Cycling on Indian roads? One may think it’s just unsafe given the terrible shape of our roads and the chaotic traffic, but there’s a growing band of intrepid Indians – the young, city-bred, successful and well-travelled denizens – who have taken to cycling. You can find them on weekends on the Greater Noida Expressway near Delhi, or the Mumbai-Pune highway or near the Gachibowli Stadium in Hyderabad; wearing helmets and gloves, riding on their expensive bikes.
Cities across the world are rediscovering bicycles. Pushed by increasing fuel costs, the compulsion to reduce commuting time, environmental concerns, and the need to make cities livable, many are back on better wheels.
Bumps on the road
Indian cities have potential to set things right; yet walking and cycling are endangered modes of transport. The biggest enemy is the disdain of the affluent who are obsessed with high speed, thus discouraging walkers and cyclists.
In 2012, according to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, a total of 168,301 people died on the nation’s roads. In New Delhi, that includes 78 cyclists and 501 pedestrians. There are nominal cycle lanes on some of the capital’s main thoroughfares, but with seven million cars jostling for space, those lanes are often cannibalised by motorised rickshaws and scooters, leaving no safe space for bicyclists. Cyclists rarely wear helmets and there are no viable emergency services to ferry accident victims to hospitals.
Delhi claims to have 100km of cycle tracks, running along some arterial roads. But these disconnected pathways with no kerbed ramps or blended crossings, lead to nowhere. At the BRT stretch in South Delhi, two-wheelers, auto-rickshaws and small cars constantly edge out cyclists. In the rest of the city, pavements that can double as cycle tracks have been encroached upon by shop owners, vendors and the parking mafia.
Ashok Datar, Chairman, Mumbai Environmental Social Network, commented, “Building and maintaining cycle tracks are the cheapest investment a government can make. Yet, public funds are invested solely on increasing road space to decongest the vehicular traffic. But new roads end up attracting more cars. Worse, government policies have literally pushed cycles off the road, forcing the poor, who use them the most, to spend more and more on transportation.”
Unlike in the West and China, India does not have dedicated cycling tracks and parking areas for cycles. A lot of city governments have been making noise in recent years about the need for these; some have even taken the first steps in this direction. A look at the cycling infrastructure in a few of our important metros:
• Delhi: The BRT corridor provided cycling tracks, but they are mainly used by motorised two-wheelers and autorickshaws. Few years back, the mayor made it mandatory for every proposal by the engineering department to provide for a cycle lane along side roads. The Delhi Cycling Club submitted a memorandum of 11 demands to the state government, the foremost being for cycle lanes.
• Bangalore: No cycling tracks yet, but Queens Road and Cubbon Road near Chinnaswamy Stadium have auto-cum-cycle lanes. City-based RideACycle Foundation is working with government bodies to make cycle lanes a reality.
• Hyderabad: As part of the multi-modal transport system, local trains and buses have the provision to carry cycles. No cycling tracks.
• Pune: Cycling tracks along many roads in Bibwewadi, Shivaji Nagar and Kothrud. These are regular pavements with a board stuck on the sides at intervals and so narrow that even two cyclists cannot pass each other. The paving blocks are uneven and have come off in places.
• Mumbai: Cycling tracks have come up in the Bandra-Kurla Commercial Complex and along Carter Road in Bandra, but these are hardly used or can be said to facilitate cycling within the city.