Pedalling solutions to Dar es Salaam’s mega-city woes

July 23, 2014
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A file picture taken on April 27, 2014 shows a man transporting charcoal down Sokoine Drive along the harbour front in downtown Dar es Salaam/AFP
A file picture taken on April 27, 2014 shows a man transporting charcoal down Sokoine Drive along the harbour front in downtown Dar es Salaam/AFP
DAR ES SALAAM, July 23 – Fatma rides on the shoulder of the road, her infant daughter secured to her back with a length of brightly coloured kanga fabric.

Arms outstretched, she grasps the handles that function as pedals and rotates the chain around a gear, propelling herself through Dar es Salaam’s heavy traffic.

On roads that claim upwards of 10,000 lives every year, people who cannot walk take on the traffic in hand-pedalled tricycles.

“If I don’t use my bike, it would be very hard for my family to survive,” she says.

The roads are not just dangerous for those with disabilities. With five million inhabitants, Tanzania’s commercial and administrative capital is growing beyond the capacity of its infrastructure.

Trucks, buses and private vehicles share the road with mini-buses known as daladalas, which are sometimes so crammed that passengers have to disembark through rear windows.

Battered motorcycles and auto-rickshaws negotiate the space between cars, speeding along sidewalks and darting into opposing traffic to gain a few extra metres. Vendors form a slow procession between the cars, selling everything from fire extinguishers to cowboy hats and self-help books.

“Most people spend up to 43 days a year stuck in their car,” says Mejah Mbuya, the founder of UWABA, Dar es Salaam’s cycling advocacy group. “I’m talking about people who are spending two hours to go to work and two hours to go back home.”

On these gridlocked streets, cyclists are trying to lay claim to a piece of the road.

During the annual Cycle Caravan, more than 400 people took to the streets to advocate for cyclists’ rights and to encourage policymakers to recognise that bike lanes help make cities more livable and also save lives.

Mbuya has been organising the event since 2006, and is passionate about the benefits of cycling not only for the health of individuals, but also for the health of cities.

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