Bicycles can have very different connotations in different corners of the world. Yes, because bicycles can carry a social meaning, as almost everything else nowadays…
In Abu Dhabi, roads are large and flat, making up an ideal terrain for cycling. Although cycling lanes are very limited, there is enough space to fit large cars and bicycles in the same road.
Public transport is still very nascent. An official network of bus routes came into being in just 2008. Taxis are at the top of the ladder when it comes to the preferred public transport choice, especially for those who don't drive, but yet again they are losing this status because of their climbing prices. Private cars are, by far, one of the most popular modes of transport in the city.
Given all these constraints, you'd think that bicycles would be an ideal way of moving around… They are, at the end of the day, a private means of transportation that does not require paying the costs of an expensive car's maintenance or those of several taxis a day... And yet, only the society's lower class echelons use it. Cycling means you can't afford a car, which in turn downgrades your social image. That's just the way it is.
The hot weather is, obviously, a huge factor in this. But while the sun burns the city for about six months, the other half of the year offers the most pleasant weather for this kind of activity - not too hot nor too cold and almost never raining - just perfect for cycling.
In London, by contrast, we see our bosses coming to work on their bicycles and skin suits before getting changed into their professional costumes - despite the more often than not cold and wet weather and although many could afford a car - but bicycles in London simply means convenience, on many fronts.
Abu Dhabi has a long way to go before it becomes like that. One's choice of transport is too interwoven with one's social image, and one's social image is a crucial component for success. It will take a deeper mental change to trigger a simple change such as using a bicycle.
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This initiative definitely gives an additional incentive to go on cycling or walking expeditions.
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