Muhammad Imran is a bicycle advocate in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a city with some of the most chaotic streets in the world. As part of Cyclists for Cultural Exchange, Imran came to San Francisco to explore the city’s bike infrastructure and culture. We caught up with him on his visit to find out how biking in SF compares to Dhaka and what it’s like to try and carve out bike space in such hectic streets. Here’s what he has to say:
What is going on in the bike scene of Dhaka?
Dhaka’s bike scene is multi faceted. Traditionally bicycle has been used for a long time by Dhakaites as a cheap alternative for those who can’t afford the luxury of owning a car or even public transport is too costly for them. The scenario has been like this until recently when a number of bicycling advocacy organizations, most notable of those- BDCyclists, emerged on the scene and kind of revolutionized it. They started to propagate bicycle as an alternative vehicle which can be used for commuting and also as a ‘recreational tool’. Primarily they targeted that group of the populace who usually use car for commuting take up most space on the road leading to traffic congestion. The result was striking. People saw that with a bike they can reach their destination twice as fast and also on the weekends they can use bicycle to get away from the humdrum of Dhaka city and take a refreshing tour of the nearby rural areas. As a result, lots of people took up bicycling. During the rush hour in the morning and afternoon, you would see many bike commuters on the roads of Dhaka.
What stands out most to you about biking in San Francisco?
I think it’s San Franciscan’s attitude towards bicycle. After visiting some major cities both in West and East Coast I have come to this realization that people here have the most positive attitude towards bicycle and bicyclists. To me it’s very impressive because I come from a city where although cycling has been always an integral part of the culture but cycling as a commute vehicle is fairly new concept and commuters on the road can sometime be seen as an alien object.
What was it like riding a bike in San Francisco versus in Dhaka?
Well, the experience is quite different. With almost 20,000 people per square mile Dhaka is one of the densest metropolises of the world. Since bike commuting is still a new concept here, there is no cycling infrastructure in the city. A bike lane is still a dream for us. Traffic rules are also not observed properly by the drivers of the motorized vehicles. So while biking you have to make your own path through the insane traffic of Dhaka. Other vehicles will hardly give you room. On top of that weather plays a crucial part for the biking experience in Dhaka. During summer temperature can reach as high as 110° and that leads to sweating. You have bike lanes and bike friendly public transit system which adds to the experience. Traffic congestion is not that common here and drivers usually abide by the traffic rules. So overall, San Francisco is a bike-friendly city.
Can you think of any ways that Dhaka and San Francisco can learn from each other when it comes to transportation and/or bicycles?
One thing that Dhaka can obviously learn from is San Francisco’s bike friendly infrastructure and bike-friendly transit system. The way San Francisco can learn from Dhaka is a rather Interesting one. You know Dhaka city has probably the largest number of cycle rickshaws in the world. With zero carbon emissions these rickshaws are the most eco friendly vehicle out there. Although every now and then they face ban from the government in different areas of the city, still there are nearly half a million rickshaws in Dhaka city. In San Francisco I have seen some near the Fisherman’s Wharf area which were mainly used by the tourist as a sightseeing vehicle. But if it seems practical, San Francisco can think of a way to introduce these rickshaws in the city.