Bulawayo has launched Asitshoveni (lets cycle), a smart mobility initiative, to revive a cycling culture while providing alternative modes of transportation to work, town, and school, and to improve overall mobility in the city.
According to the Bulawayo City Council (BCC), mobility is critical to achieving smart city status by 2024 and is critical to the city’s long-term development trajectory.
At the same time, BCC said it has a duty to manage effects of climate change, hence had to double up efforts towards carbon reduction so the Asitshoveni initiative would likely result in a reduction in the emission of various pollutants into the air and reduce traffic congestion.
However, the cycling culture had faded over time, with emphasis shifting to more ‘expensive’ modes of transportation, while cycling infrastructure had deteriorated, which BCC promised to repair.
The launch began at the Derby Hotel and proceeded along Plumtree Road for 15 kilometres before a brief stop at the Large City Hall, where cyclists were divided into two groups to continue cycling specific routes in the Central Business District (CBD).
Acting Bulawayo Town Clerk, Sikhangele Zhou said the idea to re-ignite cycling stemmed from its exhibition at the 2022 Zimbabwe International Trade Fair where cycling was one city’s value chain.
Historically, she said, Bulawayo was a cycling town, with employees from most big companies cycling to work as a cheaper mode of transportation.
“Bulawayo also had a number of big companies that used to manufacture bicycles and spare parts as well as employing a considerable number of people. Furthermore, there were vibrant cycling clubs competing at international level, and goods were delivered in the city by bicycle messengers, resulting in reduced congestion in the CBD,” she said.
“With cars people have spent many wasted hours in traffic jams and a reduction in car use has become a necessity in ensuring mobility throughout the world.”
Acting Bulawayo mayor, Mlandu Ncube said for improved organisational processes there is a need to set up systems that facilitate renewal, stabilisation and growth therefore there was potential for stepping up cycling under Asitshoveni.
“For most of us, cycling has not been part of our daily lives for a while and part of our culture. While daily cycling may not yet become one of the habits for us, it is nevertheless a mode of transport which promises to play a significant role in mobility management now and in the near future,” he said.
Ncube said BCC thought long and hard on the role bicycles played among its objectives for improving the quality of life in town and appeal for public transport, so one of the key benefits of cycling was to provide affordable and independent travel for those with restricted travel options.
The acting mayor added the initiative prompted BCC to think about the development of a mobility policy and conduct analysis on how it would fare in Bulawayo.
However, Ncube lamented one of the worst enemies for bicycles in urban areas was not cars but long held prejudices.
“As we implement Asitshoveni, we want to correct some of the prejudices connected with the use of bicycles as a regular mode of transport in the urban environment. Cycling is a simple, inexpensive and popular system which would be implemented immediately,” he said.
“We are also looking at various innovations that will provide accessibility to residents with the hope that young people and innovators will create mobile applications for bike share. These are opportunities to partner with the City of Bulawayo towards reducing prejudice and help build habits for a healthier urban environment. In reducing prejudice we have to develop new attitudes as cycling gives us freedom, good health and a good mood.”
Guest of honour at the launch, Minister of Primary and Secondary Education, Dr Evelyn Ndlovu said cycling was beneficial for children and adults alike.
“Allowing such platforms and sporting activities brings children of diverse backgrounds together. This also helps elders unite and no one sees what tribe one is as everyone wants to put an effort,” she said and called upon other cities to copy what Bulawayo was doing and input cycling in their planning.
Dr Ndlovu also highlighted the need for Private Public Partnerships to take the cycling initiatives to greater scales and recommended to the BCC to introduce an annual cycling event the ‘Tour de Bulawayo’ like other big events such as the ‘Tour de France’ to attract tourism.
Bulawayo Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister, Judith Ncube stated she has travelled to other countries and seen how people rely on cycling and motorbikes, as a mode of transportation especially for vulnerable communities.
“Cycling is not a new phenomenon, many workers cycled to work with Asitshoveni, we hope prejudices about cycling will be removed,” she said.