KABUL, -- Shukrullah has joined a growing new trend in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. The young Afghan man, who goes by one name only, is buying a bicycle to beat the frequent hours-long traffic jams in the teeming capital.
Shukrullah is among a growing number of Kabul residents who are turning to bicycles to get around the city where many downtown roads are clogged during rush hours and sometimes even at other times of the day.
“The traffic jams are so frequent that riding a bicycle has become necessary,” he said as he counted banknotes before paying for the bike he chose. “With declining business and wages, it is also cheap to bike to work and for bringing groceries home.”
Shukrullah is among the customers of Muhammad Ismail, a bicycle shop owner in downtown Kabul. Ismail says the health benefits of biking, too, are leading many to ditch their cars in favor of a commute that combines exercise.
“I do own a car, but I prefer to use a bike instead because once you get stuck in a traffic jam you cannot leave for hours,” Ismail told Radio Free Afghanistan. The bikes at his shop range from $100 to $1,000, and he also offers service and repairs.
On Kabul’s congested streets, bicycle bells can now be heard more frequently. “I bought a bicycle to beat the traffic, save time, and improve my health,” said a young city resident who declined to give his name.
In response to the trend, the Kabul municipality has added separate cycle lanes on several streets. The authorities are also installing designated bike stands.
But Afghan officials are not exactly hopping onto the saddle themselves. Their armored cars and security details add to the traffic chaos in Kabul, where suicide bombers frequently target government buildings, foreign embassies, and vehicles carrying Afghan and foreign dignitaries and troops.
Some Afghan elites associate biking with poverty and thus prefer to be chauffeured around even in snail-paced traffic.
Parvez Iqbal, a physician in Kabul, says regular biking can improve one’s health and wellbeing.
“Biking can help in reducing and controlling weight. This is important because obesity leads to many major diseases,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “Biking can prevent heart problems, diabetes, and stroke, and it strengthens the immune system.”
Surrounded by rings of dry hills and towering mountains, Kabul saw a population boom following the demise of the Taliban regime in late 2001. Since then, the population has skyrocketed from a few hundred thousand residents to over 5 million.
But key services such as transportation, water, and sanitation have not kept pace with the growing population. Insecurity and haphazard development have added to the woes of a city where residents, if they can afford it, prefer to rely on private cars for transport.
Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Khan Muhammad Seend’s reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.