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Meet India's bicycle mayors

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Cycling challenges, liaisoning with the authorities and convincing people to take up cycling... our bicycle mayors had a lot on their plates last year, but they’re raring to go in 2019. Three of them tell us about their plans ahead

The concept of bicycle mayors was unknown to many of us until we had four appointed for the two-year honorary position in Vadodara, Valsad, Guwahati, and Bengaluru in quick successions in 2017-18.

Over these two years, Nikita Lalwani in Vadodara, Bhairavi Joshi in Valsad, Arshel Akhter in Guwahati, and Sathya Sankaran in Bengaluru have been actively engaging with citizens and the Governments of their cities through sustained campaigns and events, to promote the cause of cycling.

Bicycle mayor is a programme run by BYCS, an Amsterdam-based NGO, which is pursuing its goal of 50/30. The idea is to get people in all the cities in the world to make half of their trips by bikes and thus preserve the earth. As of now, there are 15 bicycle mayors across the world, the youngest of whom is Lotta Crok, an 8-year-old from Amsterdam. We speak to three bicycle mayors from India to find out the progress made so far and the road ahead.

Arshel Akhter

Bicycle Mayor, Guwahati, 2018

Arshel is an investor who was inspired by his friends and people who cycled. He bought a mountain bike and began exploring areas nearby. As Arshel followed the circuit closely, especially various cycling groups on social media, he felt motivated to take it up intensely and launched ‘Pedal for a change’ on Facebook. His regular posts about the benefits of cycling, popular cycling routes, what bicycles to buy and profiles of interesting cyclists in the city impressed BYCS.

Efforts as Bicycle Mayor

“I am working towards changing perceptions of people towards the cycle, which is essentially seen as the poor man’s transport. Also, there are concerns like lack of dedicated lanes and PBS, but I feel unless and until more people take up cycling, these issues won’t be addressed, so I am pushing for as many people as possible to take up cycling,” says Arshel.

Arshel is visiting schools, colleges in Guwahati, to promote cycling and feels ever since he became the bicycle mayor, his reach has expanded. “People have become approachable. The government officials give me a patient hearing,” states Arshel, who is also part of Guwahati Cycling Community, which is reportedly the largest cycling group in the Northeast. Arshel also conducts sporting events for cyclists through Wheelion, another outfit formed by him.

The road ahead

He wants to work towards promoting cycling among children and encourage people living closer to their workplaces to use a bicycle. There are approximately 1,000 hobby cyclists in Guwahati today, but no bike lanes.

Nikita Lalwani

Bicycle Mayor, Vadodara, 2017

An instrumentation engineer by profession, she began cycling after her commute time to office doubled due to a flyover construction. She went on to launch the Cycling Cities initiative in 2015, with the objective of inspiring one-third of a city’s population to cycle. Cycling Cities is a mobile app which tracks your cycling time.

Meet India's bicycle mayors

Based on carbon-credit calculations, cyclists get rewards like gift vouchers, discounts at cycle stores etc.

In 2018, she started Tring (Try Cycling), in her office, by providing cycles with helmets on rent, guidance, and support to office-goers, prodding them to cycle. Right now, Tring is in its pilot phase. These efforts got her selected as the first bicycle mayor in India.

Efforts as Bicycle Mayor

“I am really interested in promoting cycling among children, so I have been talking to students who live close to their schools and can cycle. I am encouraging people who live to close to their work to cycle. So, I am talking to various stakeholders,” says Nikita, who has also initiated Baroda by Cycle on April 18, World Heritage Day. These are guided tours curated by heritage experts.

Nikita collaborated with Vadodara Municipal Corporation to celebrate World Car Free Day on September 22 this year, along with several countries across the world. People were encouraged to take up a one-week car challenge, where they would give up cars for a week and cycle. Several talks, discussions and events also took place. There are about 2,000 hobby cyclists in the city today, but not bike lanes.

Sathya Sankaran

Bicycle Mayor, Bengaluru, 2018

An activist and passionate cyclist, Sathya has been working towards the cause of promoting cycles in Bengaluru, for quite some time. During his 40-km commute to work, he realised how badly Bengaluru roads need to be de-congested.

Meet India's bicycle mayors

Efforts as Bicycle Mayor

The latest one was a challenge thrown by him to Bengalureans to cycle to work. Companies or a group of employees could register on cycleto.work and well, cycle to work. The teams clocking the highest number of hours and km will be rewarded at the end of the challenge. The idea is not just to encourage people to cycle, but also to track the number of cyclists in the city, popular routes taken by them and present this data to the authorities concerned and press them to invest in bicycle infrastructure in the city. He has also been pressing for carriageways to be maintained by the authorities for cyclists to have a smooth ride. Sathya prepared a detailed policy plan/proposal detailing such issues and submitted it to the relevant department.

Sathya is also associated with the Bike School, Council for Change and Cycle Day events held across Bengaluru. The United Nations General Assembly declared June 3 as World Bicycle Day and Sathya led a 10-km ride with 100 cyclists in the city. “I must add that The Hindu has played a big role in Cycle Days celebrated in different locations in the city.”

The road ahead

“The most important objective is to get motorists to respect and not harass cyclists and walkers in 2019. We are working on visual aids, social media material, and screenings to get the message across. We are in the process of designing stickers emblazoned with ‘I respect cyclists’ and putting it on auto rickshaws. As they spread this message, they themselves will become aware of their actions. It is common for motorists to threaten and harass cyclists in Bengaluru and I also experienced an incident where I was almost killed,” says Sathya, who has also co-founded two NGOs Citizens for Sustainability and Praja RAAG.

BBMP is supposed to construct 72 km of new cycle tracks, but the plan is stuck due to lack of funds. However, there are a few cycle tracks in place. Public bike sharing is thriving with app-based dockless Yulu Bikes and Mobycy, though Pedl has temporarily stopped its service to work on the quality of its bikes. Directorate of Urban Land Transport was also supposed to launch Namma Trin-Trin bicycles at 40 metro stations in October this year. “I have no idea about it but we need more operators urgently. There are 4,000 bikes available but the demand is for 20,000 bikes,” says Sathya.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2020 9:00:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/motoring/cycling-challenges-liaisoning-with-the-authorities-and-convincing-people-to-take-up-cycling-our-bicycle-mayors-had-a-lot-on-their-plates-last-year-but-theyre-raring-to-go-in-2019/article25880119.ece

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