Besides enjoying the status of ‘green city’, cycling has not been a popular means of transport or a game in Islamabad and very few people can be seen cycling in the evening or while going to the offices. At a time when Punjab is in the grip of smog and we are reading stories of smog-related accidents, Islamabad is thankfully safe from the urban pollution. But how long will it remain a safe haven from environment pollution, ask the environmentalists.
In order to restore and maintain environment friendly character of the city, they have stressed the need to popularize cycling in the city. M Haroon General is one such son of the soil who is making endeavours in his individual and organizational capacity to promote cycling in Islamabad. Being General Secretary, Islamabad Cycling Association he has conducted a number of events and studies regarding popularizing this environment-friendly and healthy sport/transport. Pakistan Observer caught up with Haroon General in order to know his views and to get his recipe of making Islamabad a bicycle-friendly city.
Haroon General’s role model is his grandfather and he came into cycling as a child and later started participating in races and competed with national level cyclists in 1995 to 1998. The Passion for cycling has been a very import part of his life.
Q: Why cycling could not be popularized in Islamabad which is a green and clean city?
Haroon General: Cycling was a dying sport and the general public used to consider it as a mode of transport for the poor. However, since the last two years cycling is becoming more popular and its rising slowly. This popularity is mostly due to the work of cycling enthusiasts. To make it more popular the government needs to provide places like bicycle parks, cycle tracks, etc. And they need to take on board the people who are curtly working on it and have the experience
Q: What is the approximate number of professional cyclists in Islamabad?
Haroon General: At present there is no professional cyclist in Islamabad as no one is a paid cyclist, but we have the national junior champion from Islamabad and we have about 12 cyclists who compete on a professional level in Pakistan.
Q: What are the benefits of cycling and how can we promote it in Islamabad?
Haroon General: It reduces anxiety, depression and stress levels. It also reduces obesity and helps individual control weight. For deep and better sleep cycling helps a great deal. Similarly, it helps prevent cancer and you have no or very few chances of Cardiovascular diseases including stroke, high blood pressure and heart attack. In a society where cycles are dominant part of traffic, environment is pollution free.
Q: How can we promote cycling in Islamabad?
Haroon General: We need to develop a strategy plan for cycling in Islamabad. CDA/MCI develop better cycling infrastructure (Bike Lanes, Bike parks, Safe zones, etc). there should be frequent events such as cycling competitions / activates related to cycling may be done, currently very limited due to lack of financial support. The CDA and MCI should besides establishing food parks and food streets should also focus on establishment of bike parks, bike areas and bike stands. They should also provide bicycle friendly features in the city.
Q: What is the international concept of bicycling? Does this healthy form of travel exist in advanced countries?
Haroon General: Cycling is not just a sport it is a very important mode of transport. There are cycling highways developed in many countries. Cycling is very popular in all the developed countries and many use it for daily transport (best example is Netherlands)
Q: If compared with Beijing or other cities of China, what is the scope of bicycling in Islamabad?
Haroon General: Islamabad has a great scope of become an ideal city for bicycling. As there are provisions in the Master plan of Islamabad for cycling infrastructure like cycle lanes, etc. Much work on cycling has not been done because it is considered a transport for the poor. It has also been slowly faded from the schools. We need to integrate cycling in our daily lives.