What can Alexandria learn from Rio?

Alexandria and Rio are two cities featuring beautiful waterfronts. But far from the visual similarity there are two different stories. Alexandria Corniche (coastal road) is highly motorized with some parts of it made of six car lanes in each direction. If you go to Alexandria and you stay in a vintage sea-view hotel in the old city, you are very likely to know all the city’s problems in the first day. Apart from your almost collapsing balcony; the beautiful historical corniche street will be your biggest problem. Noise, pollution, and crowds of people waiting for a seat in the fully reserved microbuses will hinder you from enjoying your view of the eastern harbor. And if you’re a resident of the city, this chaos becomes your daily life.

photos: http://www.ipostipiubelli.it/racconti-di-viaggio-brasile/ ; Abbas,M. (2017)

Rio, on the other hand, had developed an active street with its fantastic waterfront, open beaches, a walk-able street and two-directions bike way. Future development in Rio is going towards a better cycling mobility, especially cargo mobility, which is drawing more people to leave their cars. cycling tours for the city’s visitors are also becoming more popular. Meanwhile, Alexandria had replaced part of its corniche with a multistory parking garage and car overpass, and the city is planning a new high way that covers El mahmodeya canal and totally remove the southern corniche and waterway. The development pattern is clearly going to favor profitable private enterprises and shaping the streets to serve them. That comes in the form of prioritizing car space (parking lots, car lanes, etc.) over the other uses (parks, beaches, walking space, etc.).

For that reason, I am currently doing a study (for my master thesis) to calculate the monetary value of cycling as a way of mobility in Alexandria replacing cars. Cycling benefits for the health, environment and individuals’ expenses are widely proven, but how can you prove to the city that investing in cycling infrastructure has its profitable return?

In parallel, I am investigating the type of action can be taken from the private sector to push towards more cycling. Some businesses can flourish in a cycling friendly city (i.e. bike trade and maintenance, ground floor shops, mapping mobile apps, etc.). Others can push for more cycling mobility. A bike sharing system for instance can make the option of cycling mobility present on ground even with no streets planned for cycling. A student in Alexandria university would have an option of a bike ride or to queue for thirty minutes to get a free seat in the slow traffic. Safety is a question, but there is more alternatives for a safe ride in the inner city streets away from the major transportation corridors.

And more lessons to be learnt from the newly installed bike share systems in Marrakesh and Beirut (soon in Cairo).


Hi Heba, wow.
how and why did you find yourself looking at this? I always find it really interesting what lead us towards the path we are taking…

Hi Nadia … Yes… It’s always good to remember where did it start because two years ago I didn’t think about cycling as mobility (more as a leisure activity) until I moved to Berlin and got my first cycling-culture shock :smile: It’s not only the number of cyclists that caught my attention but also the planning culture that is a bit different from what we have in Egypt … the year I moved to Berlin there was the Fahrrad Volksentscheid (a city-wide petition making a political pressure for a better cycling infrastructure and laws) and the Radbahn project that is a bike way designed by a group of volunteers to utilize the space under the U-bahn overpass.
I used to complain about traffic like everyone else in Egypt but then I realized that I can actually try to do something. In Berlin, you can legitimately raise a petition to change the law and the infrastructure on ground. In Egypt, that’s not the case so you have to find your own way either by being part of the civil society and/or private sector or to try to reach out for the decision makers. The civil society is now moving to spread the cycling culture among the youth but it doesn’t speak the same language that the decision makers do… there are always questions about the economic viability and skeptic voices questioning adopting the European experience in a very different socio-economic situation … so I try to answer these questions (is it be economically beneficial to the individual and the city? what can the private sector do? what can we learn from places with comparable socio-economic conditions? (Latin America for instance)

Hello @Heba, nice to meet you.

I had the good fortune of living in a city, Milan, just as it managed to get a bicycle culture going. When I moved there in 2001, for various reasons, almost nobody rode bikes. It was quite scary. By the time I moved out, ten years later, things had gotten much better.

This was not led by the city government. It was pushed by civil society, and specifically from small groups of “extreme cyclists”. I told the story before here:

[…] young, fit men who wore tactical backpacks, army boots and yelled at drivers, and even kicked at their cars. I could just about cope: my (Swedish) wife refused to cycle, saying it was too dangerous. Extreme bikers did things like this:
But over the years those extreme people have become sort of cool. A company called Urban Bike Messengers established a bicycle-based delivery service. They cultivated an image of green, cool and a bit scary. Rumour was that, to become a messenger, you had to pass a near-impossible test of crossing the city only in minutes. This encouraged more people to go out and bike. This, in turn, made biking a little safer for everyone, because drivers learned to be a little more attentive. So even more people got out. By the time I left the city, the Decathlon shop in Cairoli was selling 50 to 100 bicycles a day. Eventually, the city council started to take cyclists a bit more seriously; traffic was restricted in the center, some slightly better bike lanes appeared.

In later years (by this time I had left the city), Milan’s civically minded cyclists decided to tackle the problem of bicycle lanes. They just go out at night with white paint and draw them! I remember a candidate mayor’s own team doing this as part of the mayoral election campaign in 2011. But now there must be a group of “guerrilla bike lane makers” in town.

This is a street called via Cartesio, about a month ago (article, in Italian)


A month before, on a railway bridge (Cavalcavia Bussa):

Media report that drivers normally respect these DIY bike lanes. This is telling the city leaders that the time for cycling has come.

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Hi @alberto … Such a great example … very interesting and the good thing that it also involves both activists and business.

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Agree. You think it can be replicated in Alex?

I love the painted bike lane lines. I have seen that in other cities too.
Also, here is a link to a study that concludes 139 countries can go 100% renewable by 2050.

Bike riding is part of that. It’s the right side of history.


I think that business involvment will accelerate the process … because in Alex activists are going through a slow process of creating the culture and changing the existing perceptions about cycling (for instance that it is associated with poverty)

And so often the last thing to change is the political component. I think many people get this backwards - trying to change things politically first. Almost never works, and can get your head bashed in sometimes.


ahlan ya @Heba :smiley:
what is the current cycling situation in Alexandria. ( cycling groups, initiatives and I guess there is a new bike sharing start up ) how did they survive ? or not ?
and how do the current (people who use bicycles ) cyclers ? feel about the current development in the city. ( the illegal high rise buildings, the ownership of the corniche )

and just a comment from my experience but I think Cairo is different, or at least some parts of it, I used to cycle in Cairo, only for small distances- aprox 20-30 min Max in summer - and may be it is my own opinion but I didn’t feel the need to bike lanes. the chaotic traffic gave me freedom as a bicycle to use whatever roots I see better and to embrace the “system” . may be in some neighborhoods it could be needed but at least not in all.

3rd comment :smiley: do you have a focus area to start some sort of a pilot project. anything Madyan could do, a small project in a neighborhood which is not in Cairo is a good fit for Madyan now.


Hi ya hazem… Currently in Alexandria as in Cairo there’s a traditional cycling culture in lower income neighborhoods (usually cycling within their neighborhoods in the city and cyclers are only males)… this group I think can adapt to the chaotic traffic situation and they are skilled enough to find their place… But there’s another growing group of cyclers who are younger and diverse in terms of gender and usually commute outside their neighborhoods so in a linear city like Alexandria, they have to cross a main traffic corridor (I.e the corniche or parallel to it) those are usually limited by the safety situation so you’re not likely to see them cycling in the rush hour to the University but you can find them in groups (sometimes accompanied by traffic officers for protection ) or solo cycling when the street has relatively less cars.

And for the current developments in the city… It’s following the obsolete model of car oriented traffic… And that’s stir lots of controversy sometimes anger but that doesn’t change anything since there’s no legitimate way to chanel your objections to the city officials… That’s what happened with the controversial sidi gaber seaside overpass… And is happening now with a new high way project covering El mahmodeya canal.

And yes I am planning to take it to the next step… The department in Tu Berlin is willing to cooperate for an intensive planning workshop in Alexandria and madyan is very welcome to join… I am still in planning phase

ping @amrmabdelaal

on another level, but may be not now, I would love to see the ownership development by time for the water front, how much is owned by private investors ( how many private investor) and how much is owned by the Army… just to have an idea. but anyways.

having a focus area and starting with cycling needs is a good start “playing” with Alexandria.

@Heba, this discussion prompted me to look up for information about cycling in Brussels, the city where I live now. It is not at all a bike-friendly city, but getting better.

I found a super-interesting 20 minute documentary about being a cyclist in a city where nobody cycles. The main story is that of Karl-Heinz Pohl, a guy who started the city first bike courier service, Pedal BXL. The gridlock in the city was actually good for his business, because his couriers can be much faster than cars. The company now also organises (and sells) bike tours for cities.

The documentary contains many interesting ideas for developing a cycling culture. Karl-Heinz himself notes (15’) that he has almost no client from the public sector. And yet, if the municipality or the ministries used their services, they would send a cultural signal and help develop that market. More ideas come from Klaus Bondam, a Danish politician who was active in the administration of Copenhagen, and now lives in Brussels. He says (17.0):

The first thing you need to do is to make sure that your mayor is out on a bike, that ministers, pop stars, football players, the royal family are out on their bikes […]. People see this and they say “Hey, this person is doing it, I can do it too!” […] it has a major impact]

@amrmabdelaal that’s also a big thing … which we can learn from Rio … just imagining how Lively Alexandria beaches would like without fences … the beach close to my family house in Sidi Bishr is one of the few wide beaches in Alexandria (most of them are shrinking because of sea erosion) but it’s always empty except few days every year because of the fences and the entry fees … you’re not even allowed to just walk by the sea without paying the entry fee … I still can remember Alexandria when it was a friendly city … we used to have more freedom using the public beaches… now some beaches don’t allow “civilians” to enter and most of the beaches don’t allow you to simply sit on the sand because you have to pay for a chair… These days we rarely go to the sea

Photo from Rio: Hanging out in Rio de Janeiro | ContemporaryNomad.com

@alberto very useful to see those examples … such inspiration leaves no room for excuses :smiley: sure something can be done

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I actually posted this on Alexandria scholars FB group… I didn’t expect much interaction but it seems like many are interested in the topic … now the group admin is proposing scholars meet-up to discuss on-going researches about the city… if anyone is interested to join, I can post the details once it’s there

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Wow, it’s a good thread! I thought it would all be in Arabic, but it’s all in English! Do Egyptians always write in English to each other?

Anyway. It seems that there is interest in Alex, and there is already a group of early adopters of cycling.

I noticed that Cycle Egypt organises morning and sunset cycling rides in Alex. Do people need an authorisation, or is it just informal? Is it like Critical Mass or Cairo Runners?

I offered them to add Arabic translation if somebody requested it but normally some topics we just discuss in English because we learn it that way (I was studying in Alexandria university and it’s a public university but we used to study in English in my department) … However if I need to reach out to a wider audience I have to write in non-formal Arabic (i.e. Egyptian Arabic)

and yes such events in Egypt requires authorization … it’s the same type of activity as Cairo runners … they also facilitate bike rentals for long term and bike sales plus cycling training for non-cyclers

As far as I know Cairo Runners started spontaneously, with no authorisation and no formal leadership. This is certainly the case for the various Critical Mass events:

Participants have insisted that these events should be viewed as “celebrations” and spontaneous gatherings, and not as protests or organized demonstrations. This stance allows Critical Mass to argue a legal position that its events can occur without advance notification of local police. (Wikipedia)