A future on two wheels

20 Nov 2015

Cycling enthusiast Zoya Mayorova on the road Cycling enthusiast Zoya Mayorova on the road

The humble bicycle has been a symbol of social equality and empowerment from its earliest days. Anyone familiar with the story of the Penny Farthing will know that its invention was followed immediately by the social drive to ensure both women and men could benefit from the newly-fangled device. Students of history will recall photographs of endless rows of bikes at Tiananmen Square. Today bicycles are recognised as a low-tech means of transportation with endless applications in the development field, while also being a healthy form of exercise and greatly positive for the environment.

In 2015 UNDP Uzbekistan and its partners have embraced the two wheels as a tool for empowerment and education. Importantly bikes have been provided to health volunteers distributing information about Tuberculosis in Uzbekistan’s western Karakalpakstan region, efforts which will be discussed in an upcoming blog. The GEF SGP project has hosted this year’s Velokvest-2015 (Cycle Quest) event in Tashkent, a game that brought together biking and intellectual challenges, and we spoke to a member of ‘Charlie’s Angels’ squad Zoya Mayorova about what it is like to be a biker in Uzbekistan’s capital city.

More than a popular trend

“Biking brings together people of different genders and ages, creates social groups that promote healthy lifestyles, and contributes to the development of society as a whole,” Ms. Mayorova shared with the GEF SGP team. “It does not matter how old you are, whether you are a man or woman, or what you do for work – you can always change your lifestyle.”

While she goes on occasional cycling trips into country Uzbekistan, Ms. Mayorova is a part of Tashkent’s growing population of cyclists who have made biking a way of life in the city. Tashkent has ‘the right makings’ for a biking city, and combined with the right publicity and interest generation, Ms. Mayorova believes this culture could be the spark for creating a sustainable biking trend across greater Uzbekistan.

“Our city is very convenient for biking – we have wide roads, easy terrain, beautiful monuments and tree-lined avenues, these are all a big plus.” She added. “It has become fashionable to be a cyclist in Tashkent, even if it’s not always safe.”

“The lack of a friendly driving culture is the main disadvantage in the city, which indeed also impacts road users. To encourage an increasing amount of people to get involved in biking, both the greater public and officials need to review their attitudes towards cycling movements, and create more favourable and safer conditions for cyclists.”

The ‘Charlie’s Angels’ squad was one of many groups who took part in this year’s annual event. As an awareness-raising event, ‘Velokvest’ ultimately just scratches the surface of the push for a broader cycling culture in Uzbekistan, but it helps to bring an important topic to the public’s attention.

Velokvest’s broader impact

The Velokvest event helps to bring cycling to the attention to Tashkent residents. This is important, as Tashkent not only contains a sizable portion of Uzbekistan’s population, but also generates a vast majority of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, and is an important place of influence.

On a broader scale, Velokvest helps to underline the benefits bicycles offer not just in regards to levels of exercise, health and green transportation, but it is also gets people thinking about how bikes can be a tool for the development of the nation’s more isolated and rural areas.

“One key component of the GEF SGP project, and indeed something important within the entirety of UNDP Uzbekistan’s work, is the need to establish development that is both simple and effective. It’s hard to find a tool that is more basic, and more cost efficient and energy efficient than a bicycle,” said project manager Alexey Volkov.

“In Uzbekistan’s most vulnerable regions, especially in the far western Karakalpakstan region, most recently bicycles have been awarded to volunteers raising awareness of Tuberculosis, whose efforts have received attention on a global scale.” (You can read about this story in inspirational news currently published on our website, and a soon-to-be publish blog about the story of one of the volunteers).

This is a particularly noteworthy case, but the people who ride bikes on a daily basis, be it for recreation or transportation in a major city, or as a potentially direct source of income or as a means of helping the community, they are demonstrating how bicycles are a force for social and environmental change.”

Velokvest-2015 won’t be the last cycling event run by the GEF SGP/UNDP Uzbekistan and its partners, with plans to host additional events in regional Uzbekistan in coming years. UNDP Uzbekistan will also continue to support the growth of bicycles as a tool for development. So when the next Velokvest comes around, get on your bike and get involved!

About GEF SGP

This national programme is part of a broader GEF-UNDP global initiative, undertaken in 119 countries, that provides small grants to projects initiated and conducted by people in communities. The initiatives are local in size, but they can have broad positive impacts. Visit here to learn more about the national projects in this field.

By Blogging Consultant James Brindley

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