Using cycling as an entry point for promoting sustainable lifestyles
Since 2010, “A Day Without Cars” has been an awareness raising event organised by a local non-governmental organisation, Association Mawarid, to promote cycling within the city of Marrakech, Morocco. The 12 kilometres cycling tour has increased in popularity year on year and is now an established annual event attracting around 1,500 cyclists per year. The event has helped raised awareness of alternatives to car transportation and promoted health and physical fitness among the residents. The event is not just standalone – Association Mawarid is trying to collaborate with schools and the local government to further integrate sustainability concerns into education as well as encourage the local government to support cycling through the establishment of proper infrastructure and a fully realised sustainable transport policy.
Association Mawarid is an environmental non-governmental organisation started in 2009 in Marrakech by a group of young people dedicated to placing sustainability at the heart of public policy. As one of their first awareness raising activities they launched the “Day Without Cars” on Earth Day in 2010. The initial event had only 70 participants but grew very rapidly to over 1,000 participants by 2015, becoming an established event.
Advertising for the event is started around three months prior to the event using a variety of resources consisting of social media, word of mouth, and local news programmes. The Association Mawarid works with a variety of partners to implement including the local government and police as well as private sector partners.
As the event has grown the impact on traffic has also grown considerably and presents a significant logistical challenge. There are two main options that can be used. The first option is to make a map and propose a route that includes major landmarks to ensure visibility. As there are now over 1,000 participants the route cannot be completely straight. The police would follow the riders, not closely the route completely, but operating rolling diversions and road blocks so that the roads can be released back to normal traffic as soon as possible. The second option is to close the entire route for the two or three hours the event takes. This is preferable in terms of the carbon emission reductions, but requires substantial manpower to keep the entire route closed for that long and also creates far more disruption to normal traffic.
Another challenge is sourcing a sufficient number of bicycles. Many of the participants are not regular cyclists and the organisers are keen to encourage those not currently cycling to take it up again. The organisers have teamed up with local sports companies, Argan Xtreme Sports and Atlas Sport, who make available a limited stock of bikes available for rent.
The organisers have also sought to enliven the tour through adding a bicycle decoration contest whereby participants decorate their bicycle in Moroccan style. Winning bicycles were selected by a jury comprised of local artists based on criteria of inspiration from Moroccan culture and creativity in the choice of colours. The prize was two nights in a hotel in the city of Marrakesh supplied by an association of local travel agencies as a means of sponsoring the competition.
The event has seen some impact on behavioural change. 36.4% of participants use the bike on a daily basis to get around and there are others who have made the modal shift towards using bicycles due them being more sustainable and respectful of the environment. In addition, this eco-citizen approach is evolving with the support of local participants and their representatives, ensuring the safety of cyclists and promoting the development of cycle paths in Marrakech. Encouraging cycling offers health benefits and reduces pollution, but it is also a participatory economical means of transport.
Creating a Broad Movement for Sustainability
Association Marawid does not see the event as standalone but sees it as one part of a wider movement towards sustainability. The organisation runs a variety of other similar activities such as plogging (similar to jogging but also picking up litter whilst running) and Be Cool Be Sustainable which was a variety of activities on sustainable mobility, leisure, housing, and food. Key to this approach are their efforts in engaging with schools and the wider education system. The organisation has been engaging with schools throughout Marrakesh on mobility and have conducted sensitization of 200 students on sustainable mobility and road safety targeting the following outcomes – (i) training educators in the use of environmentally themed slides and audio-visual aids provided by Mawarid; (ii) promoting urban greenery by encouraging children to plant trees to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions; (iii) informing and educating children about the benefits and practice of sustainable mobility that respect the environment and road safety; and (iv) proposing innovative learning materials for children that encourage environmental stewardship.
The event is a simple concept but nevertheless is a significant logistical challenge for a small non-governmental organisation. The key enablers are raising awareness and interest, ensuring the availability of bicycles and working closely with the local authorities to temporarily close the roads to enable around 1,000 people to cycle for several hours on the main roads. In addition to this, there are the on-going problems of a lack of government support for sustainable transportation, and a lack of cycling lanes and wider cycle infrastructure such as bike rentals, safer riding conditions, and additional areas for securing bikes around the city. This is a missed opportunity – Marrakech has optimal riding conditions, with warm summers, mild winters, and flat terrain. Safety is a particularly important aspect with many potential cyclists expressing concern and avoiding cycling for safety reasons.
The event involves significant levels of manpower and logistics. There has to be police availability to close streets and provide protection for the riders. There are significant needs for volunteers to prepare, execute and clean up, supply water and snacks, as well as selling t-shirts. Sourcing sufficient numbers of bikes for rent for the event has been challenging despite the assistance and collaboration with local partners.
Measurement and Impact
The positive environmental impacts of bicycles use as a mode of transportation have been highlighted by the project website. A number of questionnaires were distributed to the general public and have been analysed. With a total number of responses of 300 taken from the participants in the Day Without Cars, the survey was able to capture a broadly representative sample of those interested in sustainable transport and cycling. It showed that although there is a very high percentage of car and other fossil fuel transportation, 36.4% regularly use their bicycle and, more importantly, 72.2% would be willing to take their usual city trips by bike.
In terms of carbon reduction, it was calculated that the most recent event achieved reductions of 864kg of carbon dioxide. Association Mawarid has measured carbon dioxide reductions based on the following hypothesis – the participants usually use their car for a journey equal to that made during the day without cars every day; the car is occupied by two people, passenger and driver; and the average carbon dioxide emissions is 0.16 kg per kilometre. Mawarid is currently working to improve the accuracy of its carbon dioxide calculations.
As a young association, Mawarid has been recognized as a prominent environmental actor by leading national, international institutions, and most importantly local citizens. Mawarid was the only young association in Morocco’s environmental circles to be invited by UNESCO to participate in the International Congress on Education for Sustainable Development, in November 2014 in Japan.
Association Mawarid has been trying to scale cycling in a number of ways. Firstly at the local level the organisation has increased the participation significantly since inception and actively looked to broaden the scope and appeal of the event within the city. They have stepped beyond this single event and used it as a platform to start a wider conversation about cycling and sustainable transport. Moreover they have tried to engage the local government on the development of cycling infrastructure and have successfully received their cooperation in implementing the event.
Scaling to other cities should be possible. Marrakech is a particularly strong candidate as a cycling city due its clement climate and flat terrain and local contexts will no doubt vary. Nevertheless proper cycling infrastructure has been implemented across a wide variety of cities within a variety of climates, so this should not be an obstacle. Replicating this event or an event similar in scope is clearly possible.
However the wider issues of the absence of proper cycling infrastructure and support. This requires the development and implementation of a sustainable transport policy at both the national and sub-national levels and funding for necessary supporting infrastructure. There is significant opportunity here for the creation of employment with numerous bike sharing schemes having been set-up globally.
The event itself is not very expensive to run and the concept is simple. There are no strong technical needs. With sufficient buy-in and effective collaboration with stakeholders, the event can be replicated in many cities globally.
Way Forward and Lessons Learned
The event has achieved notable success in a short timeframe with minimal amount of funding. In the future the organisation is hoping to achieve greater levels of public visibility and recognition. For the 2015 edition, the organisation pushed for greater national and international visibility by bringing together various participants from Morocco and around the world. Moreover, Association Mawarid has invited local electives, policy makers, and various stakeholders in the City to attend the event.
There have been other sporadic efforts within Marrakesh to support sustainable transport and cycling such as the implementation of a bike sharing scheme called Medina Bike, the expansion of cycling infrastructure through bike lanes, the launching of ten electric based powered by a solar power station located at the entrance to the city, and the inclusion of sustainability into local development plans. In the future, Association Mawarid will need further support from local and potentially national stakeholders to ensure that the event can be built on to further improve access to sustainable transportation and cycling.
Submission to the Envisioning Future Low-Carbon Lifestyles and Transitioning Instruments Project Call for Case Studies
Interview with Association Marawid, November 2018.