What do young people in Central Asia think about active travel and what barriers are preventing them making walking and cycling a viable means of everyday transport?

Active Travel and Healthy Streets, News, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan

With the support of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Road Safety Grants Programme, EASST has been working with local partners Young Generation of Tajikistan, Young Generation of the World, and National Automobile Club of Uzbekistan to better understand the barriers that currently prevent people from walking and cycling in their countries – with a focus on young people. We used a combination of surveys and focus groups with young people to assess their perceptions of cycling and active mobility as well as their current behaviours and experiences.

104 young people in Tashkent (Uzbekistan) and 100 young people in Dushanbe (Tajikistan) were surveyed. The majority were existing cyclists who reported on their experiences and the challenges they face when cycling in their cities. Over 90% of people surveyed were male – highlighting a very striking gender element when it comes to who is cycling in these countries.

Very few of the cyclists we surveyed use their bikes for everyday travel with 87% respondents in Tashkent and 45% respondents in Dushanbe only using their bikes for leisure. Over half of those surveyed also have a private car that they use for most journeys.

Our consultations found that safety was the biggest perceived concern of cyclists and potential cyclists across the two countries. 

In Dushanbe (Tajikistan), 77% survey respondents want to see more bike lanes in the city. In Tashkent (Uzbekistan), in response to the question, “What do you think is the main reason why bicycles are rarely used in the city?” 42% answered that “there are not enough bike lanes in the city.” Other safety issues raised through the focus groups included a lack of safe places to store and park bikes; too many cars on the roads; and a lack of driver awareness around cyclists.

Further investigation found that a number of cycle lanes have been installed in Tashkent, with the support of private donors, but that these cycle lanes are often narrow and do not adequately segregate their users from road traffic. They are also frequently blocked by parked cars forcing cyclists out into the road with fast moving traffic. Focus groups participants also raised issues with a lack of safe places for cyclists to cross the road or turn off.

From a gender perspective, participants of our female-only focus groups in both countries noted that women and girls are often not taught how to ride a bike. Several women in the group explained that they only learned to cycle when a friend also expressed interest. There remains a stigma around women cycling, which puts off a lot of people. One woman described her experience:

“I faced a situation when one driver in an expensively big car came close to me and with his beardy face turned to me shouting that cycling is not appropriate for a woman. It was a really scary moment”.

On the other hand, one woman reported that she prefers to cycle as the alternative is to use public transport where she feels stared at and uncomfortable. She described her bike as giving her “more freedom and fresh air”.

Those women who do cycle regularly noted similar concerns as other groups citing issues of safety, calling for bike lanes, and spaces for parking or storing their bikes.

Affordability was another key barrier that was raised during the focus groups. Bikes and helmets were seen as expensive, often due to high tariffs on imports. The lack of secure bike stands, both in residential areas and public spaces, means that there is a high level of bike thefts – further deterring people from cycling. In Uzbekistan, around 40% of cyclists rent bikes rather than owning their own. In Tajikistan, a focus group conducted with employees from Alif Bank praised the company for providing secure spaces to park bikes and credited this scheme for an increase in the number of people now cycling to work.

Finally, road safety awareness of both cyclists and car drivers was a concern. During the focus groups, participants noted a lack of training for drivers around sharing the road with other road users. Whereas through the survey we found that 77% of respondents in Tashkent and 47% of respondents in Dushanbe do not believe that wearing helmets is necessary for cyclists and around 25% in both countries do not have lights or reflectors on their bikes when cycling at night. However, around a fifth of respondents reported that the reason that they don’t wear a helmet is because it is too expensive.

A construction boom in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and a visible post-COVID rise in cycling provides a timely opportunity to invest in sustainable mobility strategies and put some of these issues right. We plan to use the information we have gathered through this study to engage decision makers with the aim of fostering better conditions for developing the physical and legal infrastructure needed to remove some of the barriers we have identified and encourage safe cycling and other forms of non-motorised transport.