Traffic police penalize Qatar cyclists for breaking road rules

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Brian Candy/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Police are ticketing bicycle riders for traffic violations daily, a senior police spokesman has said, even as one avid cyclist claims a lack of respect from motorists makes it different to follow the law while on two wheels.

Lt.-Col. Mohammed Radi Al Hajri, the Traffic Department’s director of media and awareness, told police magazine Shurtha Maak that common infractions include riding on sidewalks, failing to wear helmets, not keeping to the right side of the road and riding bicycles without proper lights, according to The Peninsula.

“Our campaigns target all road users … We have conducted many field campaigns related to bicycles,” he was quoted as saying.

Al Hajri added that most cycling violations are recorded in the Industrial Area.

In theory, Qatar has strict rules for cyclists. In 2013, the traffic department made it mandatory for riders to wear a helmet and reflective jacket as well as outfit bicycles with a rearview mirror, horn, rear and pedal reflectors and a front light, among other equipment.

 Those who don’t have the proper gear risk having their bicycle seized, authorities said at the time.

Al Hajri did not appear to say how many tickets were issued to cyclists daily, and there is no breakdown for cyclist penalties in Qatar’s official monthly figures for traffic violations.

In addition to such cyclist-specific rules, bicycles are also covered by the same traffic laws as vehicles, Al Hajri suggested.

However, one local avid cyclist said he sees many of his fellow riders bending the rules out of concern for their own safety.

Ahmed Fawzi, the founder of Qatar Cycling Community, said many riders will travel against vehicle traffic because it gives them more time to react to, for example, a car that’s drifting out of its lane.

bicycling in QatarHe told Doha News that other cyclers eschew the road altogether in favor of the sidewalk, where they feel safer.

“The big 4x4s – (drivers) don’t have great visibility, especially with so many people using their phone,” Fawzi said.

So far, he added, traffic police officers appear understanding.

“I’ve never heard of anyone getting a cycling ticket.”

However, Fawzi added that there is a general lack of awareness surrounding the rules for cyclists in Qatar, and that personal opinions differ over whether bikes belong on the road, the sidewalk or the hard shoulder.

Fawzi said he’s been shouted at by passing motorists who yell at him to “Get out of the road.”

Promoting cycling

Along with road safety perceptions, Qatar’s harsh summer heat means cycling advocates can face challenges in encouraging others to commute on two wheels.

But as the government explores ways of increasing physical activity among Qatar residents, initiatives such as a bike rental shop at the Aspire Zone are taking off.

Meanwhile, urban planners are working at making it easier to get around by bike.

The Qatar National Bicycle Master Plan, released in 2010, says all new expressways must include lanes for cyclists, and that existing roads should be refitted to allow for bicycle lanes.

Fawzi said there are already bicycle lanes around the Aspire Zone, along parts of Salwa Road, near the airport as well as along Ceremonial Road outside Al Rayyan, among others.

“It’s getting better, but awareness needs to be increased,” he said.

Fawzi said motorists can sometimes be seen driving in bike lanes with apparent impunity, and suggests that bollards or other barrier be installed to keep vehicles out.

More broadly, he suggested that increasing the number of cycling-related special events, such as the Wheels and Heels fundraiser that closes the Corniche to motor vehicles, could boost the number of cyclists in Qatar.

Additionally, he notes how Dubai has constructed dozens of kilometers of dedicated bike trails to make it easier for the city’s residents and visitors to cycle.

“That would be my dream,” he said.

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