The roads of Bangalore are like huge funnels narrowing to impenetrable bottlenecks.
Lakhs of us have to endure daily congestion, our misery compounded by the toxic cocktail of automobile exhaust as we inch along through traffic jams.
So, would a cycling lane splitting and further reducing precious road space, be a solution to the traffic woes of the city? At least this was what was suggested by Transport Secretary M.K. Shankaralinge Gowda to the civic authorities at the recent Breathe Easy campaign. Mr. Gowda had urged laying of bicycle tracks on arterial roads to reduce congestion.
More than just words
A laudable idea on all counts, but is it feasible? A dipstick survey by The Hindu suggested that a lot more would be required for the able and willing to be pedalling about in earnest.
It takes a lot for the city to put in place safe cycling tracks. As Khalandar Khan, Transport Planner in the Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) explained: “The roads should be a minimum 30 metres wide for cycling tracks to be feasible. However, in Bangalore the terrain is highly inconsistent: the width keeps fluctuating from 30 metres to 10 metres. Hence, cycling tracks simply cannot be planned. If, however the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike's plan to widen 216 roads is achieved, then planning the tracks will be hassle free.”
He added that the Riders Cycle Foundation is conducting an extensive study, earmarking cycle-friendly zones. The Bangalore Metropolitan Land Transport Authority (BMLTA) is awaiting the report.
Big plans but…
Bhaskara Rao, Commissioner for Transport and Road Safety and president of Riders Cycle Foundation said: “We're currently planning close to 300 km of cycle tracks. I would, however, be happy if I see five km of tracks take shape.”
Despite a fairly decent public transport system, a big chunk of commuters still prefer their personal vehicles, he said, pointing out that 70 per cent of the 40 lakh registered vehicles here are two-wheelers. Mr. Rao observed that in Western Europe, where cycling is a prime mode of transport, there is a direct correlation between cycling and use of public road transport.
“The higher the number of cyclists, the greater the population travelling by bus or the metro,” he said, adding that Bangalore seems to buck the trend.
“In a city like Bangalore,” said Pradeep Singh, a Ph.D. scholar in Transportation Management in IIT Delhi, “the speed distribution of traffic is highly variable, making it very unsafe for cyclists.”
Ingrained in the culture
He pointed out that nowhere else in the world is bicycling so ingrained in the culture as it is in Holland.
According to the Dutch Bicycling Council, 37 per cent of all the vehicle trips around Amsterdam are made on cycles.
According to a research article by John Puecher and Ralph Bueler, titled At the Frontiers of Cycling: Policy Innovations in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany, Amsterdam has automobile-free zones, compelling people to use their cycles.
Dutch traffic laws protect young cyclists and hold automobile drivers responsible in case of accidents.
Additionally, fee for car parks has substantially increased since the 1970s.
It is high time that Bangalore, where cycles are destined to rust in garages once young adults move up in life, went ‘Dutch'.
Giving it that push
Why we should promote cycling
It reduces congestion. Six bicycles can typically fit into the road space of one car.
It does not emit climate-disrupting air pollution.
It is priced within the reach of thousands who cannot afford a car.
Cycling reduces obesity, a growing health problem.
Why cycling is difficult in Bangalore
Lack of basic infrastructure, such as specialised parking lots, tunnels and exclusive traffic signals.
It has ceased to be a part of the city's culture. Only 2 per cent of the population are registered cyclists.
Constructing cycling lanes with grills around the periphery would only eat into the already strained road space.
How we can encourage cycling
By earmarking motor vehicle-free zones across the city.
There should be by ample cycle parking, full integration with public transport, comprehensive traffic education and training of both cyclists and motorists.
By making driving expensive as well as inconvenient in central and highly congested areas through a host of taxes and restrictions on car ownership, use and parking.