Cyclists most vulnerable on Delhi road, says IIT-Delhi study

Feb 07, 2023 11:40 PM IST

Data shows that 52 cyclists died on Delhi roads between 2017 and 2019, while 541 motorcyclists and 53 car occupants succumbed to road injuries over the same period

New Delhi Cyclists in Delhi may be travelling shorter distances than other commuters, but their estimated “fatality risk” per kilometre is more than two times that of people on motorcycles and around 40 times higher than that of car occupants, a new study by Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi has found.

Cyclists on Kartavya Path in New Delhi in September 2020. (HT Archive)
Cyclists on Kartavya Path in New Delhi in September 2020. (HT Archive)

The study titled “Population-level estimate of bicycle use and fatality risk in a data-poor setting”, which was published on January 31, said safe cycling infrastructure can reduce this risk significantly, noting that in London – a metropolitan city similar to Delhi – dedicated cycling infrastructure has led to cyclists having a 57% lower fatality risk than motorcyclists.

Rahul Goel, assistant professor at the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention (TRIP) Centre at IIT Delhi, who is the author of the study, said the annual road death data for three years, collated by the Delhi Police for the years 2017-2019, was used for the purpose of the study. The data had found 52 cyclists died on Delhi’s roads between 2017 and 2019, while in the same period, 541 motorcyclists and 53 car occupants died in accidents.

Goel, however, said that fatalities in absolute numbers should not be the only data considered to assess risk to cyclists, with most cyclists commuting for a much shorter distance than what bike and car users do.

“For this, we first calculated the annual vehicle kilometres (VKT) travelled by each of the three modes of travel, which is the total distance travelled by Delhi’s cyclists, motorbikes and cars in a year. We then calculated the person kilometres travelled (PKT), which is how many people were travelling these kilometres based on the mode of transport,” said Goel, stating the study assumed there was one rider per cycle and an average occupancy of 1.38 riders per motorcycle and 2.05 occupants in each car.

The study then calculated a “fatality risk” figure based on PKT for each mode of transport, finding the fatality risk to be 20.8 per billion kilometres for cyclists, 9.5 per billion kilometres for motorcyclists and 0.53 per billion kilometres for car occupants.

“Based on this, the fatality risk per kilometre for cyclists in Delhi is more than twice as high as motorcyclists, and about 40 times as high as car occupants. In comparison, in London, cyclists have a 57% lower fatality risk than motorcyclists, while they have 42 times greater risk than car occupants. To encourage cycling use, it is imperative that cities make efforts to narrow this wide gap between the safety of cyclists and that of car occupants,” the study said.

Goel said though London is not considered a cyclist-friendly city, simple interventions in comparison to Delhi have made cycling there much easier. “There are cycling superhighways there, along with dedicated cycling infrastructure and dedicated lanes for cyclists. That alone can make a difference, the data shows,” he said.

Sarika Panda Bhatt, a road safety expert and co-founder of the Raahgiri Foundation, said cyclists and pedestrians remain the most vulnerable group in any city, with speed calming measures being the simplest of interventions that Delhi can make initially. “Most cyclists use neighbourhood streets, so it is important to have speed calming measures around neighbourhoods to start off. We have also seen most crashes happening at intersections, so there is a need to look at the most dangerous intersections and to improve road engineering and road designs there. In the long-run, a dedicated cycling lane which has been demarcated using kerbstones or bollards can considerably reduce risk,” she said.

Cyclists in Delhi said that in the absence of safe infrastructure, they feel vulnerable even when riding on the extreme left lane, with buses, trucks and cars rarely giving them enough space, or honking in advance.

DS Nehra, a 54-year-old bank manager who is a hobby cyclist, said even when roads are relatively empty in the early hours of the day, the risk on the roads remains high as truck or cab drivers often drive without adhering to traffic rules.

“We normally set out to cycle between 5 and 6 am each morning, and while we stick to the left, we still feel vulnerable as vehicles on the road tend to overspeed when they find empty streets. Cars or trucks also rarely stop at red lights, which makes intersections just as dangerous,” he said.

Other cyclists said the quality of the road on the extreme left is often not as ideal as the rest of the road, with encroachments further breaking their stride. “In order to remain safe, we stick to the extreme left, but in the absence of dedicated cycling tracks, we are still on the main road and that becomes particularly tricky on highways or the outer or inner ring roads. There are encroachments on the sidewalks that end up on the road and one has to be vigilant on both sides,” said Sanjay Chowdhary, a 43-year-old cyclist.

Aradhana Das Sinha, 41, who is part of a cycling group called Urban Cyclists Dwarka, said even when cycling tracks are available, they are encroached upon, leading to cyclists riding on the main road. “Cycling tracks are rarely maintained and are often found to be broken, or encroached. If we drive on the main road, then we are often cycling on the left, which is also the lane for buses and we are often honked at and made to move,” she said.

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