Lockdown brings spotlight back on bicycles

Driven out: With other vehicles occupying lanes meant for them, cyclists are often forced to use the main road even on thoroughfares like Anna Salai, exposing themselves to accidents.   | Photo Credit: R_RAVINDRAN

The COVID-19 pandemic has made many pick up cycling to boost their fitness level and some have even started cycling to work. However, many cyclists complain of lack of safety and stress the need to have adequate infrastructure to encourage cycling.

The Greater Chennai Corporation has set up bicycle lanes of 17 km on two stretches in the city. However, these lanes are mostly occupied by cars and other vehicles, forcing the cyclists to fight for space on the main road. “I used to cycle from Royapuram to my office on Anna Salai till September. However, after traffic increased, I stopped. Drivers of big vehicles do not respect cyclists and since there is no dedicated lane on main roads, it feels risky,” said S.K. Prabhu, who now commutes by a motor vehicle to work.

The fear lingering in the minds of cyclists like him are not unfounded as 45 cyclists were killed and 143 were injured in the city in road accidents in 2019. However, despite the risks, many people continue to cycle.

Divagaran T., founding member of the We Are Chennai Cycling Group (WCCG), said that cycling increased during lockdown as public transport was not available and people wanted to become fitter.

“Post lockdown traffic is coming back to normal. There should be a dedicated lane, so that more people take to cycling. The police should ensure that other vehicles do not use this and cyclists should use it effectively. Cities like Bengaluru have made a lot of arrangements, including setting up pop-up lanes on arterial roads,” he said.

The WCCG and Felix John, who has been chosen “bicycle mayor” of Chennai, has written to Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami several times requesting him to demarcate neighbourhood shopping streets as walking/cycling tracks, create temporary pop-up lanes using cones and expand the city’s bicycle-sharing system with regular sanitising strategies.

“Congestion, over-speeding vehicles and lack of illumination on roads pose dangers for cyclists in the city. After lockdown was lifted, the danger has become more as many are driving their cars and bike in a rash manner as they are taking out the vehicle after a long time,” said Mr. John, who was made the bicycle mayor of Chennai by BYCS Amsterdam, a social enterprise, to promote cycling in Chennai. “However, more and more people are taking to cycling despite all these problems,” he added.

T. Radhakrishnan, who runs Cyclogen, a bicycle shop, said the sale of performance bikes increased in the city after lockdown. “Now many policemen and fire service personnel are purchasing bikes as they have started cycling for fitness. Though the demand has increased, now the supply is affected. The waiting period for even small parts runs to months,” he said.

Safety for women

While many women say that cycling gives them a sense of freedom, they complain of being targeted for harassment by men while riding.

“My friend from Purasawalkam was harassed while she was riding,” said Aparna Shankar, an engineer, who cycles to work daily.

N. Kannan, Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic), said that the traffic police would try using pop up lanes during the early morning hours for those who cycle as a form of exercise. “If there is demand, then we will introduce the system during other hours too. The problem is if we dedicate a lane, it should be utilised or it will be like eating into the space for other vehicles,” he said.

Mr. Kannan said the department valued non-polluting commuters.

“Sadly, pedestrians and cyclists are the common victims of road accidents. Now, as part of the road adoption project, we are removing encroachments from pavements so that pedestrians can use it. We will make roads safe for cyclists and have informed my men to ensure that cyclists do not face any problems on the road,” he added.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2022 12:30:06 PM |

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