Cycling in Cyprus is not for the faint-hearted. But ELENI PHILIPPOU meets one woman determined to see others join her on her daily two-wheeled commute

 Marina Kyriakou is not like other Cypriots. She does not drive in circles to find parking right outside restaurants to avoid the two-minute walk. In fact, she doesn’t even own a car. She gets by on just two wheels, crossing urban Nicosia with her bicycle. Not because she cannot drive, but because she chooses not to. Meet the Bicycle Mayor of Nicosia.

When Cyprus transitioned from using donkeys and carts to the bicycle, it was a popular transport means for many Cypriots. Now that cars are in the picture cycling has taken the back seat. And who doesn’t prefer driving comfortably in the AC? But 20 minutes stuck in traffic with road rage peaking is enough to have second thoughts about driving.

Marina is keen on developing a city cycling culture in Cyprus. A lifestyle where all ages can safely navigate themselves around the city. The key word here is ‘safely’.

“I was not always so keen on cycling,” Marina laughs. “My passion for commuting by bike started when I was studying in Strasbourg, which is France’s cycling paradise. As I was studying architecture and urbanism and I was very interested in observing the lifestyle, the flows and human interactions, I realised that the city was enjoyable and friendly because of the low car traffic and its increased pedestrian and cycling infrastructure combined with green public spaces. My fascination with using cycling as a lens for creating sustainable and human cities led me to Amsterdam, where I obtained my Master’s degree in Urban Planning. I wrote my thesis on the potential of bottom-up initiatives in increasing cycling in Nicosia.”

From there, Marina joined the Bicycle Mayors Network in 2019, an initiative by BYCS a social enterprise in Amsterdam. Committing to being a Bicycle Mayor title is a voluntary role and targets promoting cycling in an urban context.

feature2 marina kyriakou in nicosia“Most people who are either designing infrastructure in Cyprus or making decisions on mobility, do not use the bicycle themselves. So, I wanted to share my experience as a bicycle user and influence from the bottom-up.”

Since she took on the role, Marina has co-organised events and rides in Nicosia, attended conferences to speak about her experience as a bicycle user and now she is working on a documentary screening in June of a short film called Women don’t Cycle.

Her role comes with some more official responsibilities as well. She was appointed a Road Safety Ambassador in 2021, visiting schools to teach children about road safety. Last year saw her hosting training workshops and group bike rides for women who want to feel more comfortable in a road environment.

“I am a confident cyclist and I know how to claim my space in the street but cycling in Nicosia is a challenge. I have to be prudent and concentrated while riding my bike, trying to predict other road users’ next move! I constantly need to remind people that people on bikes, scooters, and wheelchairs also have a right to move in the city as the streets are made only for cars.”

The addition of more bicycle lanes in the centre of towns is positive and has contributed to more people jumping on their bikes. But Marina says that less-confident cyclists are still not convinced about replacing their car journeys. The correct integrated cycling infrastructure, she suggests, would separate cyclists from car traffic and should focus on human-centred neighbourhoods, with more trees and public infrastructure, instead of having cars as the main emphasis.

“The general conditions of our road network are unsafe for all users,” she adds. “Penalising reckless road behaviour needs to be improved because the cars dominate our streets (and pavements) and we need to shift this paradigm.”

Cycling has become an extension of Marina’s life. She will cycle to and from social gatherings and work and occasionally car share when travelling with others. Driving is saved for just a handful of occasions a year and even in the summer when temperatures rise, she finds tricks to stick to her cycling ways. Drinking water, wearing a hat and comfortable clothes is a must during the hot months, she says. As is avoiding unnecessary journeys during the hot hours.

“It needs some planning but it’s not too hard,” she admits. “Once you begin to ride your bike regularly, you learn to adapt and create safe and comfortable conditions for yourself. And you must communicate this situation to people you work with or who expect you to be somewhere. We cannot assume that everyone owns a car and/or can drive.

“The bicycle for me is a lifestyle,” concludes Marina. “It’s an approach to life but also a mode of transport that invites me every day to be practical and considerate of others while moving in the city.”

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