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Africa Just Got Its First Bike Share Program

Now you can get around Marrakech on a fleet of bicycles—no air pollution needed

These bikes won't just make it easier to get around Marrakech—they could also send a message to world leaders about ways to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. (UNIDO)
smithsonian.com

Head to any major city in the United States and you’ll see bike share programs like New York’s CitiBike and Denver’s B-cycle. But the idea has taken longer to cross over to Africa, despite the fact that air pollution has reached dangerous levels throughout many of the continent’s major cities. Now that’s about to change: As Mimi Kirk reports for CityLab, Africa just got its first bike share program—one tied closely to an ambitious pollution prevention goal in Morocco.

It’s called Medina Bike, and it was spearheaded by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. The bike share program is located in Marrakech, which is currently hosting a major U.N. conference on climate change that will determine how nations that sign on to the ambitious Paris Agreement will curb fossil fuel use. Kirk writes that though the project was conceived of by UNIDO, it will continue on after the conference.

In a release, UNIDO notes that the bike share—Africa’s first—will make 300 bicycles available in Marrakech at ten rental stations. The least expensive option makes a bike available for an entire day for the equivalent of five dollars. Kirk notes that the program may serve as a pilot for future initiatives in other African cities.

There are historical barriers to bike use in some parts of Africa. As the BBC’s Richard Hamilton reports, infrastructure challenges like potholes in some cities require the use of more sturdy bikes, which means a higher and often inaccessible price tag. And as The Economist reports, there is little bike-specific infrastructure in many cities, leading to safety hazards for those who travel on two wheels.

That doesn’t mean it’s not worth it to explore bike sharing. Bikes have a documented environmental impact since they don’t burn fossil fuels or produce air pollution, and people who participate in bike shares log fewer accidents, get more physical activity and feel the programs save them money.

The program could have another benefit, too: Serving as a visible reminder to those gathering in Marrakech to change the way their countries handle transportation. In 2010, 14 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions came from transportation, and according to the United Nations Environment Program, CO2 emissions from transportation increased nearly 54 percent between 1990 and 2010 in Africa. Perhaps the sight of Medina Bikes throughout Marrakech will spur world leaders to keep pushing new ways to get people around without spewing pollution into the air, proving that bike sharing is much more than a nifty new way to get around town.

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