Bicycle Diaries: <i>Cycling Evolution</i>

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28.2.07

Cycling Evolution

from Ghana

Chris Benjamin has biked in cities throughout Canada, the US, Denmark, Finland, and China. Though he has yet to find the courage to ride a bike in Accra. As he wrote in the 27 February 2007 edition of county's oldest English language paper, The Statesman,
... you need a death wish to cycle, and cyclists are looked upon as the lunatic fringe, too poor or too stupid to take a taxi or at least a trotro.
He goes on to write,
When the bicycle was first invented and distributed in Europe around 1885, it was hailed as a technological revolutionary breakthrough that would free women from patriarchy and liberate the poor. Indonesia's first newspaper publisher was thrilled by the invention because it gave him a freedom of movement previously unattainable for a native in a colonised land.

Everyone would have access to this low-cost two-wheeled device; no more relying on expensive horses and buggies. No more dodging unwanted care packages courtesy of surly hoofed giants.

...Yet, a hundred years later, only 10 percent of people on the planet own cars. The one billion bicycle riders can only look on at that minority with envy, or jump out of the way shaking their fists in anger.

...The cost of Accra's failure to accommodate cyclists is traffic congestion, pollution, and an accident rate that would make a sword juggler cringe. Cyclists are the most common collision victims and tend to come out the worst for wear. Drivers are unable or unwilling to see bicycles or acknowledge that there is a human being atop the strange apparatus.
North of Accra, on the other hand, the news isn't all that bad.
In Tamale, where traffic flows so smoothly it makes Accra residents drool, the bicycle also receives due recognition.

It is there you can see veiled women with babies on their backs pumping pedal side-by-side, cruising quickly down well-paved lanes reserved for the two-wheeled. No one seems to be in much of a hurry yet everyone gets where they are going quickly.

Meanwhile in the south we sneer snidely northward with derisive comments and mock pity. "They are so poor; they can’t afford cars like us," we say, as we sit atop our idling engine, coughing on the smoky haze.

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