Windhoek: A city for cyclists?

Biking to work

14 July 2019 | Health

Windhoek • Lisa Plank



There are no special routes for cyclists in Windhoek; cars drive carelessly, the area is mountainous and it is usually very hot. So, not the ideal place to get comfortable on a bicycle.

Still, an initiative by the City of Windhoek (CoW) and various partners may change this situation.

When Natanael Didalelwa started working at SunCycles, he walked to work every day – a two hour journey. “I couldn't afford a taxi, so walking was my only option,” he explains.

Then Bernhard Walther – his new boss – taught him to ride a bike. “At first I fell often, but after a week I got the hang of it,” the 29-year old says proudly. The two-hour route that Natanael used in the past, is now covered in 20 minutes by bike.

Thanks to a new initiative, this could be the case for other commuters too.

Thanks to Ebikes4Africa, four electric hubs with a total of 100 bicycles for hire – half of which are e-bikes, the other 50 ordinary bikes – are to be built in Windhoek. The e-hubs are made from old containers, in which bicycles can be picked up, returned and repaired and the batteries of e-bikes replaced.

By the end of this year, an 18-month pilot phase will be launched, with students that can rent a bike for as little as N$100 a month.

The project kills two birds with one stone, with both financial and environmental benefits. Originally, the idea was the brainchild of Bernhard and Marita Walther, who founded SunCycles. “The CoW has now taken over the project and that's a good thing, because it makes the project more accessible to the masses,” Marita says.



Students first

In the pilot phase, the offer is exclusively aimed at students. “Young people are more open-minded and easier to convince of what we offer,” Marita says. When it comes to making cycling attractive, a lot of persuasion is necessary. “Cars are a status symbol. As soon as someone rises socially, he or she buys a smartphone first and then a car,” Bernhard adds.

However, a bicycle is the better option in the long term, the two entrepreneurs say. Not only because of they have no emissions, but also because it is much cheaper. “Low income earners spend a large portion of their income on taxis,” Marita says.

After the pilot phase, renting one bicycle should amount to around N$500 a month, but two years down the line the bike belongs to one user alone. Essentially, you don't only rent the bike, you pay it off. Even when considering the rental fee, it still costs less than getting a taxi to work every day, and after two years you can move about free of charge,” she explains.

But are there just financial aspects to consider?

To do away with residents' reluctance to bike about, the City in cooperation with the GIZ, is working towards making cycling in Windhoek more comfortable and safer.



Master Plan

In 2014, the Sustainable Urban Transport Master Plan was adopted by Cabinet. In addition to public transport, the plan deals with non-motorized transport. At the moment bicycle paths are being planned and if everything goes according to plan, these routes can be constructed as early as next year.

“Some bike lanes are directly bordered by roads and pavements, and some are attached to the sidewalk,” says Verusckha Araes of the GIZ. Her colleague Ursula Hein adds: “The way the bike lanes will look, depends on the respective conditions. Since city roads already exist, we have work around them.”

Safe routes are currently being planned for Windhoek's Western Bypass, with other lanes being planned for Kondovanzu, Rand, Omongo, Wilibald Kapuenene, Richard Kamuhukua, Shanghai, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Gladiola and Andrew Kloppers streets. “In the first phase, we will be focusing on the north and northwest of the city because many people who cannot afford a car live here, and they are our most important target group,” Hein says.

When asked if she is already riding her bike to work, Hein responds with a resounding “yes!” Bernhard and Marita are also eager cyclists, saying: “You just have to dare to ride a bike and be aware that there are other vehicles that may not see you,” Marita says.