Sebastian has worked as an electrician for over two decades now. When he started out as an apprentice, he cycled all around the city, landing odd jobs in what was then the city's outskirts. There were always some roads that he knew were off-limits for cyclists, but over the years, that list only got longer.
Over the past decade, Sebastian notices that most people, who once cycled to work, have given up. Large flyovers, complicated intersections and roundabouts and the more recent signal-free corridors, have rendered most routes impossible to negotiate for a cyclist. “Bangalore is not what it used to be: cycling is a luxury actually. Even on the smaller roads, now traffic spills over, and it is unsafe too,” he bemoans.
Indeed, a Mobility Indicators Report, prepared by the Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) a few years ago, corroborates this. It found that the percentage share of cyclists in road transport had gone down from a low two per cent to one per cent, between 2006 and 2008. And in the absence of any cycling lanes or tracks in any of its roadways, its cycling index was a resounding zero.
Sujaya Rathi, a research scientist at the Centre for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CiSTUP), points to a mismatch between the National Urban Transport Policy and the development trends in cities such as Bangalore. “The national transport policy talks about the need for an equitable allocation of road space, encourage public transport and non-motorised modes of transport. But here we find that the process of building roads overlooks the largest section of users: pedestrians, vendors and cyclists,” she says.
The city's roads are distinctly unsafe for cyclists, devoid of cycle paths and packed with too many vehicles all moving too fast, says Ms. Rathi. What the city needs is clearly segregated lanes for cyclists that are connected to each other and also to public transport nodes such as bus stops. “Cyclists need safe parking in public places and workplaces; and most importantly, we need to create awareness among motorists about prioritising pedestrians and cyclists,” she adds.
H.S. Sudhira, an urban researcher formerly with the DULT and a cycling enthusiast, believes that Bangalore's transport planning can no longer be about widening roads and creating flyovers. “The supply has reached a saturation point. What we need is demand side management,” he says.
To begin with, a ban on free street parking might be a good idea, he adds. “We widen roads only to have a good portion of it colonised by parked cars. And so we lose a good portion of the carriageway that could have accommodated a cycling track,” he says. In fact the Motor Vehicles Act 1988 allows licensed drivers to commute, but does not necessarily authorise them to park on streets. “On-street parking must either be banned or priced at a premium,” says Dr. Sudhira.
The silver lining, of course, is that in recent years, there has been a renewed focus on making Bangalore a cyclist-friendly city. Government bodies such as the DULT, urban planners and cyclist groups have been planning several projects in key areas in the city, many of them at varying stages of implementation.
Though delayed by a few months, the cyclist-friendly zone, a pilot project in Jayanagar, is likely to be inaugurated in a fortnight, says DULT special officer Shailendra Singh.
The project does not envision dedicated cycling tracks, but uses a combination of other techniques — including signages, zoning and varied signal timings in congested areas — to improve “cycleability”. Cycle stands will be introduced near important buildings, parks and facilities, to encourage people to shift to these environment-friendly vehicles for shorter trips within the area. This project, though basic, costs around Rs. 3.5 crore.
In other parts of the city, plans are under way or in final planning or early tendering stages to implement similar projects. In Madivala, near the lake, DULT is working towards creating its first full-fledged cyclist-friendly zone. This area was chosen because its survey showed that a sizeable population here is using cycles: the transport share of cycles was eight per cent, compared to the city average of two per cent, says Mr. Singh. “Being an area where there were several low-income groups and settlements, more people were using cycles, which is why we chose to start our project here,” he adds.
The project cost for Madivala is an estimated Rs. 7.5 lakh. The detailed strategy for Madivala, spread out around approximately 10 sq km, involves a three-pronged approach: dedicated cycling tracks, identifying cyclist-friendly streets and routes (where traffic is less intense) and the most critical junction improvements (which deals with signal timings and allowing cyclists to cross safely).
The DULT has also conducted feasibility studies to indentify routes for cyclists in Koramanagala, RMV Stage II, Indiranagar and R.T. Nagar, while detailed project reports are being made for HSR Layout and Rajarajeswari Nagar.