(MENAFN- Gulf Times) More Muscovites are embracing the bicycle, thanks in large part to a bike rental station initiative whose success,
some would say, is prompted more by political ambition than a genuine mindset change. By Claudia Thaler
What's it going to be? A two-hour ride in Moscow's jam-packed, stifling metro, or biking through the traffic-clogged streets of the 12-million-strong megalopolis?
For Alyona, the choice is easy.
'If the temperature is over 5 degrees Celsius, I cycle to work no question about it, the 26-year-old Muscovite says.
For the last two years, she has steered clear of the underground railway or a car, opting instead to get around by rented bicycle.
She's hardly alone, as more and more Russians these days are taking to the streets on two-wheelers. At a cost equal to just a few dollars, Muscovites and tourists alike can rent a standard bike or an electric one from the city for several hours.
'Cycling may still be a leisure activity for some people, but it's changed my life, Alyona told DPA. She's currently saving money for her own flat, so she can't afford to buy a bicycle that's sturdy enough for Moscow's punishing streets.
It helps that an increasing number of bike rental stations are popping up across the city.
The British magazine The Economist ranks Moscow very low in terms of 'liveability. Only Kiev, the Libyan capital Tripoli, war-torn Damascus and Lagos, Nigeria's largest city, have fallen farther in the rankings in recent years. Among the 30 factors the magazine considers is infrastructure.
To make Moscow more 'liveable, the municipal government intends to further expand its bike rental infrastructure. E-bikes are a recent addition. Several large Russian banks are co-financing the project.
By year's end, as many as 380 rental stations are planned in the city centre, with dozens more to come in two years.
'Part of our aim is to ease traffic congestion. Maybe traffic will flow more freely if more people switch to bikes, says Vladimir Kumov, 32, founder of the English-monikered organisation Let's Bike It!, which promotes cycling in Russia.
For years, Kumov has been organising bike parades in Moscow even in winter temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius. Today he works as a consultant for the city.
Moscow could sorely use some decongesting. According to INRIX, a US company that provides road traffic information, Moscow motorists spent an average of 3.8 days stuck in traffic jams last year, topped only by the long-suffering road warriors in Los Angeles. By way of comparison, the figure for Munich, Germany's most traffic-plagued city, is about two days a year.
Politics may be playing a role in Moscow's bike boom, with municipal elections scheduled in less than a year. In 2013, just before the last polls, incumbent Mayor Sergei Sobyanin promised the creation of hundreds of kilometres of bicycle lanes and said that even police would use bicycles at times. A lot of people were sceptical.
There are still few bicycle lanes in the city centre around the Kremlin, so sidewalks that are wide enough are used by cyclists, much to the irritation of pedestrians.
Sobyanin, seeking another re-election, is once again touting bicycle infrastructure expansion.
'It seems they've understood that cars aren't the answer to the city's development, Kumov notes.
Russians' love affair with the car, which quickly proliferated when cars become more affordable after the collapse of communism, has cooled somewhat.
Young, modern-minded Russians in particular are keen on physical fitness and happy to forgo a car. Many are also willing to brave the dangers of cycling, such as unfiltered exhaust gases and aggressive driving.
'Some [motorists] look around, aware that we're on the streets now too. They've become a bit more considerate, says Alexei, who rides his mountain bike for an hour to work every day in an office in central Moscow. Alexei hopes that other Russian cities, for example in Siberia, will become more bicycle-friendly as well.
'Moscow, as we know, is a trend-setter. What happens here spreads to the rest of the country within a year. -DPA
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