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A cycle revolution
A transport revolution has quietly taken place in Nicosia as an existing cycle path along the Pedieos river has recently been extended to link the suburbs of Lakatamia all the way to Prodromos park near the town centre.
For thousands of Nicosia residents the extension means cycling is now - finally - a viable, tranquil way of getting to work, travelling into town or just enjoying a favourite pastime. While cyclists may still have to risk their lives on busy roads in their immediate vicinity, for many of them access to the cycle path is just a few streets away.
Prodromos park is a charming and much-loved spot which has long offered escape from the heat and cars among its stately eucalyptus trees. The extended bike path is now an added attraction as I discovered one recent Saturday afternoon as I put the path through its paces.
I spotted a lone man at the start of the bike lane at Prodromos Park who told me he was a first timer.
"I saw they were doing a bike lane so I thought to check it out," 42-year-old Andreas Yiannou said. Andreas only recently got a bike after renting one as part of the bike sharing scheme introduced in Nicosia last year. He liked it, so did around eight of his friends, and he's now convinced his fiancée to also get a bike.
"I remember during a discussion with friends I said that people wouldn't use bikes because it wasn't part of Cypriots’ culture. But it seems that if you give people a chance they catch on," he said.
I ride off and stop two more cyclists on the lane, coming in from Strovolos.
"Bikes are fashionable now," one of them said. The two friends, in their late twenties, got bikes three months ago "for the exercise" and to have something to do. They have to wear suits for work but in the afternoons they cycle away.
Although they would like prefer not sharing their bike lane with pedestrians and bikes coming in the opposite direction, they said they will carry on cycling anyway.
"This was missing from Nicosia," said another happy cyclist. He and his friend, both 28, enjoy the "very pretty" scenery of the bike lanes and have been finding excuses to ride their bikes by using them "to get to the gym" and even "to move around faster" by not getting struck in traffic. They are now eager to see ramps to park and secure bikes.
"Cyprus is really just right for this kind of thing," one said referring to the island's climate and size. They did add however that it may get too hot in the summer.
I said my goodbyes and carried on cycling, this time feeling slightly disoriented since I usually cycle in the streets where I try to think happy, positive thoughts as a way to curtail road rage. Here, however, I was in safe, beautiful surroundings and it was all too easy.
Within minutes I looked up and realised I was in Strovolos without needing to assert my presence to cars competing for the same space.
Which is exactly what families with young children want.
Academics Demetris Zeinalipour and Christina Charalambidou frequently cycle along the path with their four-year-old son Stefanos.
"Stefanos does 20 kilometres now," Demetris said as his son impatiently demanded they don’t stop to talk but carry on with their bike ride.
The couple said they got a bike for Stefanos when he was about three years old. Demetris now commutes to work as there are shower facilities on campus. They said they would not dream of going on busy roads with their son, but the existence of a long bike lane all the way to Lakatamia has changed things. They are no longer restricted to the alternative of Athalassa park, they said.
Talking to them also helps me realise that with a long, extended bike lane, people can now consider doing longer routes by avoiding some of the busier streets, and Demetris advises me on the easiest way to cycle to my parents' place at the opposite end of the city, which until now required tackling dangerous roads.
The head of the sustainable mobility department at the Communications and Works Ministry, Michalis Lambrinos, said that the Prodromos park bike lane - done by the Nicosia municipality - was just part of a much larger plan which is now in jeopardy.
He explained that a look at a map of existing bike lanes shows two distinct networks in the east and the west.
“The plan is to link up the east-west axis in the north end of Nicosia,” he said. Part of this would be to build a bike lane on Makarios avenue to create a continuous link from the existing bike lane in Ayios Dometios through to the city centre and onwards to the existing Aglandjia network.
This was originally planned for the end of August.
But the project “has to become priority and as of the moment there are few people and few resources,” Lambrinos said.
His department itself, part of public works, has only been set up as a standalone section since the beginning of the year.
They have managed to stretch their budget by getting €300,000 from the EU SMOOTH programme geared towards reducing the use of cars by giving more choices, including safe walking and cycling. Around half of the grant will go towards bike lanes and with a remaining €100,000 his department has, Lambrinos says they will probably extend the network to around Frederick university in Pallouriotissa.
They would need at least €3.0 million to create the greater network linking the University of Nicosia with the University of Cyprus, as well as creating a network for the dangerous Stassinos artery just outside the city walls going to Kaimakli, to name just part of it.
But politicians will not assign budgets for projects there is no demand for, he said. “There are pressure groups but they are isolated,” he said.
He may be right, but there is hope. Most the people I interviewed had only got a bike in the last few months and some had become very enthusiastic proponents of bike lanes. It is too soon to tell if this will translate into a ‘demand for bikes’ by politicians setting budgets, but on any given evening at Prodromos park, bikes are the grooviest way to move.