Comment: Take back the streets! Bring back the bike!

I am not exactly sure who’s idea it was or how it came to be, but in what a lot of environmentalists consider a great move the government has decided to arm the police (and yes, I said ‘arm’) with bicycles!

As with many great ideas, this particular idea is being ridiculed as wasteful and derogatory to the police. One comment by ‘rini’ on the Minivan News article even claimed it was it a demotion equivalent to that of being lowered to the level of “rubbish collecting bangaalhis”.

For now, I’ll leave the analysis on the apparent xenophobia aside and talk about why bicycles are considered the lowest of the low in the streets.

Let’s have a look at the Minivan article comments once more.

Salim Waheed and Muad MZ for once seem to agree on something and most of the Minivan News commenting community seems to applaud the idea with ‘happy faces’ and all.

Apart from one very practical comment by Knox who asks whether or not this heat will ever make this idea do-able there is another very relevant issue raised by Hassan-Raha who asks: “Salim, when is your Dad and President going to show that we can be a carbon neutral country, give up the car and start pedalling or walking?’

This, for me, was the most relevant of all the comments. Street safety is a class issue in Maldives. The rich men and women and their children either own cars or scooters and/or take taxis. The very rich do not even have to resort to taking taxis – riding bikes and walking is for the poor and ‘rubbish collecting bangaalhis’.

No wonder both this and the previous government have not made any effort to make Male a walk-able city.

Even after the change in government, parking lots seem to have taken priority over pedestrian pavements, and even in narrow goalhis and the few proper pavements we do have do not have easy access for the disabled or the baby prams that walking mothers usually push around.

Meanwhile, all ministers, top army officers and their families are provided with government funded cars and petrol.

No ‘self respecting woman’ will walk anywhere and if you ask why you’ll get the usual myriad complaints about the heat. However this heat will not affect any of these women while walking around Orchard Road on their annual shopping trips, aka trips to the hospital.

So, we have to ask ourselves, is it really the heat that is stopping us from walking around our God-given two square kilometres or is it the fact that every single time you walk somewhere you risk being

  1. Hit by a scooter or a car and killed
  2. Hit on by various Romeo’s who comment on the size of your rear end
  3. Physically molested by persons reaching to grab your privates, pinching your breasts etc
  4. Spat on by those of us who consider spitting on the streets an endurance sport
  5. Told off by a superior being that your are not covered up well enough (by the way, covered up women are not free from harassment)

Walking in Male is a health and safety hazard, especially for women. The reason why I was so encouraged to see the police riding bicycles is my strong belief that unless policy makers and those who are in power face the issues that your average cyclist or walker faces, these problems will never be addressed.

If the Minister of Transport or the head of Male Municipality has a state funded car he/she will always plan the streets in a car-friendly manner, as can be seen from the narrow pavements and the ubiquitous traffic lights that make no sense to most pedestrians. If the Transport minister and the head of Male municipality cycles to work, surely they will come up with better ideas to make Male safer and similar to somewhere like Villi-Male.

The number of traffic-related deaths in the country is unacceptable and we still do not consider these crazy scooters as the death traps that they are. I call upon this administration to consider making most goalhi’s bike and pedestrian only, and remove the parking spaces that leave a narrow two feet walking space where pedestrians are constantly hit by zooming motor cycles.

The solution for making streets safer for women and children both from sexual and physical violence has to be holistic and has to encompass all aspects of peoples lifestyles. It cannot be a ghettoed approach targeting at women only.

Making streets safer for everyone in the community, including the ‘garbage carrying bangalhis’ is the way forward.

Republished with permission All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


19 thoughts on “Comment: Take back the streets! Bring back the bike!”

  1. Rehendi - My comment referred to above was meant to be a joke. Guess I'm not good at joking. I apologise to anyone who was offended or discouraged by the comment.

  2. what a well written article. i just cannot believe in a city as crowded as Male', and as small, we don't support pedestrians, who take up the least room, cause no pollution and little in the way of noise pollution.

    why is one person in a car granted more road space than one person who is walking?

    transport policy should be about getting the greatest number of people about town quickly, safely and creating a nice environment.

  3. One major issue not covered in the article is behavior. I find Maldivians lack street manners.
    People hardly smile or say hello.
    Never give way to others on narrow walkways.
    Group/gang up on walkways forcing you onto the road.

    Other than manners. Poor conditions of the road really is an issue, i trip on uneven bricks all the time. Bad smell from rubbish and oil (boats) is pretty unpleasant. Water drops from air-condition systems are quite annoying.

    Im a guy, i walk everyday, and dont have a bike.

  4. A good op-ed article and an opinion I share as well. However, as you said the main issue of focus, if I may suppose so, is the treatment of women on the streets of Male'. Such social issues, as you have pointed out, require solutions with a holistic approach which equals a whole-lotta-time as well.

    The marxist undertones are a bit over-the-top though aren't they? Just a thought. It's my opinion that it's not so much the cars but the access to proper education and exposure to modes of etiquette that differentiates those who are born into families of class and refinement from the errr...riff-raff :P. A large section of policy-makers, on the other hand, seem to reflect all the failings of most male-chauvinistic attitudes which stems from poverty and pooor education and the show-off-iness of the nouveau riche.

  5. dear maldivian people, please take bikes ones again, u dont need to put fuel daily. u ll save a lot of money.even rich people in japan dont take cars, there use public train and be cool, bike is better.

  6. So - for the record:

    The President walks everywhere he can. If he can help it he's walking. More often then not, he walks to work every morning - even though the MNDF do not like this at all.

    As for my father, the VP has tried to ride his bicycle in Male'. He even had the bike my sister gave him for his birthday dusted off - the tires inflated, and the chain oiled. The bodyguard then stepped in and banned him from riding his bicycle everyday. They told him (unofficially of course) that if he really insisted on riding his bicycle, they could take him to Hulhumale' to do so. Him and my mother both go walking often, though this is mostly just for exercise. And no, the MNDF does not like this either.

    Both security and propriety is a significant concern for the President and Vice President and their spouses.

    On another note:

    I agree with this article in the most part. I believe in the spirit in which it was written. And I do think that there are significant steps which could be taken to address the situation. This includes sensible steps that GIP (Gaumee Itthihaad Party) advocate like:
    - Closing down small alleyways so NO Motor Vehicle could be parked/driven there. (which you advocate for - and we applaud)
    - Dedicate additional lanes for only pedestrian and bicycle traffic
    - Change building codes so that trees are incorporated into the structure of ALL new buildings. Providing nicer looking buildings and more shady streets.
    - Parking included on lower floors of new buildings for all its residents with vehicles.
    - Place tougher restrictions on admissions so that the smog is not so heavy - especially from those big trucks which constantly make you cough, sneeze, and gasp for air.
    - Have government testing centers that ban any vehicle that fails, while also reducing the number of vehicles in the capital. (Yes, not just slowing imports, but ACTUALLY REDUCING)
    - Parking structures to reduce congestion and give no excuse for illicit street parking.

    Or Radical Steps (not GIP endorsed)like:
    - Replacing all cars with electric golf carts (just as fast, with AC)
    - Banning cars all together and using only a very comprehensive public transportation system (which can transports bicycles as well)

    Now, both Mohamed Aslam(Transport Minister) and Adam Manik (Municipality President) do walk quite a bit. However, they do not have the power to change the entire dynamics of our city.

    The rich show their prestige in what kind of car they have - how else would we know exactly how many certain kinds of nice cars there are. I mean - Jaguars, BMWs, Mercedes Benzs, 1 Porsche, 1 trashed white corvette, a couple Audis - This has become the ultimate status symbol of the wealthy. And they will never allow their precious toys to be taken away. (The same applies to some of the ridiculous motorcycles u see too).

    This is a monumental problem for the inhabitants of Male'. It gets worse every year. However laws have to be dramatically altered - and the simple fact of the matter is that not enough of the population wants it. There has to be overwhelming support from the general populous to institute helpful policies, because of how dramatically this will change people's lives.

    Think of how the #1 romantic activity is to go for a motorcycle ride in Male!?! Even those who wear Moonu-burughas (Nigabs) are seen on the back of their husbands' (we're assuming)bikes. But I digress - the point is that this is such a change in lifestyle that people won't stand for unilateral action by the government. There has to be a mass momentum and broad spectrum/populous support.

  7. One thing I cannot figure out is why allow to import vehicles which are above the legally endorsed speed limit. When the speed limit does not allow for going over certain speeds, why allow the import of such vehicles that can break the law and go above the limits. !!! MPs should consider submitting a bill to this effect to Parliament.

  8. We Maldivians are too narrow-minded and that’s where the entire problem lies! Yes I do agree that most Maldivians see riding a motorbike or driving a car as representing their social status higher than that of the ordinary men and women. And that is the reason why some of us struggle to get a bike even on installments or try to flash a fancy mobile phone to show off to friends, despite being unable to afford the high cost of living in Male'. Some of us have resorted to stealing if we cannot afford it via legal means. Compared to other S. Asian countries and the western countries where people really work and live according to what they can afford, our way of think is very backward.

    Not to brag but I could own 3 cars or more if I wanted to; but I do not own a single one because my parents have taught me this very issue in question when I was a kid; having a car or a motorbike does not represent your wealth. Besides our streets are already too crowded. My mobile is an ordinary Nokia 6020 and I’m satisfied with it so long as I can call and msg. In any case, if you’re poor at heart then no amount of cars or bikes would make you a wealthy person. We should first learn to clear off our debts instead of wandering off into such material wealth.

    Riding a bicycle or walking does not make you a ‘Bangaalhi” and I think we should really start learning how to differentiate between the various foreign nationals that work among us; do not call all of them collectively as ‘Bangaalhees’. Being brought up surrounded by foreign workers; it really made me laugh to realize that some of us really are unable or ‘unwilling’ to distinguish between those foreigners. As much as I know the trouble that they are causing in Maldives right now, we should also accept that this whole problem of foreigners was also part of our own creation, but they do deserve some respect in at least to be addressed according to their nationality.

    Finally, walking on the streets of Male’ doesn’t make you susceptible to sexual assault or other threats. I do agree that in recent times the streets of Male’ have not been very safe for women especially, and the islands seem to be far worse. This is a worrying issue and can only be countered with strict punishment and until then you cannot see an end to that. It really was a shock to hear about the rising crime rates such as rape cases when on the other hand our religious gatherings are overflowing with ardent listeners. I’ve walked with my family, friends and also alone at times, but thanks to Allah, apart from comments and glances I have not encountered such a problem (and I am a young woman).

    Living here in the West I’ve seen how people work here and earn for themselves, and if they cannot afford something they don’t shy away from saying that.

    Real prosperity begins with a forward thinking approach; it is our attitude that first needs to be changed!

  9. We need more trees planted like Ameeneemagu on the sides of the streets, so that people could comfortably walk without sweating.

    Someone have to water the trees already planted during the dry season.
    There are streets without payments; people are in the traffic with cars and motorcycles. Ministers and Senior MNDF/Police officials should stop using government vehicles to transport their kids to and from schools by these vehicles. This would be some relief to the congestion near the schools in Male'.

    When we talk about bring back the bike, there should be way to register bicycles, of course free of charge so that lost or stolen bicycles can be claimed by the owner. The Government has to provide special places for bicycles to be parked safely too.

  10. As a person who uses a bicycle as my main mode of transport, I find this article well written. Though, I wish if this had been more of a 'unisex' piece rather than just focusing only on the problems faced by women. But then again the sheer amount of harassment and abuse women face on the streets of Maldives is reason enough to let the female perspective dominate.

    '...riding bikes and walking is for the poor and ‘rubbish collecting bangaalhis’'. A few nights back a traffic policeman stops me and asks me, 'Why do go around riding a bicycle, trying to be a Bangaalhi?'. His tone indicated confusion and that I was trying to make life difficult for him. People need to be educated.

    Just like no self 'respecting woman' will walk no 'self respecting' man, above 18 years, will walk or ride a bicycle for that matter.

  11. I really applaud this article. The political parties need to unite to sort such serious issues which undoubtedly benefit to the whole nation.

    I am naive to beleive that if the top government officials such as political appointees, generals and senior official of MNDF and police, MPs initiate to quit motor vehicles the whole public would follow them. And yes, the government would need to implement applicable regulation as Salim Waheed has delineated.

  12. Thoriq, fear not. I will soon be joining you on the dangerous streets of Malé.

  13. The ideas Mr Salim Waheed claims to be policies advocated by Gaumee Ithihad Party would make streets of Male' safer. However, I wonder if they are just daydreams of Salim Waheed, or if they have been formally adopted by GIP as policies they advocate. I wonder if Salim Waheed is in an elected position of GIP to speak on their behalf. Last year, after attending a presentation by Bill McKibben at Dharubaaruge, I was horrified to find a government car parked inside, with engines running. The driver was waiting obviously for a high state official. The driver must have kept the car running for more than 15 minutes before the Vice President's son, who was chatting with friends nearby, came. The car sped away with him and his lady friends. This was something I witnessed with my own eyes. I also heard that Mr Salim Waheed gets angry if there is not an official speedboat for him to travel between Hulhule and Male.

  14. Quick questions:

    Does the body guard work for the president or the president for the body guard? Tsk!

  15. Introducing a reliable and affordable public transport system is crucial for a major change to be effective. You can throw away your motor bikes but bycicle take just as much space. And they are slower and mostly have unreliable brakes and headlights not to mention the state of their appearance.

    Why don't we introduce time restrictions on parking. This is a major tool for traffic control in other countries. If no parking is allowed at strategic zones at certain times of the day and introduce a decent bus service, surely the situation will ease immediately.

  16. There is the health issue, not only in the Maldives but worldwide. People are walking/ exercising less. This is causing a rise in diabetes, obesity, heart disease, etc. A recent article in National Geographic on longevity talks about an island in Greece were people walk, visit neighbors and eat healthy. What I see here is the status a motorbike brings and the need to show off. Young men + motorbikes + testosterone = danger to pedestrians.

  17. This is a very good eye opener for us all. This administration is not totally ignorant on this issue. As I represent an institution related to this I assure you we are working on it. However I like to mention the business people who offer motorbikes and cars for prize money and continuously market and promote these vehicles which are unnecessary for 2 sqkm.Public awareness sis the key in controlling the insurgence of the vehicle fleet.

  18. I agree with Ibrahim Mohamed on this. The media and businesses have a large influence on people's attitude. So many TV shows are sponsored by businesses who market vehicles and they tend to give motorbikes as prizes. Also, so many Dhivehi film songs (which tend to replicate bollywood, if not some other wood) promote the idea of the 'cool/hip people' as those who have motorcycles and cars. It's ridiculous and absurd in the context of Maldives.

    I don't agree that road safety is a class issue in Maldives. I know so many people who own motorcycles and cars that they can't afford and have taken huge loans for. And taxis are on a fixed price and quite cheap that, I would assume, almost anyone can take. It's an attitude issue which is related to what's considered cool and hip rather than class, and it pervades the whole world, not just Maldives. But of course in Maldives we need to address this problem all the more because it's just completely unnecessary in the islet environment.

    Also if people are worried about the heat and becoming 'kalhu' they should consider taking umbrellas. But oh no no no that cannot be! Us precious Maldivians cannot look like the 'bangalhees'.


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