Traffic in the city centre has been swelling over the last few years with a notable increase in the number of cars on the roads. Hoards of kombis ferry passengers from the limits to the centre and back, from daybreak until well after sunset. The kombi ranks are choked with passengers from Market Square to Fourth Street and getting around during peak times is taking longer and longer. In many other countries one might comment on the number of cyclists that would be unlocking their bikes and cutting through downtown traffic on their way home. This is not the case in Harare.
Despite the pockmarked roads, the city’s flat terrain has ideal conditions for cyclists but the number of those getting around by bike is extremely low and is isolated largely to security guards and a few other workers.
Pharaoh Chimboya works at the cycling, road and traffic institution, Safety Sam, in Mount Pleasant. While groups of children and security companies still pass through its gates to get to grips with the rules of the road, he recognises the general reluctance to take to the streets. His own bike is locked in the storeroom after two occasions in town where he was almost crashed into as a result of drivers’ neglect for cyclists. “I hate to ride on major roads,” he says. “It’s a risk and cyclists are not considered.” This is a running concern when it comes to the unwillingness of many people to consider bikes as a viable means of transport. This view is shared by the Zimbabwe Road Cycling Association, whose spokesman, David Martin, commented on how reckless kombis make the side of the road tremendously dangerous, “often I’ll be sitting in traffic in the mornings and see a kombi driving down the left side of the road where the cyclists would be and think to myself, ‘anyone would be mad to ride at that time on that road.’ The sad thing is that it is a road past a school and at a time the kids would be riding.”
Safety is a major concern for those cycling in the city, but what else is stopping Harare residents from using a bike? Money is obviously an issue but one can get a new bike in town for under $200, a few months worth of kombi fares. One has to also question the issue of status. Most Zimbabweans seem to make the leap from relying on public transport to their first car. Bicycles, or even motorbikes, are not even stepping stones in the process. A positive step from council would be the patching up of cycle paths on the sides of roads. Also, a push by the Zimbabwe Road Cycling Association, in co-operation with council, to raise awareness about cycling as a means of transport could serve as a reminder to the driving traffic to be mindful of those on bikes.