I wish I could ride a bicycle to work

If there is a will there is a way, they say, but no matter how much I would like to, I would not risk riding a bicycle on our roads. I did ride until I was 18 years old, then obtained a driving licence, and transitioned to a moped and then a scooter. I still like riding a bicycle, but only under safe road conditions, or where there is a bicycle lane. In other words, not in India.

While I have a choice, not a desirable one, to ride a personal motorised vehicle to work, a large proportion of commuters, mainly low-income males, do not have this choice. They are called ‘no choice’ bicyclists, as they bicycle to save on commuting costs. Even so, the share of bicyclists is very low in the total trips in the city. Women rarely bicycle to work, because of cultural and dress constraints.

Some cycling activists do bicycle to work. But these are brave individuals, given the absence of cycling infrastructure and road behaviour in our Indian cities. Cycling infrastructure has only recently appeared on the radar of planning interventions, mainly starting with the Public Bicycle Sharing (PBS) systems being put in place. But, these experiments are very few.

A decade ago, the official urban transport planning documents did not even mention that cycling infrastructure was necessary. For example, a 2008 report of the former Ministry of Urban Development, titled ‘Study on Traffic and Transportation Policies and Strategies in Urban Areas in India’, did mention that 5% of accidents on urban roads involved cyclists, but did not go beyond, to assess cities for cycling infrastructure, while it did prepare other indices, such as public transport accessibility index, walkability index, city bus transport supply index, congestion index and even on-street parking index!

Is there a likelihood of people shifting from the use of motorised two-wheelers and motorised four-wheelers to bicycles, or would people use bicycles for last-mile connectivity? The sad answer to both questions is no.

Because cycling requires dedicated cycling lanes, which have a cycle-able surface, both of which we barely see in India, though a few exist in cities where PBS has been put in place, such as in some areas of Delhi and Bhopal. Cycle-able surfaces are made of concrete, tar, coloured bitmac/asphalt, foamed bitumen products or resin-bonded surface treatment. Lanes segregated by differentiated colour, such as light red, in the case of Bhopal, is even better.

These cycling lanes need to be protected from encroachment by motorised two-wheelers, parking and even street vendors. This is not an argument for removing street vendors from the roads; they should be provided 2% of the city’s land as per the National Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014.

Guidelines for road section design are available on Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs’ website.

These guidelines state that the bicycle track should be 2 m to 4 m wide and its image would be as in the illustration. This means that land apportioning for motorised vehicles on the roads have to be reduced. In most cities of India, except Delhi, between 10% and 15% of land area is allocated to roads, most of which is claimed as right of way for private vehicles, and now even motorised public transport. The footpaths and the bicycle tracks lose out in road space allocation. The problem, therefore, starts with road design planning.

If we all could cycle to work, not just bicycle tracks, but also continuous cycling tracks need to be built. Road behaviour has to improve. In many cities, there are dogs and cows on the roads, which makes cycling unsafe. Bicycle tracks should also have green cover to beat the peak summer heat. Lastly, the roads have to be safe from thefts and snatching. For women, sexual harassment should not become an issue. Are we ready to meet these challenges? It might be easy to start a Public Bicycle Sharing system, but are we ready to holistically address the urban planning and governance issues, to make cycling happen in Indian cities? At least we owe these to those who bicycle, because we want to retain them as bicyclists, and add more to their number.

The writer is a Professor of Faculty of Planning, Director, Centre for Urban Equity, CEPT University, Ahmedabad.

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Printable version | Aug 7, 2020 3:06:25 PM |

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