Cycling infra in Delhi gets upgrade, but experts say some way still go
New Delhi: Cyclists in the Capital can look forward to better infrastructure and more ride-sharing options in the near future as the administration has adopted a slew of measures to promote this green transport, said officials aware of the developments.
Two new cycle-sharing projects will be up and running by early next year that will connect residential neighbourhoods with commercial centres and important transit points. The Delhi government is also adding more cycle tracks as part of its project to redesign 540km of city roads, while the Delhi Development Authority is constructing a 16-km dedicated cycling corridor in Dwarka, which will connect sectors 3, 5, 11, 12, 13 and 14.
In Dwarka, DDA plans to provide 5,000 bicycles and 250 docking stations around markets, metro stations, residential neighbourhoods, etc. The project has been awarded to Yulu, a tech-based shared mobility startup with headquarters in Bangalore and presence in five Indian cities.
A senior DDA official said on condition of anonymity, “We hope to start the project by March. We have planned for the service throughout Dwarka.”
Amit Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Yulu, said, “We plan to introduce pedal cycles in the first phase of the project and later on introduce other vehicle formats, if we get permission from the authorities.”
The South Delhi Municipal Corporation is also doing something similar. It has already floated tenders to set up 82 e-bike stations in several south Delhi areas like AIIMS, IIT-Delhi, Gargi College, Qutub Minar, Hauz Khas, Green Park, etc. But unlike DDA, SDMC will provide the service in seven clusters or areas in a 3-5km radius of residential colonies.
Prem Shankar Jha, deputy commissioner (remunerative project cell), SDMC, said, “To provide last-mile connectivity, 82 e-bike stations will be set up in residential colonies, markets, metro stations, etc.”
The New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) is also planning to scale up its cycle sharing project, which was launched in 2018 with 250 bikes.
Satish Upadhyay, vice-chairman, NDMC, said, “During the pandemic we saw so many people cycle to city roads. To encourage people to cycle, we will develop dedicated cycling corridors in Nehru Park (3km) and a 10-km corridor between New Moti Bagh and North Block. We are exploring ways to promote cycling in our area, especially during holidays.”
Kunal Kumar, joint secretary and mission director (Smart Cities Mission), ministry of housing and urban affairs (MoHUA), said that cities have to make efforts to move people to sustainable modes of transportation. “People want to cycle, but safety and lack of infrastructure are their top concerns. In several cities which started the cycle sharing system before the pandemic, its usage has increased post-Covid.”
More cycle sharing options needed
Delhi is among the first few Indian cities to introduce a cycle-sharing system. In October 2009, the Delhi government introduced the first cycle feeder and rental system along the BRT (bus rapid transit) corridor with 50 bicycles and five stations. But the project, which was implemented by Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System, didn’t get a good response.
Experts say that for cycle sharing to be successful, it should be implemented on a large scale.
Anuj Malhotra, mobility expert and knowledge partner to the high-powered committee of the ministry of home affairs, said if cycle stations are too far away, then the system is bound to fail.
“A minimum of 10-20 sq km of area with stations at every 250m is essential for a cycle-sharing system to be successful. A good density of stations is essential. There should be at least 10-15 stations per sq km. Also, implementing pilot projects in small areas or developing small stretches doesn’t work,” said Malhotra.
Various government agencies have developed cycling infrastructure in the past, like during the 2010 Commonwealth Games, it’s not well connected.
“There is a need to interconnect the missing links. If we do this, then 50-60% of the area in Delhi will have a good cycling infrastructure in the next few years,” said Malhotra.
Cities such as London, Paris, New York, Hangzhou, Amsterdam, etc., have invested heavily in cycling infrastructure. For instance, Paris has 1,400 docking points with 20,000 bicycles. Similarly, London has 750 docking stations with close to 12,000 bikes. All these cities have developed hundreds of dedicated lanes for cycling.
Amit Bhatt, executive director at World Resources Institute, India, said, “Just providing a few cycles and docking stations is not enough. It is important to flood the area (where the project is implemented) with cycles so that it is easily accessible to people. Cycling is popular in top global cities as they have invested in developing safe infrastructure for cyclists and also provide a large number of cycles. Cities in China have 50,000 and more cycles.”
In India, too, people will start cycling short distances if a well-planned system is in place, said Bhatt.
Shreya Gadepalli, managing trustee at Urban Works Institute, said getting the private operators to do everything isn’t working. “For cycle sharing to succeed, the operator should be paid by the government for service quality—like cycle quality and availability—rather than be asked to take the risk of ridership. The government should take the ridership risk. Otherwise, operators focus more on advertising revenue rather than maintaining the system,” Gadepalli said.
Lack of safe infra big hurdle
A study done by the Central Road Research institute last year using secondary data from different sources projected that the dependence on public buses and private vehicles for short trips (6km or less) can be reduced by nearly 40% if adequate cycling infrastructure is provided in Delhi within the next three years.
Gaurav Wadhwa, founder of Delhi Cyclists, a group of cycling enthusiasts, said that if safe infrastructure is provided then people will cycle. “We have reworked our timings ever since traffic began to increase on roads. We now start at 4.30-5am and are back by 8am to avoid peak-hour traffic. If dedicated corridors, safe crossing at intersections, etc., are provided, then a lot of people will again start cycling.”
Even the firms that are running cycle sharing projects in the city admit that inadequate infrastructure is a hurdle. DV Manohar, chairman of SmartBike, a shared mobility startup which has implemented the bike sharing project in NDMC area, said e-bikes come with locks that have to be charged every few days. “Of the 50 stations, electricity connection is available only at six. We have to take the cycles to our warehouse for charging the locks. There are logistical issues that need to be addressed,” said Manohar.
A senior NDMC official said on condition of anonymity that the process to provide power connections at all the stations is going on.