Monday, October 23, 2006

A movement of Bicycles and Pedestrians in Yerevan

Critical Mass was organized in Yerevan for the first time ever. This event took place on on October 22nd, as about 20 bicyclists gathered in front of Matenadaran and a few of us pedestrians met up with them there to help them with the start of their bicycle ride in downtown. The bicyclists hit the streets and peddled along and the pedestrians followed. (Not all the way of course, we surely couldn’t keep up!)

The purpose of the event was essentially to support alternative modes of transportation in Yerevan. Sadly, the city is becoming much dirtier and people are becoming sicker with various different respiratory diseases. Onnik’s post at One World “Yerevan is suffocating” sums it up well and refers us to an article on entitled “Armenia: Environmental Change Spurs Respiratory Diseases” which explains the problem regarding pollution, environmental damage and how all of this is beginning to impact the health of Armenian citizens. When you are living in Yerevan, you realize how dirty the air is. For some reason it becomes even more shocking when you see it in statistics and numbers.

The increasing number of cars in Yerevan is one of the factors which has caused for such pollution. Let’s say you want to actually use a bicycle, a more eco-friendly way to travel to work or school, your lungs would probably collapse as you try to peddle uphill on Baghramian Avenue simply with the amount of car emission hitting your face as you gasp to get somewhere. Who needs that? So for that, many people choose not to use a bicycle. That and most bicyclists say it is virtually impossible for them to get around because cars don’t want to give them the right of way and even purposely try to block them from their paths! Also, there is no designated lane for bicycles on the streets.

So Critical Mass movement was organized in Yerevan to somehow respond to this all….

According to Wikipedia, the Critical Mass movement is:
“a bike ride typically held on the last Friday of every month in cities around the world where bicyclists and, less frequently, skateboarders, roller bladers, roller skaters and other self-propelled commuters take to the streets en masse. Critical Mass is not led, and has no officially-stated message, though it is largely understood to be an effort to promote alternative (non-motorized) modes of transportation and to raise awareness about the safety issues that face commuters using non-motorized forms of transportation when sharing the streets with motor vehicles. Participants meet at a set location and time and enjoy the security and companionship of travelling as a group through city streets intentionally causing a mild and temporary disruption to vehicle traffic. The general philosophy behind the ride is expressed in the widely-used slogan, "We aren't blocking traffic; we are traffic."

However, I don’t tend to agree COMPLETELY with this definition. As the whole movement behind Critical Mass is to support alternative means of trasportation and to encourage “other self-propelled commuters take to the streets en masse”… aren’t your feet yet another way to get around? Especially in Yerevan, walking around in the streets of downtown is much more convenient then hopping onto the metro or marshutka (of course it is a bit more difficult when you get to the outskirts of the city).

Yet here’s another problem- now, as we pedestrians are trying to cross the streets on the designated pedestrian crosswalks when the green light is lit for the pedestrians to walk – we can’t even cross the street! So some of us tend to jaywalk every once in a while ( I myself am guilty!) but the fact of the matter is, you are going to want to cross the street WHENEVER you have the opportunity to because if you don’t, you will either wait 4 hours or get hit by a car. You choose the more eco-friendly route of walking around in the streets of downtown Yerevan and it is ever so difficult because cars don’t want to let you go. Then on top of that, if the Stoplight is red, there are certain expensive cars with specific “Golden numbers” that get the right of way ALWAYS. They don’t stop for pedestrians, drive 100 times faster than they should on these crowded streets and don’t get pulled over by the police because they belong to a certain clan or group of other people like them who have these “golden numbers” (in other words, some friends, family of oligarchs, presidents, ministers…you get the picture!).

So we pedestrians were walking around and crossing the streets and demanding that cars actually respect our right to cross the street at that moment.

I was rather disappointed with the turnout of young Armenian people to this event. More specifically, this idea came from people who were complaining about the traffic and how they cannot cross the streets – and these were the very people that did not turn out to this event! Most of those who took part were people who were volunteers from another country or diasporan Armenians (not ALL of course, there was some representation of young Armenians) On the other hand, there were a few people that joined our cause along the way. And interestingly enough, there was this one group of boys around the age of 10-12 years old who were talking to each other. I couldn’t help but laugh at what they were saying as they explained, “so how come these Diasporans are coming and defending our rights for us? We should defend our rights ourselves!”

Anyway, the act was supported by everybody “in spirit” but a lot of people were sick or had a birthday party or some other event to attend to. So for these reasons, turnout on the pedestrian front was rather weak. However, when it comes to Armenians complaining – they are very willing to do it! Frankly, I have thought about writing this before, but it’s rather sad because so many young Armenians do not feel like they belong to this society. But I will leave that thought for another post. I only hope that sooner rather than later at least the young people will begin to start acting on what they have complaints about and not just sitting and complaining. Especially since the parliamentary elections are coming up in 2007 and presidential elections in 2008…

The photos on this post were taken by Fouad Achiba, EVS Volunteer at Civil Society Institute


At 23 October, 2006, Anonymous felix said...

Hej, that's so cool! I visited Yerevan and Armenia some weeks ago, and several times got angry by the barbarian style of the drivers. Instead - (strictly speaking as a tourist) it would be so great to be able to explore Yerevan by bike! Keep on demanding the streets for cyclists and pedestrians!!!

At 26 October, 2006, Blogger akhtamar said...

thanks for the support Felix,

yea we were walking down Abovyan Street and this one Diasporan Armenian who seemed to be on vacation in Armenia was also commending the efforts. she also said she wanted to join us.

but when she was explaining, "oh these are not normal streets, this is a suicide lane" i couldn't help but laugh and remember my initial reaction when i first got here...


At 02 November, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

that's great to hear! who organized the event? was it Bem?

At 02 November, 2006, Blogger akhtamar said...

Actually no it wasn't BEM. Rather a group of young Armenians who were truly interested in making a difference...

interestingly, not everything has to be institution related.


cheers, Tamar

At 22 November, 2006, Anonymous sh_joy said...

What a pity I didn't know about the movement before :(
I would have joined you...

At 07 February, 2007, Blogger Lola Koundakjian said...

How about smoking as a pollutant and cause for illness. Great idea to introduce alternative modes of transport in that city.

At 30 October, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

nor bike tur :)

At 02 January, 2008, Blogger agni said...

Hetsanivnerov Bnapahpanakan Erth Erevani Poxocnerov~~~~
Hunvari 13-in jame 13:00 Matenadarani motic~~
Cankacoxnere` ardzaganqen!!!
Mi qani azat hetsaniv ka Joxovurd jan!

At 14 January, 2008, Anonymous blodnik said...

I am visiting Yerevan in august and bringing two cycles for me and my son, a trek session 77 and a kona stinky delux, check these on the internet and let me know if any one is interested in buyiny them, as l will sell before i fly back to UK

At 20 April, 2009, Blogger Emilio said...

Good Bloog my friend!! Congratulations!!

good luck!! See you!


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