A bicycle is one of most sought-after gifts among children. But once they are older, moving to new bikes and later cars is considered a natural transition.
In Delhi, we often see cyclists jostling for space among cars, two-wheelers, buses and commercial vehicles. Statistics prove that they and the pedestrians are the most vulnerable road users.
A bicycle in India is considered a poor man’s commute. In the West and even some Asian countries, bicycles are one of the most popular modes of transport among the executive class. While in countries such as Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium and China, 20-40% of the total trips are done on bicycles, this number in Delhi is less than 5%.
“Yes, carpenters and gardeners can use the bicycle, but not ‘us’ (officers or other members of the growing middle class),” observed Gerhard Menckhoff, principal urban transport specialist and consultant, World Bank.
“A RITES survey revealed that of all the journeys undertaken by Delhiites in a day, nearly 50% are less than 6km long. It infers that there is a lot of scope to promote cycling,” said Nalin Sinha, a transport expert and founder member of Delhi Cycling Club. The club is among a few organisations trying to make cycling and cycle-sharing popular.
Experts believe that in a city like Delhi, where people largely depend on their private vehicles to travel shorter distances, cycle and cycle-sharing can offer a reliable transport system. But Delhi lacks the basic infrastructure and atmosphere conducive for cycle enthusiasts to make that shift. No wonder that while the percentage of households that own two-wheelers and cars has jumped, cycle ownership has come down by few percentage points in the past decade.
“Cycles provide last-mile integration from source. Also, a good cycle parking infrastructure is required close to public transport. A good network of streets specially designed for non-motorised transport and provision for shorter connection is important,” said Anuj Malhotra, an expert in non-motorised traffic with Centre for Green Mobility.
Experts believe that Delhi is now passing through a phase seen by several European and American cities in the last decades of the 20th century. Earlier, of the 3.5 lakh people coming to Times Square in New York, 90% would drive cars. But in the past five years, New York has been transformed from a city of private vehicles to a bustling pedestrian and cycle-friendly city.
“The footpaths have been meticulously redesigned. There are traffic islands at strategic points for people to wait for vehicles to pass before crossing the road. Car parking has been designed in a way to keep cyclists and pedestrians away from the moving traffic,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, commissioner, department of transportation, New York City.
“Providing adequate and safe walking and cycling infrastructure are the primary obligations of any city government and municipal authority. The government will have to spend only a fraction of its flyover or elevated road budget to develop these facilities,” Sinha said.
He wants special bicycle lanes
Praveen Kumar, 21
Ashok Nagar resident
Every day, 21-year-old Praveen Kumar Sharma pedals for over three hours. His workplace, a small roadside car seat cover shop, at Kashmere Gate is nearly 12km from his home in east Delhi’s Ashok Nagar.
Kumar says not only does he save transportation expenses, cycling also helps him keep fit. “Of course, I’m physically fit because of this daily workout session. People pay thousands to go to a fancy gym and to cycle for a few minutes. I do it for free,” Sharma says, sporting a big smile. “Expenses are increasing day by day. Even if I save a few hundred rupees, it does help my family sustain in this otherwise expensive city,” said Sharma, who lives with his parents and brother.
But what about the daily rendezvous with destiny? Sharma smiles wryly and says it’s a risk he has to take. “Have you seen how people drive cars and motorcycles? They don’t care about other cars or motorbikes, leave alone cyclists like me. In the past six months, two motorcyclists have bumped into me. And the worst part is they accused me for the accident,” Praveen says.
Kumar, a native of Faizabad near Lucknow, has heard about specialised bicycle lanes in other cities of India and abroad and wishes that he and thousands like him too had such a facility here.
“Cycles get cowed down in front of bigger vehicles. Bicycle lanes will be of big help and will also help cut down transportation time,” he said.
Promoting non-motorised transport
Walk to work initiative
One fine day, the CEOs and top executives of many of Gurgaon’s IT-BPO firms left their swanky cars behind and chose to walk or cycle to work. The reason: They wanted to promote non-motorised transport (NMT) in the city.
This ‘walk to work’ initiative was organised by the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM).
The initiative has sent the ball rolling on the issue. A resident group on NMT has already taken up with the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon the creation of suitable infrastructure such as cycling tracks and proper footpaths in the city. The group has been holding private workshops and pitching for NMT, as a result of which the corporation is now working on a NMT plan for Gurgaon.