Bicycle is an affordable and sustainable mode of transport. In Indian cities, a high percentage of population lives in slums and can afford neither personal motorised vehicles nor public transport systems. These people are dependent on commuting by foot or bicycle. With the modal share of bicycles ranging from 9 to 18% in large cities and 13 to 21% in medium sized cities, their use in Indian cities is extensive. They are used for an average trip length of 3.1 to 4.5km in India. However, inapt facilities in the cities often lead to severe injuries and fatal accidents of cyclists. In medium and large sized cities, cyclists are involved in 5 to 10% of the total fatalities and 20 to 32% of severe injuries. Despite the high usage and the fatalities, bicycle is the most neglected mode of transport in India in terms of intervention and investments. If the hostile condition prevails and income level of people increases, cyclists will shift to the use of unsustainable modes of transportation. Studies show that the modal share of cycles has sharply declined from the 1980s to the 2000s at a decadal rate of 49% in Delhi, 20% in Indore and 11.8% in Nagpur.
Apart from the existing use of the bicycles, there are also potential users of the system. In most of the medium and large cities, 56% to 72% of the total trips are often shorter than 5km – the optimal travel distance for the use of bicycles. In Delhi, approximately 45% of the trips made by personal transport and 40% of the trips made by public transport are less than 5km. Moreover, a large percentage of people owning bicycles, walk to access public transport system in Delhi. As per the study, average distance travelled for ingress/egress by walks is 750m which is more than the optimal walking distance i.e. 500m. These trips can be identified as the potential bicycle trips. The absence of safe infrastructure deters these potential groups from shifting to the use of bicycle in large Indian cities.
For sustainable transportation in cities, two key steps are identified: Retaining the existing modal share of bicycles on Indian streets and causing a shift from motorised vehicle (both private and public transport) to bicycles. This can be achieved by development of cycle-friendly infrastructure that is safe, coherent, continuous, direct, attractive and comfortable to use. It is not only about construction of bicycle-friendly infrastructure but also creating an urban environment that is conducive for them. This needs taking up appropriate policy, planning and design interventions.
Intervention by central government
Realising the need to improve infrastructure for public transport and non-motorised transportation in cities, the central government took two very important steps. The National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP), adopted in 2006, outlined the steps required to be taken to promote the use of public transport systems in cities like prioritising public transport, developing infrastructure for safe use of non-motorised transport and transport demand management strategies. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) ensured the financial assistance from central government for the projects that complied with NUTP. The direct investments for the projects related to the improvement of infrastructure for cyclists have not been yet taken up under the scheme. The investment in this direction is still restricted to the cities where the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) projects are under implementation and that too, along the corridor only. Moreover, transport is a state subject and it is required to develop state level transport policy similar to the NUTP. It is also necessary to fill in the gaps between NUTP, the state level policy and the existing policy regime. Also, necessary changes would be required in the laws and regulations to bring them in consonance with the stated policies.
Planning and Design intervention
A comprehensive and complete network of bicycle-friendly infrastructure is required to encourage the use of bicycles by choice. The network should be planned taking into account the limits of physical and mental capacities, perception and vulnerability of cyclists. With cohesion, directness and safety being the most important requirements of a network, the bicycle-friendly infrastructure should be continuous and not fragmented. It is required to bear in mind that cyclists have physical limitations and thus, prefer shorter routes. Thus, the network should avoid detours and should directly link the origin and destination locations. It is also required to integrate the network with the existing and planned public transport systems of the city.
Type of bicycle infrastructure
The provision and type of bicycle infrastructure depends on the speed and intensity of the motorised traffic which influences the safety of the cyclists. Based on this, three guiding principles must be kept in mind:
• The physically segregated bicycle track needs to be provided on the roads where the speed of motorised vehicles is more than 30kmph like on arterial and sub-arterial roads. Different types of tools can be used to segregate the bicycle tracks like railing, kerb stone and flexible vertical posts.
• Marked bicycle lanes, along with traffic calming measures, can be provided on the roads where the speed of motorised vehicle is less than 30kmph. It is also required to enforce strict regulations for not allowing motorised vehicles on bicycle lanes.
• Where speed of motorised vehicles does not exceed 20kmph, bicycles can move safely in mixed traffic condition. Hence, no dedicated bicycle infrastructure needs to be provided like in old city and residential areas.
The design of bicycle lanes should also take into account the utility of the system, and existing and potential demand. In Indian cities cycle rickshaws are also used extensively. The width of the bicycle lane should thus be appropriate for the use of both bicycles and cycle rickshaws. The width also needs to ensure the required section of free space and possibility of two cyclists to ride side by side. It is also required to ensure that road categories and amenities are recognisable to the road users.