by Mộc Miên
Hà Nội has undergone a hot summer with disastrous rush hours, which could drive anyone insane because of the crowded streets full of smoke. Quite a few people miss the traffic of the 1980s and early 1990s when bicycles were in their golden period in the city.
“It used to be quiet and green streets accross the city. Despite the hot summers, it was not very difficult to ride a bike to work or just to ride around the streets,” said Nguyễn Thị Kim Phương, a retiree.
Time has changed a great deal. Today, bicycles are no longer a major means of transportation in big cities in general and in Hà Nội in particular. Bicycles are not convenient for those who want to move fast and far. Besides, the vehicle cannot carry a heavy load as easily as motorbikes or cars can. As socio-economic development places ever-greater demands on transportation, the percentage of bicycles in traffic is becoming less and less.
“Bicycle riders are now even seen as people who are poor or low-class. Luxurious motorbikes and cars seem to be a measure of one’s prosperity,” Phương added.
“Even secondary and high school students ride electric bicycles to school instead of traditional bicycles,” Nguyễn Thu Hà, a 10th grader, said.
The participation of bicycles in traffic is becoming even less as lanes for cyclists and bicycle repair people can hardly be found.
Although the survival of bicycles seems to be struggling, some people are still trying to find ways to ride a bicycle.
“At weekends when the weather is fine, we often gather together and ride around Hoàn Kiếm Lake, West Lake, and beautiful streets such as Trần Hưng Đạo, Lý Thường Kiệt and Phan Đình Phùng. It helps us by providing relaxing moments amidst the bustling city,” shared Phạm Vinh, a member of a group who cycles on the weekend.
Nguyễn Ngọc Linh, who runs a cycling project on weekends to connect people and nature, said: “I am running a cycling project in the early mornings on weekends for 9-to-5 workers. Cycling in this project is like playing a game that is beneficial and is not comparable to driving motorbikes or cars.”
However, the point is that to people like Vinh or in projects such as Linh’s, bicycles are more a tool of relaxation and exercises than a means of transportation. They often use expensive well-designed bicycles, some of which cost as much as a motorbike or even more. Therefore, such services are accessible only to middle-income people.
“I admit that it is just our form of entertainment. I don’t dare use bicycle daily. Imagine in the hot summers and cold winters, I, dressing well, riding a bicycle to the office. And women? Oh no!” Vinh added.
Early last month, the city’s authorities applied a ban on vehicles around Hoàn Kiếm Lake on weekends, opening the area up for pedestrians to exercise, play and walk. In addition, the workshop, “Encouraging bicycle riding in Hà Nội” chaired by the National Committee for Traffic Safety in cooperation with Hà Nội University of Technology was held on September 28 in Hà Nội. It is an effort by the authorities to motivate and promote eco-friendly ways of transportation given the chaotic state of traffic in the city.
We all know that there is a long way to go before the problems of traffic in big cities will be solved, partly because of social perceptions, under-developed infrastructure and the polluted environment that results in much inconvenience. However, I hope that in the future, bicycles will once again find their place again in regular traffic as they already have in many developed countries around the world. - VNS