Spring is round the corner in Kashmir and so is the first-ever drive by the state administration to popularise cycling to decongest Srinagar's commercial hubs. And it's senior official has decided to take a lead.
Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) commissioner Ghulam Nabi Qasba, a senior bureaucrat, has started a drive to popularise cycling, the usage of which has come down from 60 to 5% in the past few decades, according to official figures.
As the first step to change mindsets of people, the bureaucrat has decided to paddle to office twice a week on a cycle and will ask employees of the SMC to follow in the footsteps.
"The world over the trend of non-motorised mode of transportation is catching up. Europe and Japan are fast switching to cycling," said Qasba, an avid bicycle rider.
The number of cars is growing on streets of Srinagar with most commercial hubs like Lal Chowk, Dal Gate and other commercial hubs choked most days. There is only 3.7 % parking accommodation in the city for light vehicles and two-wheelers, according to official figures. There is accommodation for only 5,000 for light vehicles and two-wheelers in the city, but the number of registered vehicles is more than 1.8 lakh.
"The SMC plans to create cycle parking bays, which will be 25% of its total parking, in and around Lal Chowk and tourist places like Nishat and Shalimar. The idea is that once cycling picks up among residents, drivers would park their cars away from commercial hubs and drive on cycles like in the city of Tokyo to offices," said Qasba.
The municipality is running advertisement campaigns to back up their infrastructure building exercise. The Centre has also earmarked funds for the urban transport planning now, which includes cycling with separate paths in cities like Srinagar.
"People are generally poor in Kashmir but possess expensive fuel driven cars, which harms environment too and burns hole in their pockets. Cycling is need of the hour to keep environs clean and decongest commercial hubs," said Qasba.
The commissioner is roping in chief minister Omar Abdullah, who is known for cycling in terrains like hill station of Gulmarg. "I will appeal to him (the CM) to drive from his office-cum-residence to the secretariat to infuse energy among the new generation, for he is icon of many here," said Qasba.
The SMC has decided to purchase hi-end cycles and make them available on rent to people. Qasba said, "students and corporates will be motivated through advertisements to drive cycles."
Several bureaucrats have already started buying cycles. "I have decided to start a cycling club of my friends and will use the upcoming summer mornings to cycle around in Srinagar," said Dr Shafkat Khan, former Srinagar health officer, who is in-charge immunisation programmes now. He also plans cycle ride to office to motivate others. Several senior officers said they are game for the idea.