Know more about the city's transportation system in the weekly column 'Roads and Rails'.

There used to be a time when riding the wind on a bicycle was a highpoint in one's childhood. But as the city developed and narrow cycle lanes gave way to concrete flyovers, many school-going children never get to experience the joy of cycling.

The recent proposal to introduce dedicated cycle lanes in Anna Nagar provides a ray of hope. Apart from offering a departure from the motorist-centric model of urban development, the project is an acknowledgement of the rights of a significant section of road-users.

In 1970, 21.3 per cent of the total trips made in the city per day was using a bicycle. This had dropped to 12.8 per cent by 2005, according to the Detailed Project Report for purchase of buses under the JNNURM scheme.

The statistics about the number of trips covered by walking (pedestrian) is a bit more revealing. From being 20.7 per cent in 1970, it rose to 32.7 per cent in 2005. Essentially, since the cycles were being pushed out of the road by faster moving traffic, those who could not afford any other mode of transport were forced to walk.

If a city were to be judged by how it treats its weakest sections, then Chennai would not rate very high on that scale. Apart from a lack of cycle lanes, the Comprehensive Traffic and Transportation Study done by the CMDA points out that only about 20 km of the city's 2,780-km road network has a 1.5-metre-wide footpath.

“Cycle lanes are about social equity,” says Shreya Gadepalli, Director, Institute of Transportation Policy (Ahmedabad), which is the consultant for the Anna Nagar project. “For a majority of the lower income communities, the only transportation mode available is cycling. Apart from being energy efficient and pollution-free, cycle lanes are a symbol of democracy.”

Ms. Gadepalli pointed out examples in other cities such as New York, where Times Square has been converted into a pedestrian plaza and Amsterdam, which has a citywide network of cycle tracks.

In the pilot initiative at Anna Nagar, a dedicated cycle track will be developed on a 6.5-km stretch and about 60 to 70 per intervention will be made in another seven-km stretch. A hierarchy of tracks will be developed so that cyclists and pedestrians can share space.

Terming the move as “fantastic”, Prasanna Krishna, general secretary, Cycling Association of Chennai, said “Once there is adequate infrastructure, a lot of people might take to it.”

Mayor M.Subramanian said that other areas such as Adyar and the Marina beach stretch might also get cycle lanes soon.