Through a rather bizarre series of events (ask me about it sometime), I was recently invited to speak at Qatar University (at the pleasure of the Princess, no less) about creating communities that welcome bikes for transportation. I'd heard that "no one bikes in Doha", so of course I was curious to discover and document the dystopian hellscape that would cause this to be the case.
Spoiler alert: people DO ride bikes in Doha, just as people ride bikes basically everywhere in the world. And I found it quite lovely to get around there on a bike. But as ubiquitous as bicycling itself, are the many reasons why people believe people aren't bicycling: "The weather is too extreme." "The infrastructure doesn't support riding." "It's too dangerous for women to ride." Sound familiar?
To be sure, it can get HOT in Qatar—108 degree average temps in July, yikes! (just like it can get COLD in Ohio—0-degree temps during much of January, yikes!). There isn't much bicycle infrastructure in Doha (just like there are many parts of Central Ohio without bicycle infrastructure). There can be personal safety concerns for cyclists in Doha, particularly among historically marginalized populations (just like...you got it, right here in Ohio!). And yet, people DO ride for transportation, facing current conditions, both here and there, and everywhere, whether for the joy of it or the necessity. In Qatar as in Columbus, there is a disconnect between perception and reality when it comes to who is riding, how much and where. As much as things are different, mostly they are the same.
My Doha adventure reinforced to me how universal are perceptions of bicycling barriers, and how universally will people ride in spite of the real and perceived barriers they face. But regardless whether we're in Doha or Columbus, the risk is the same—when we fail to see the people around us who are riding, it makes it easier not to invest in improving their ride experience. So take a closer look to see what evidence of cycling is around you, even in environments that seem hostile. It will be there. And disrupt any argument along the lines of "people don't ride here because..."—it's not true, guaranteed. People are riding everywhere, no matter what, and it's important that they're seen!