By Faranak Bakhtiari

Dutch diplomat: Various cities in Iran are capable of being bike-friendly

September 23, 2020 - 20:25

TEHRAN – On September 22, ambassadors of four European countries to Tehran along with the city’s mayor hit the streets on bicycles on the occasion of the World Car-Free Day to encourage people to use public or non-motorized transport.

In an exclusive interview with the Tehran Times, the Deputy Ambassador of the Netherlands to Tehran, Andre van Wiggen, said that his country has adopted a so-called cycling diplomacy, aiming to promote cycling in various countries in an effort to serve the environment and all human beings on the planet.

“In Iran, we started similar plans two years ago on a relatively small base,” he noted.

Tehran on right track to promote cycling 

Pointing to the challenges facing Tehran to get on the right track for promoting cycling, Wiggen noted that Tehran is such an enormous city with an over 10 million citizens, and is surrounded with the mountains, so it is very difficult to find a circulation system where you can do more than driving.

So in that sense, because the city grew so fast after the 30s and 40s of the last century, it took time for the municipality to adopt, he said, adding, lots of nice parks in the capital shows that the municipality is taking effort to keep the city green but the population might be a challenge.

Therefore, we are very supportive of the idea to promote cycling, walking, using step bicycles, or also pubic transport like the metro system, but it all comes together.

It is very encouraging to see that the municipality particularly, the mayor of Tehran paid sufficient attention to it, which is of great importance.

So, the city is on the right track, but there is still a lot to do. You can only achieve results in the long run by working step by step. 

High potential to be bike-friendly

Highlighting public awareness and government efforts as the main elements in this path, he stated that it works both ways, first of all, it needs more awareness amongst the people, as they have to realize the heavy burden of pollution as a result of car driving, particularly, in the winter, and there is mutual benefit from it, if you cycle, you maintain healthier.

Cycling is a common mode of transport in the Netherlands, with 36 percent of the people listing the bicycle as their most frequent mode of transport on a typical day as opposed to the car by 45 percent and public transport by 11 percent. Cycling has a modal share of 27 percent of all trips (urban and rural) nationwide.

The Netherlands is a flat country with almost no mountain in the surroundings so that it was much easier to promote cycling, but today, new techniques and technologies are paving the way for other countries to take step toward greener transport and cycling, for example, e-bikes that function like fast-moving motorcycles, he explained, implying that however, it needs infrastructure development, as well as setting up separate lanes, which takes more time and patience, as well as more campaigns and movements.

There are various ideas to get on the right path, and that is why the Netherlands Embassy supports an Iranian organization that offers advice and works with Iranian municipalities like Tehran Municipality.

In Iran, various cities are capable of being bike-friendly cities, such as Yazd, Shiraz, Mashhad, Qazvin, and so on, he also stated.


 

Neighborhoods first to start cycling promotion

Referring to the major barriers in this path, he said that the most important step is to settle in people’s minds that cycling is beneficiary to every one of us, and encouraging them to use less private cars, which is more convenient when there is relatively little public transport, and reducing people reliability on their cars.

He further highlighted the distances, saying that “cycling long distances is almost impossible, but cities can start with setting up bike tracks in the neighborhoods.

Some neighborhoods are relatively flat and can turn to car-free areas where people are also more eager to use bicycles instead of cars for short trips in the neighborhood.

So creating such small spaces can promote the use of bicycles gradually, Chitgar is also a proper place in this regard.”

All Iranians should benefit cycling

Pointing to the cycling experience with the Tehran mayor, he expressed interest and emphasized the need for taking more efforts by the municipality.

He went on to say that although the streets were closed off for the event, we could recognize drivers that were surprised watching a group of cyclists in the streets so that changing people’s perspective takes more time and patience.

In the Netherlands, pedestrians and cyclists have a lot of advantages and priorities over other vehicle users, and it is easier to ride bicycles in the lanes in an atmosphere where people got used to this strategy, while it is not widely known here due to few bikes on the streets.

However, the government is pushing to make it available to all Iranians, and that is the point, he added.

The Netherlands ready to share experience with Iran

In the Netherlands, we have the so-called cycling diplomacy, through which we organize events in different countries with good cooperation of municipalities, like in Egypt, where we used to organize the orange bicycle day, which is attended by thousands of Egyptians each year.

In Iran, we started similar plans since two years ago on a relatively small base, he noted, expressing hope over further development.

He also expressed pleasure to give advice and share the experience with Iran in this regard, and prepare the fine infrastructure, raise awareness, and promote the cycling culture to get as many people as possible on the bicycle.

A future with most pedestrians and cyclists

Iran kicked off the ‘Car-Free Tuesdays’ campaign in 2016 by NGOs aiming to decrease the number of private cars in cities, hence mitigate air pollution, but lost momentum after almost a year probably because of the inefficient infrastructure in the country.

Mehdi Hassanzadeh, a clean transport consultant, said that Wolrd Car-Free Day is celebrated in the country over the past two years aiming at promoting clean transportation including walking and cycling.


For the first time this year, a campaign is organized to close off one street in each city in favor of pedestrians and cyclists, while holding cultural and recreational events. It aimed to attract the attention of both people and officials towards a future in which most of the people are pedestrians and cyclists.

The event was held in 45 cities across the country and related organizations and NGOs shared their experiences.

It is scheduled to reduce the time interval of these events from once a year to once a month or even less to encourage officials to move towards human cities through setting up bike lanes, developing sidewalks, and better infrastructure, Hassanzadeh said.

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