Change of Scene: Evaluating a bicycle project in South Africa

Last Friday, the 21st August, I attended the launch of the Ubuntu Bicycle Project at the Ubuntu Education Fund in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. A long time in the planning, this pilot project, funded by Volkswagen AG Group Works Council, provides mountain bicycles and cycle training to 15 school children from the local Zwide township. I attended for the European Institute for Sustainable Transport (EURIST) who had been asked to do a project evaluation.

Children receiving their cycling kits at the project launch

Children receiving their cycling kits
Port Elizabeth, 21/08/2015

Over six months, the young beneficiaries, all of whom are around 16 years of age, will spend three afternoons a week at the local cycling club, learning to ride and also practicing bicycle mechanics skills. The project will introduce the children, whose families are all affected by HIV/AIDS, to the cycling sport, and thereby aims to foster team spirit, self-confidence and determination and to improve the overall wellbeing of these children in their difficult circumstances.

Parents singing and dancing at the project launch

Enthusiastic atmosphere at the launch of the project
Port Elizabeth, 21/08/2015

An enthusiastic atmosphere accompanied the speeches of the project partners – the local Ubuntu Education Fund, terre des hommes Germany, EURIST, the Siyanqoba Cycling Club and the Bicycling Empowerment Network South Africa – and the mother of one of the beneficiaries at the celebration of the launch. Several songs were initiated spontaneously throughout the celebration, which ended with the handover of the cycling gear to each child. It was an incredible experience to see the enthusiasm with which this project was launched.

EURIST’s specific role will be the project evaluation. To that end, I spent four days before the launch, gathering baseline data, interviewing the children and their parents, visiting the township and the project sites, and meeting the project partners. A data collection strategy was put in place, including a comprehensive initial questionnaire. In February 2016 at the end of the six-month pilot phase, the impacts of the project will be assessed in terms of riding and bicycle mechanics skills, physical fitness, emotional wellbeing of the children and several soft skills. I am so excited to see the progress of this promising project, and I send my best wishes to Nozibele from the UBUNTU Education Fund who will lead the implementation of the project.

Knowledge Transfer: A sustainable transport study tour in Hamburg

It is always a good thing when students don’t only study from books, but also get the opportunity to see and experience what they study. Dr. Maha Maleika, Head of the Engineering Planning Department at Duhok University in Northern Iraq, had the vision to develop a study programme that would allow her students to see and learn from foreign experiences. Today, Duhok University offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Spatial Planning in cooperation with the Faculty of Spatial Planning at the TU Dortmund that makes exactly that possible: a four-week study tour including study stays in Dortmund, Berlin and Hamburg.

Last week, the first group of students accompanied by lecturers from Duhok University and the TU Dortmund came to Hamburg for a four-day programme of lectures and excursions on sustainable transport which I had co-developed for the hosting organisation, the European Institute for Sustainable Transport.

With sustainable transport being such a vast topic, what do you cover in four days? Different scales of transport planning, different modes of transport, financial aspects, demand and supply management, public engagement, people or freight? This week was supposed to open the students’ eyes to the interconnectedness of transport planning, the relationships between urban development and traffic, between the provision of transport infrastructure and people’s behaviour and between research, planning practice and live traffic management.

My special thanks go to the Hamburg Institute of International Economics (HWWI), who hosted us for two days and provided lectures on infrastructure development, transport planning at the city-region scale and financial aspects of transport planning, thereby giving the students a sense of current research topics in sustainable transport.

Group photo in front of HWWI

Group photo in front of HWWI
Hamburg, 09/06/2015

Our first excursion was to take us to IKEA in Altona. ‘Really?’ you might ask. In order to limit the impact of new traffic on the neighbourhood, the development of this first inner-city IKEA required an innovative transport and logistics concept, which was explained to us by one of the developers from ARGUS Stadt- und Verkehrsplanung. The small distance to the public transport hub Altona as well as a whole range of possibilities to transport purchases home, including cargo bicycles for hire, has successfully desincentivised the use of the private car for a trip to this IKEA. Infrastructure that was cleverly adapted to people’s needs was able to reduce traffic impact and allow the development of such a huge operation in the inner city.

New city developments always impact on traffic and, therefore, transport demand and supply need careful consideration from the start. This lesson was further demonstrated to the students through guided tours in the newly developed Hafencity area and the International Building Exhibition (IBA). Additionally, a visit to the local citizen initiative ‘Die Motte’ in Ottensen demonstrated that urban interventions are not just an engineering challenge, but ultimately affect people who might want to have a say in the development of their neighbourhood. Finally, with a tour of the Hamburger Hochbahn company, which runs the public underground trains (U-Bahn) as well as the entire public bus system in Hamburg, the students could witness live traffic management and could grasp the challenge of managing a flow of 438 million people per year across the city.

Sustainable transport and traffic planning is more than an engineering challenge. It is integrally linked to urban development, access and social mobility, life quality and wellbeing. People are right at the centre of transport and traffic planning. The students left with impressions of a city, with its administration, its private companies and voluntary sector, with its city-region transport modelling as well as its local citizen initiatives, where a lot works well and a lot still needs to be improved. Hamburg is work in progress – like any real city – and this you can’t study only from books.