During ancient times, cycling was advocated as a cheaper and more practical mode of transportation over a horse or bullock cart. After the first world war, cycles were present on every street and every house. After the second world war, however, cycles were replaced with motor vehicles and the demand for cycles experienced an all-time low demand. Later, in the 1970s, the health and environmental benefits of cycling were highlighted by activists through movements and public campaigns. In recent times, being aware of the mental and physical health benefits of cycling, the activity is observed as leisure by the population of many Indian cities. The passion for cycling has also made it a popular adventure sport in bigger cities leading to national and international events. This also boosts sports tourism and hence, the economy of cities. Especially now, in the pandemic time (COVID 19), cycling has been rejuvenated as a leisure and sport activity, mainly because it is a contactless activity. Among the other advantages include net-zero carbon footprint, the possibility of all ages and genders to perform together and the availability of inexpensive equipment. Not to mention that cycling can most likely be performed near nature or natural settings.
Yet, most Indians refrain from cycling!
Indian cities do not observe many people cycling as a means of transportation, as compared to European cities. Though environmental challenges, such as climate, and social challenges, such as the safety of female cyclists on road, are important reasons that make Indians avoid cycling; the main reason remains to be lack of appropriate infrastructure. Even the economic challenges, such as the easy affordability of motor vehicles, is layered by the physical (infrastructural) challenges. Interventions that would help tackle these physical challenges:
- Land use – The average scale of an Indian city, as compared to that of a European, is almost double. This makes it difficult for all citizens to cycle for work, leisure and run daily errands. However, the change in land use policy can help address the issue. Indian cities need to promote mixed-use neighbourhoods, not only to provide for cycle infrastructures but also to meet other environmental, social and economic challenges.
- Cycle network – The past two decades have marked progress in planning for street networks and green networks in cities. When the scale of cities is already one of the reasons people are avoiding cycling, isn’t it necessary to develop cycling networks based on the theory of desirable (shortest) paths?
- Cycle friendly streets – While most Indian streets are multi used, it is now the time to dedicate lanes for cycling. In response to the argument that it would not be always feasible to dedicate a cycle lane on the narrow Indian street, a combination of cycle networks with cycle-friendly streets can be considered as a good proposition.
- Cycling as a sport – With the help of media, cyclists and enthusiasts are now aware of innovations in cycling as an adventure sport. Telecasting of national and international events appraises the interest. Cycle manufacturers now experience demand for BMX cycles, mountain cycles, dirt jumpers and freestyle cycles.
The smart city mission by the Government of India encourages using public transportation and hence, aims to provide last mile pedestrian and cycle connectivity. However, there is a need to develop other strategies at the policy level as well, to assimilate cycling as a part of urban culture. NGOs, such as TERI, BYCS have actively run campaigns to collaborate with urban development authorities of various cities to achieve targets related to making cities safer for cyclists. These organizations, using a participatory approach, have proposed projects to make dedicate cycle lanes and/ or provide cycle infrastructures as a part of smart city area development project. For example, Dutch organization BYCS, with the help of a survey from cyclists have proposed a dedicated cycle lane to the Directorate of Urban Land Transport Authority in Bangalore.
Along with inspiring efforts from various institutes, there are also failed stories that put Indian cities still on the path of a “developing nation”. Apart from challenges such as delays in implementation, budget overruns and poor planning policies, there also remains a socio-cultural setback that leads to an unwillingness to cycle daily.
Whether India is ready for a cycle revolution, is a debatable topic. On one hand, it is not fair to ask for separate cycling infrastructure where the roads are already too congested; on the other hand insecurity of bikers on road discourages cyclists to an extreme extends. The solution doesn’t only lie with local authorities, as providing cycling infrastructure is not the only required change. The change has to come from individuals, policymakers and developers collectively – the change in mindset. Two and four-wheeler drivers must give priority to the cyclist on the road. Offices and workplaces must incentivize employers who cycle to work. People should willingly cycle to short distance as their responsibility towards the environment and their health. In conclusion, it might not be enough to just provide cycle infrastructure in Indian cities, rather planner and policymakers should work on creating a cycle ecosystem.
Author Bio: Shikha Patel is an Urban Design, currently pursuing her PhD in Urban Planning. She is interested in people centric design and specializes in community planning. Her passion as an urban researcher has led her to contribute to various research projects in India and Qatar.
LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shikha-patel-6891074b/
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