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pedalling cHange
riding around on Her bicycle, laurene leon boym realises How desperately Qatar needs a different take on tHe transportation system

t’s the second day of Eid-Al-Adha. The skies above Doha are glorious fluffy white cotton balls in a sea of azure. The weather is crisp and clear. It’s what is called perfect bicycling weather in many countries around the world, and Doha is no exception. This perfect day is the ultimate excuse for me to ride over to nearby Katara to have my newest breakfast indulgence: Chapati and Karak (at the eponymous cafe). I live in West Bay and it’s a short ride. “The roads are mostly empty,” I’m think-

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ing one moment and the next, I’m getting sideswiped by a Tata Bus going uphill to the Rainbow Roundabout. As you might guess, dear readers, riding a bicycle in Doha is a pretty schizophrenic experience, alternating between comedy and horror. But once off Al-Wahda Street after bypassing some private villas, I am able to travel a slip road behind the Qatar Exhibition Centre, open to all but sparingly used by motor vehicles because of numerous speed bumps. The “bike” glides on the pavement and flies over multiple speed bumps. I expect the bicycle to take off like the flying bicycle in Spielberg’s ET any moment now. My head is light. Am I in endorphin heaven? No, reality bites. I am crossing a dust storm cloud in the middle of the road created by heavy machinery active in the lot between the Intercontinental Hotel and Katara. Oh, well. When I enter Katara’s main gates, I breathe an audible sigh of relief as I sail through the car passage, behind a navy Land Rover. I nod amicably and grin at the sleepy man at the security booth. I hope he

saw me, and it’s okay to ride my bike here, I tink. As I progress on the paths around the Cultural Village, I see lots of hired security guards to guard the beaches and buildings and none of them stop me, but some smile sweetly when they see the awkward sight of a middle-aged woman on a bike. Cool, I guess it’s totally okay to ride around Katara on a bike. It’s morning, there is literally no one out in the complex except me and a few workers. I have the area virtually to myself. I pull up at Chapati and Karak and am looking forward to breakfast. When I arrive at the cafe and dismount, a worker, carefully and charmingly, takes the bicycle to an improvisational shady parking spot. Wow, a bike valet, I think to myself. Finishing my food, I leave a generous tip for my "valet", and head towards the exit. I pass the boardwalk, and a guard on the beach ruins my enjoyment of the city by shouting at me, “No, ma’am, no permit.” I reply coolly that I am on my way out of the park, and head toward the security booth at the exit. There I am told as I exit the park “Ma’am, be careful, be safe,” touchingly, by

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grated into the culture. Personally, I envy the Dutch. Not so much for their world-class designers and design culture, but for their bike lanes and alternative transportation infrastructures. On any given day, you see happy natives biking through every city, town and village in Holland, in all types of weather conditions, rain included. The Netherlands has the highest number of cyclists – per capita – of any country in the world. Not surprisingly, it is the safest place to cycle then, because of it has the perfect cycling infrastructure. How did the Dutch get this? Bicycle anyone? Their streets and roads today are descendants of deliberate poNearly 70% of car trips in the GCC are less than a kilometre long. Wouldn’t biking in Doha (instead of driving) on these trips be a litical decisions in the 1970s to turn away from car-centric policies great way to get some exercise while cutting air pollution in the of the prosperous post-war era. Mass motorisation in the Netherlands after World War II killed people, cities and the environment, city? There are solutions, and it requires design thinking. and there was a public shift in awareness to these issues. Eventually, progressive ideas about air pollution, medical costs, mortalYes, design thinking, not engineering, you heard correctly. ity rates, car accidents and physical fitness Design thinking is a vital first step to unchanged strategies. derstanding what future opportunities are The Dutch, by prioritising mobility, possible (and what is impossible) in creatsafer and more liveable cities and the enviing an optimal human experience in a built ronment-model led to a new type of street environment. As I’ve previously mentioned throughout the Netherlands. There was a in this column, and I will state it again, the deliberate shift away from car-centric polidefinition of design I want to explore here beauTiful WeaTher ouT. cies to alternative forms of transport. is the idea that all tools of life, not existing ToTal miami beaCh mode. did a A shift away from our current car-cenbefore in nature, are designed. “Everything sheikh’s friendlY bodYguard tric roundabouts to bike paths would also is designed. From the spoon to the city,” as improve the health of our nation, greatly. a famous Italian design philosopher once JusT Wave aT me on mY bike? Recently, American journal Environmental humbly remarked. Cool! Health Perspectives published findings from The solution can be simple for a governa study by scientists at a University. ment that wants its citizens to have the best @lAureneleonboym The researchers observed in their findpossible quality of life: make Doha a bike sAT 05 nov 12:02 viA TweeTdeck ings that the personal economic and health friendly city – at least for the five months benefits of switching from a car to a bike out of the year that we are blessed with specwere staggering. The increasing costs astacular weather, the Arabian winter. Winsociated with air pollution, medical treattertime in Doha just happens to coincide ment, mortality rates and car accidents can with the time that our roads are unbearably congested. We know the reasons: school and work commutes for an be decreased significantly. Enhanced physical and mental well-beinflated winter city headcount, construction crews, road building, ing creates a significant net societal health benefit from an increase in air quality and savings from lower health-care costs associated traffic accidents and all other sorts of delays. Doha-ites frequently moan and groan about the increasing traffic with better fitness and fewer mortalities from the decreased rate of and motor accidents due to our expanding metropolis, and the out- car accidents. rageous number of cars it creates on the roads without alternative Holland’s problems were not unique and their solutions transportation systems. As anywhere in the world, altering traffic patterns and instigating weren’t either. We can do this here in Qatar. bike lanes in any major metropolis is a thorny subject. There will In the end, I’m still waiting to hear what IS the correct cycling polbe objections of course (the dust! the lane taken away from the mo- icy in Katara Cultural Village. Or, on the Doha Corniche, where I torists!) – but minor snafu are part of any beneficial major urban was yelled at to “get off the Corniche, on to the road” on an empty weekend morning by a couple out for a “health walk” last winter. renewal project. Maybe it’s time to start a new planned vision for Doha’s transportation infrastructure soon, and I’ll soon find out my answer. In the Think design, think Dutch, think right A good starting-point for such an initiative in Qatar would be to mean-time, if you see a strawberry blonde on a bike happily pedalthink about societies where cycling is fully and successfully inte- ling the streets of West Bay and the Diplomatic District, that’s me! a different group of smiling Filipino guards. So what is the real story here? I’m having one of "my best days ever" in idyllic Doha, and I’m not sure after living here for almost 18 months where cycling is permitted? Or if it is at all? I prefer it to driving an SUV, hands down, in terms of pleasure and experience. I also do it for my health, and the health, environmental and social payback is enormous.
By lAurene leon boym boym is a partner in the doha/new york city based design studio, boym partners.
boym partners brings a critical, experimental approach to a range of products that infuse humour and wit into the everyday. frequently drawing from american iconography, the studio creates a variety of products and environments for an international roster of companies, including alessi, swatch, flos and vitra. the studio also creates their own boym editions, sought after by many art and design collectors around the world. laurene has taught at parsons,the new school for design and the school of visual arts. boym partners work is included the permanent collections of many museums, including the museum of modern art.she will write a regular column on design for Qatar today

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december 2011

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