June 28, 2021
Walking Towards the Next 10 Years - Ethiopia’s Non-Motorized Transport

In a national bid to ensure affordable and accessible transport to all, Ethiopia is implementing the country’s 10 year Non Motorised Transport Strategy. One major component is encouraging bicycle use through a supporting regulatory framework and streets designed for accommodation.

Top Image: TGB Accelerator participant bamboo labs. A social enterprise aims towards bringing a more equitable, safer and greener mobility plan for the country, using locally sourced bamboo.

Ben Jemaneh has been cycling for the past 25 years. The cycling enthusiast has a group he meets up with every Sunday to go on weekly trails. The team of 25 or more cyclists meet weekly and travel far on their sturdy bikes. They once cycled back and forth to Agena, in the Gurage zone, 187 kilometers from Addis Abeba. Their capable bikes are made for long distance trips and make cycling on rugged terrains enjoyable. Getting the mechanic and spare parts for when their bikes break down however, proved to be difficult over time.

Last year, as the one mechanic they were working with was on the verge of leaving his business, Ben instead persuaded him and together they now run BMJ Bike Shop. The dearth of bike shops that can cater to the needs of this cyclist group indicates the diminishing cycling culture according to Ben. He reminisces of a much livelier time in Ethiopia’s bicycling era. “The sport has slowly died over the years,” said Ben. “When we used to go out early in the mornings for exercise, there used to be a lot of other people on their bicycles. It is at an all time low now.” The lack of attention by the government has hindered the sport in its potential to grow, he added. The poor quality of bicycles imported and the roads, with ever present jutting speed brakes made for cars and the absence of bicycling lanes have made cycling a dangerous activity. “The bikes on sale here are not durable,” added Ben. “Having good quality bikes plays a big part in creating a cycling culture.”

Car-free events, like the ones Ben advocates for, started taking place late 2018 in the country, an initiative led by the Ethiopian Ministry of Transport (MoT). Dubbed Menged le Sew [Streets for People], the event has taken place numerous times since then with the help of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy among others. During the event, roads across the heart of the capital, and other cities like Bahir Dar, are closed off and many take to the streets to cycle, play football and  engage in other recreational activities.

The MoT took the initiative along with other partners to draft this strategy due to the shortcomings of motorized transport according to Bayu Mulugeta, Urban and Rural Transport Director at the Federal Transport Authority, an institution working under the Ministry. Motorized transport comes with high and irreversible costs, both financial and environmental. It also impedes access to basic human rights, explained Bayu. “If a woman cannot go to a hospital to give birth due to the lack of roads then this also affects basic human rights,” he said. “The pollution from motor transport also dovetails with the rights of people to live in a healthy environment.”

Ethiopian cities have a majority use of non-motorised transport; 54 percent of inhabitants in Addis Abeba walk, followed by 31 percent that use public transportation. Despite this, pedestrian roads and crossings are unsafe and virtually non-existent. The poor road designs are also partly faulted for the high rate of car crashes in the country. The Strategy has high aspirations; ensuring the current level of automobiles in the country stays at its current level, increasing the share of public transportation use to 80 percent of all motorised transport and maintaining air quality norms as set by the WHO throughout the year. The strategy aims to achieve this through four main tracks; service provision; infrastructure; investment; and a regulatory framework.

“It has challenges but we are working with various institutions within the government,” said Bayu. “This is in addition to attracting private investment into this sector.” With this in mind, the Authority is currently close to finalising relevant regulations including one on the standard and use of bicycles and a mobility strategy guideline for cities. With a rapidly increasing rate of urbanisation in the country, addressing the need for a low-carbon transportation option is a necessity. ‘The first step is making sure that everyone is aware and in line with the plan on a national level,” said Bayu.

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