The bicycle is revolutionary because…. It has the ability to address a lot of our problems all at once and in a very simple way:
The bicycle tackles bigger issues like income, gender and race inequality, access, economic opportunities, both
physical and mental health-related issues and not in the least, environmental issues. It changes people’s relationships with the spaces and places they are in and creates a much stronger connection between them. It means freedom and social equality.
Nathalie Rosa Bucher: Can public art promote cycling?
Zeina Hawa: Public art in itself is already such a powerful way to reach people. It is highly visible, very interactive and targets everyone, regardless of economic class, education levels or accessibility. The direct goal is more about poking people to start thinking about cycling and viewing it differently, rather than actually getting people on their bikes. That would require more than just street art.
N.R.B: What is Beirut’s cycling scene like?
Z.H: Despite the activity’s recent growth, there is no real bicycle culture in Beirut, and it isn’t widely recognised as a form of transport yet, not for the public and not within the government. The culture is still heavily car-oriented, and cycling is considered a recreational pastime or sport. A small but growing portion of people commute on a regular basis.
N.R.B: How do you access your
Z.H: Most of the walls that we paint on are privately owned walls around the city. We usually ask around to see who
owns the wall or piece of land to get permission from the owner; nobody ever objected. On several occasions we’ve had some of the owners of the walls actually help us out, hang around or take pictures with us.
N.R.B: Who is behind the Chain Effect?
Z.H: We started out on our first project with a big group of friends. It has always been the three of us (Hawa, Elena Haddad and Hadrien Bchara) consistently working on the walls, and we would get several friends and volunteers to join whenever they felt like it. In the past several months we’ve had a lot more people get involved more seriously. We’ve had two big projects where around 45 school children and scouts were involved in painting a large 90 by 6 meters wall over two weekends, and that was fun and a big success. With 18 bicycle-themed murals spread all over the city in key locations where traffic jams are chronic, TCE contributed to raising awareness about the importance of urban cycling. Over the past two years cyclists in Beirut have increased, and the bike shops can confirm this trend with their increasing sales for city bikes.
The future of cycling in Beirut? There’s potential for a lot of streets to get pedestrianized, which would have a positive ripple effect for Beirut. We’d like to see more people actively choosing bicycles or e-bicycles as their mode of transport, and facilities and tools that support that choice through access to bikes, bike parking, a spread of cycling knowledge, way finding tools and such. It would be ideal to have pilot projects around the city in the near future showcasing the opportunities
Read more: WE Magazine Issue #15