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

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.”


Solid gold toilet stolen from English stately home

Updated 14 September 2019

Solid gold toilet stolen from English stately home

  • Toilet was created by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan and estimated to be worth around £1 million
  • A 66-year-old man was arrested following the burglary at Blenheim Palace

LONDON: A gang of thieves on Saturday stole an 18-carat gold toilet from Britain’s Blenheim Palace, police said, causing flooding that damaged the world-famous stately home.
The fully-functioning toilet, dubbed “America,” was created by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan and estimated to be worth around £1 million.
A 66-year-old man was arrested following the burglary, which took place before dawn at the 18th-century estate near Oxford, southern England.
The toilet was one of the star attractions in an exhibition of Cattelan’s works that opened on Thursday at the palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Visitors were able to book time slots to use it — but only for three minutes each, to limit the queues.
More than 100,000 people used the loo during the year it was on display at New York’s Guggenheim Museum.
“The offenders broke into the palace overnight and left the scene at about 4.50am (0350 GMT). No-one was injured during the burglary,” police said in a statement.
Detective Inspector Jess Milne of Thames Valley Police said she believed “a group of offenders used at least two vehicles” — and left a mess behind them.
“The piece of art that has been stolen is a high-value toilet made out of gold that was on display at the palace,” she said.
“Due to the toilet being plumbed into the building, this has caused significant damage and flooding.”
Blenheim Palace said it was “saddened by this extraordinary event, but also relieved no-one was hurt.”
It closed on Saturday but said it would reopen on Sunday.

The palace is home to the 12th duke of Marlborough and his family, and was also the birthplace of British wartime leader Winston Churchill.
The duke’s brother, Edward Spencer-Churchill, who founded the Blenheim Art Foundation, said last month he was relaxed about security around the gold toilet.
“It’s not going to be the easiest thing to nick,” he told The Times newspaper.
“Firstly, it’s plumbed in and secondly, a potential thief will have no idea who last used the toilet or what they ate. So no, I don’t plan to be guarding it.”
He added: “Despite being born with a silver spoon in my mouth I have never had a shit on a golden toilet, so I look forward to it.”
Cattelan, who is known for his provocative art, has previously described the golden toilet as “one-percent art for the 99 percent.”
The Guggenheim had offered the loo on loan to US President Donald Trump, but he declined.
The Italian artist’s exhibition at Blenheim runs until October 27 and includes a taxidermied horse hoisted onto the ceiling of an ornate reception room.
Blenheim has previously hosted exhibitions of work by Ai WeiWei, Yves Klein, Jenny Holzer, Michelangelo Pistoletto and Lawrence Weiner.
Police said they were looking at CCTV footage to help them in the search for the gold toilet, adding that nothing else was believed to have been stolen.