaneous to building infrastructure is building a bicycle culture, by raising awareness on the benefits that cycling can bring to people’s lives,” said Stefanie Holzwarth, a mobility expert at UN-Habitat, an urban development agency.
Sitting in Nairobi’s notorious traffic jams costs 1.6 billion shillings ($16.2 million) a year in wasted time and fuel, Kenyan academics calculated in 2013, a problem which is likely to worsen as its population grows.
Kenya’s capital has a longer commuting time than many global cities, with four in 10 people walking because they cannot afford public transport, according to the United Nations.
But the lack of bicycle lanes makes it dangerous for cyclists who fight for space with motorbikes, cars and trucks, said Cyprine Mitchell, a transport planner with the New York-based Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.
“Infrastructure in many African cities is a barrier to cycling,” said Holzwarth. “There is fear among many people that would like to cycle because the infrastructure is not safe.”


Young Russians seek health, highs in ice swimming

Osman Delibash, 26, a member of Moscow's ice swimming club "Walruses of the Capital", swims in a strip of water cut in the ice by the bank of the Moscow River on February 3, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 32 min 36 sec ago
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Young Russians seek health, highs in ice swimming

  • Russia’s winter swimming federation, based in the Siberian city of Tyumen, lists joint health and good skin among the benefits

MOSCOW: Diving into a long hole cut in the ice, Viktoria Tsuranova swims a few strokes and flashes a smile at the photographer capturing the moment for her Instagram account.
She is one of a new generation of Russian “Walruses” — hardy swimmers who plunge into frozen rivers and lakes all through the winter.
They swear it wards off not just colds but also cellulite, as well as giving them a rush of euphoria.
Ice swimming in Russia has long been associated with older, usually Speedo-clad men.
But Tsuranova and other members of Moscow’s “Walruses of the Capital” club are giving it a fashionable new image.
“A sporty way of life is right on trend now,” says Nikolai, drinking rosehip tea with honey in a grey onesie.
He has just taken a dip in the L-shaped strip of water cut by the bank of the Moskva River, in the relatively balmy air temperature of minus two degrees C (28 degrees F).
“There’s a kind of new wave of young people coming up now, following the generation that set the standard for walrus swimming — the older generation.”
Tsuranova, a fitness blogger, later posts a video and photo of her swim on her Instagram, which has 103,000 followers.
Shivering a little in a fur coat after her swim, she says: “I’m just interested in the extreme, in testing myself. I’m scared every time.”
She says she hasn’t been ill once over the winter.
“It’s a great way to prevent excess fat deposits and cellulite,” Tsuranova adds.

Others are more equivocal on the health effects of ice swimming, defined as taking a dip in water temperatures of zero to four degrees C.
Russia’s winter swimming federation, based in the Siberian city of Tyumen, lists joint health and good skin among the benefits.
But it also warns that those with weak hearts or breathing problems should not attempt it.
A separate study by Tyumen scientists in 2015 found that the cold temperature caused stress on the body for people who swam in ice over a period longer than 10 years.
Ice swimming is also practiced in Scandinavia and China, though it is particularly popular in Russia, where cold water is seen as a way to toughen people up.
Millions of Orthodox believers in the country plunge into icy pools every Epiphany as part of a religious tradition.

The facilities at the “Walruses of the Capital” club are minimal — a green-painted hut with tiny changing rooms heated by stoves.
Depending on their experience, ice swimmers tend to stay in the water for anything from one to around five minutes.
But the club is not just an amateur organization — it also trains swimmers to take part in international competitions held outdoors in winter.
The club’s star swimmer Osman Delibash, 26, trains regularly and recently made a video showing her sitting for an hour in the frozen-over pond in her garden.
This set a record recognized by a Russian association for the longest stint in cold water by a woman.
She has also won a string of medals for swimming distances of up to a kilometer in sub-zero air temperatures.
Delibash, who also teaches soldiers serving in extra-cold environments and performs as a stunt woman, walks around in the snow bare-legged in a bathrobe.
“Water is my element — specifically icy water,” she says.

The club’s founder and Delibash’s trainer, Natalya Seraya, gives out certificates to a group of new “walruses” as they crowd inside the steaming hut.
Seraya, who has set Russian records for marathon ice swims, tells them: “Nothing will boost your immunity more strongly than icy water.”
“This is the path to health and long years of active life.”
However, as part of her postgraduate studies, she is also researching, with the help of some of the club’s ice swimmers, where the limits in its benefits lie.
“What’s good for you, what’s dangerous, where is the dividing line?” Seraya says, describing the outlines of her research into the effects of ice swimming.
Swimmers also talk about experiencing psychological benefits from dips.
“There’s some kind of cleansing, as if you reset yourself back to zero,” said first-time swimmer Tatiana Batalova, while blogger Tsuranova says she feels a “high” on emerging.
“When you come out of the water you feel warm and joyful like you’re on wings. You could even call it euphoria,” says Seraya.