A Cultural Journal

    Critical Mass: Cycling in Islamabad

    Written by: Dr Dushka H. Saiyid - Posted on: July 10, 2012 | Post your comment here Comments | 中文 (Chinese)

    Google Translation: اُردو | 中文

    Cycling in Islamabad: The Movement of Critical Mass

    Cycling in Islamabad

    Pakistan, like most developing countries, has been a hostage to the automobile industry to the neglect of mass transit, focusing on motorways and flyovers. It inherited a fairly good railway system from the British, which has been allowed to fall into disrepair and go bankrupt, at a time when the world is moving towards increasing the reach and speed of the railways, as it is an environmentally friendly transport.

    Bicycles, the traditional mode of transportation in developing countries, are fast becoming extinct. To some extent this was a natural process because of the increasing distances and the fast pace of modern life, but the government policies in Pakistan and other developing countries, have not promoted bicycle culture. This is in sharp contrast to efforts being made to provide easily accessible bikes in public places by city councils in such mega polis as New York, London and Paris, amongst others.

    The arrival of the movement of “Critical Mass” bicycle enthusiasts in the major cities of Pakistan, could be a harbinger of change in the attitude to bicycles in this country. This movement began in San Francisco in 1992, with no other objective than to get bicycle enthusiasts to re-claim the streets of San Francisco on weekends. The name of the movement came from a documentary, which described how motorists and cyclists in China would stop at intersections without traffic signals, wait to form a cluster or “critical mass”, before they would move again. From there the movement has spread to other parts of the world. Critical Mass made its appearance in Pakistan in Lahore in 2008, led by the environment activist Rafay Alam. However, his objectives were a little more ambitious, to highlight the threat to environment.

    Critical Mass, which made its advent in Islamabad in 2009, has the potential to be a rallying ground for those concerned at the degradation of this beautiful city’s environment. Their mega event on the 29th of April drew people from all ages, had a good gender balance and a small sprinkling of foreigners, unfazed by any terrorist threat. At a time that the state institutions are collapsing under the corrosive influence of corruption and nepotism, Critical Mass could become an important pressure group to keep the city clean and green.

    Closing some of the city streets on Sundays to all traffic except bikes, would promote cycling as a sport. As yet a sport of the elite, it has a natural populist appeal because most families possess at least one bike. Various health organizations, like the Heart Association of Pakistan, could link up with CMI to promote cycling. CMI is a great initiative by a dedicated band of young people, but in order to play a transformative role, it needs to broaden its appeal to wider sections of the society.

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