Agrowing trend in Nairobi, Kenya, sees more people switching to cycling since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite a critical lack of bike paths.
It’s a promising sign in the capital city where air pollution has increased 182% since the 1970s, and traffic jams cost an estimated
$1 billion in lost productivity every year.
In his store for used bikes in the city, Jimmy Karumba said he experienced a more than 50% rise in sales in 2020. The shopkeeper, who mainly sold children’s bikes before the pandemic, said he welcomed many adult customers looking to avoid public transport and stay fit.
Without the protection of bike lanes, cyclists must navigate between antiquated trucks, speeding SUVs and motorcycles crisscrossing the lanes on a busy highway during rush hour. Nevertheless, some still see several benefits to this mode of transportation.
Despite two minor accidents, videographer Steven Odhiambo is a big believer in the benefits of biking. He says he lost 20 kilograms from cycling alone and saved significantly on transportation, thanks to a used bike he bought for about $140.
“The fear was there about trying to maneuver these roads of ours where a big percentage of the drivers are usually careless,” he said. “They can push you off the road; they don’t care about you. But I just look at the pros and cons. I’m much safer on a bicycle, I am social distancing, I take less time.”
Cyprine Odada of Critical Mass, an alliance of cyclist groups that holds a monthly ride of up to 1,000 people in Nairobi, said the pandemic has shown policymakers that biking is popular among Kenyans and not exclusively a means of transportation for those of less financial means.
“Weirdly, COVID has been good for cycling,” she said. “It has shown policymakers that people want to walk, people want to cycle. And they have to — whether they like it or not! They have to find a way of ensuring people can get to their destinations safe and sound. It’s no longer us forcing ourselves to share roads with motorists; we do need a space dedicated specifically for cyclists and for pedestrians.”