Muscat: Cycling infrastructure in Oman needs to be improved, campaigners and cyclists said, pointing out the health and environment benefits of the sport.
Frans Kohler, member of Muscat Mountainbikers and an experienced cyclist, told the Times of Oman (TOO) that Oman is a wonderful country to cycle in, but the problem is that facilities and rules are formulated according to cyclists, and favour motorists instead.
“As a cyclist, you have to surrender to the traffic. You can ride anywhere, but you’re always second to the motorists,” he said.
Kohler added that the rules and regulations for cyclists are also unclear.
“I remember when one of us was hit by a car while riding on the shoulder of the Muscat Expressway, he (the cyclist) was the one who was found guilty, instead of the person who was driving the car using his mobile phone, which is a clear offence,” Kohler said.
He also recalled that his group was once stopped by the police, who asked them if they had a permit for cycling on the road. Kohler also explained that he has had to stop transporting his bike by mounting it on his car, as it turns out it is forbidden.
He noted that traffic in Oman is not used to cyclists, which makes things more difficult.
A Royal Oman Police (ROP) spokesperson said cycling is only allowed on lanes, pavements, secondary streets, parks and driveways, but not on the main streets. He noted that allowing this would endanger motorists.
An expatriate, who asked not to be named, recalled that as a cyclist, he was once was hit by a car in Muscat.
“As there was no dedicated cycling lane, I was riding on the side of the road when I was hit by a speeding car. The accident left me severely wounded and unconscious and worse still, the driver who hit me fled the scene,” he said.
An official from ROP’s traffic department told TOO that there is currently no data available on accidents involving cyclists. He added that statistics on accidents are recorded for only motorists. Also, traffic laws do not govern bicycles, except when cyclists cycle close to cars and obstruct their path or place other traffic at risk.
“In that case, a cyclist may have committed an offence,” the ROP official said.
He also confirmed that currently there are no dedicated lanes or roads for cyclists, apart from the ones constructed by the Muscat Municipality.
Commenting on cycling infrastructure in Oman, Saif bin Sabaa Al Rushaidi, director of the Oman Cycling Association (OCA), recently told TOO that the country is on track to improve the situation.
“Oman is not yet a cycling nation, but awareness has gained momentum and we are on track to improve the infrastructure,” he said.
Al Rushaidi said new cycling paths in Muttrah, Azaiba and Seeb are just the beginning of these improvements.
Commenting on the cycling lanes Al Rushaidi spoke of, cyclist Kohler said they are not fit for cycling, as they had still not fully adapted to the needs of the cyclists.
“The cycling lane that was constructed in Azaiba does not make sense, as they have obstructed it in such a way as to deter motorists to use it to park their cars, which makes it useless for cyclists. In Muttrah, cyclists have to cycle on the footpath and mingle with the pedestrians, which is a problem,” he stated. According to Kohler, the first step to better serve the interests of cyclists would be to formulate clear rules.
“Now, you’re often dependent on the whims of the police officer as to how to apply the rules,” he said.
In addition, he noted that separate cycling lanes could easily be constructed on the pavement of underground electricity lines, which are already separated from other traffic.
Omani cyclist Khalid Al Shabibi had earlier urged the authorities concerned to improve the country’s cycling infrastructure.
“There are some places in the country that encourage cycling, but it would be nice if the concerned parties in the country keep this in mind while designing roads and the infrastructure,” said Al Shabibi.
Ali Humaid Al Saidi, general secretary of OCA, agreed that the current cycling paths are not yet up to speed with the demands of cyclists.
“We have requested the Muscat Municipality to construct cycling lanes, but the end result is not in our hands,” he said.
Al Saidi further said his organisation is working “very hard” to defend cyclists’ interests, by promoting cycling, organising events and improving facilities.
“We cannot just rely on the government. We need help from sponsors, businesses and the public,” he said. He could not comment on the cyclists’ complaint that rules for cyclists are not clear.
Al Saidi said the OCA aims to have separate cycling lanes on all roads in the future, so more and more people can switch their cars for bikes.
“Leave your car and use a bike. The bicycle is the friend of the environment,” he said.