Poor infra poses a speed bump as Mumbai aims to become bicycle capital of India

Published on Feb 18, 2021 11:22 PM IST

In the aftermath of the global pandemic, city authorities and urban planners are promoting cycling, especially for last-mile connectivity

Cycling in Mumbai became more popular during the Covid-19 lockdown. (Vijayanand Gupta/HT Photo)
Cycling in Mumbai became more popular during the Covid-19 lockdown. (Vijayanand Gupta/HT Photo)

In the aftermath of the global pandemic, city authorities and urban planners are promoting cycling, especially for last-mile connectivity. But given the narrow roads, uneven footpaths, crowding and humid weather, will it be possible for people to adapt to this sustainable mode of transport? Also, apart from the infrastructure, the biggest question is – Where is the space, given the encroachments and hawkers even on pavements that are in bad shape?

The need

In February 2020, while inaugurating a public-bike sharing initiative at the Jagruti Nagar Metro station in Mumbai, metropolitan commissioner RA Rajeev said it was unfortunate that Metro-1 (Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar) stations were not designed for multi-modal integration. Taking this as an example, he further said all upcoming 225 Metro stations in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) will have a dedicated 100-m space in the periphery to enable last-mile connectivity. First- and last-mile refer to the journey from the public transport system to your home/office.

Even as the MMR targets a 337-km Metro network by 2026, a recent study by the World Resources Institute (WRI) said that most Metros in India have not been able to meet their projected ridership as it did not provide last-mile options to the commuters.

For a city where 60% of the start and end of public transport journeys are walks, as per the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) Development Plan 2034, not much thought was given to enhance or make this journey more comfortable, say experts.

Firoza Suresh, Mumbai’s first bicycle mayor, said, “Cycling is the best mode for last-mile connectivity, which is a huge problem in Mumbai. The main focus should be to convert trips between 0-3km into cycling trips. Currently, 22% of these short-distance trips are covered by motorised transport. The other area where authorities need to focus is cycles for the urban poor.”

Two years ago, Suresh’s Smart Commute Foundation (SCF) provided a GPS device to an Andheri-based incense seller. To their surprise, they found that he covered 30km around the city by cycle for work. “We also found a dabbawala covered 12-15km on his cycle. They don’t cycle for recreation, but livelihood. They need to be provided with the right infrastructure and good cycles,” Suresh added.

On right track?

Last week, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) revived its plan to install a cycle track in the Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC). According to the plan, around 5km in the commercial hub will have cycle tracks along the pavement, Rajeev said. Mumbai’s suburban guardian minister Aaditya Thackeray also tweeted in support. MMRDA had experimented with cycle tracks in BKC in 2011, but failed.

Before the cycle track project, the authority launched an e-bike service in and around BKC. In the past five months, more than 78,000 trips were made on these e-bikes. MMRDA has also allocated funds for a 100-meter radius around every upcoming Metro station to have bus-bays, parking area, seating arrangement, and cycle docks.

Apart from this public bike-sharing has also been introduced at four Metro-1 stations – Jagruti Nagar, Versova, DN Nagar, and Azad Nagar.

Arjit Soni, founder of MyByk, which runs the services at Metro stations, said, “In a month, we have seen around 3,800 trips at four stations.” The highest number was recorded at Versova Metro station.

In 2018, the BMC had also decided to lay out a 36-km cycle track between Mulund and Sion, along the Tansa pipeline. While the deadline for the ambitious project was 2020, it got delayed owing to the pandemic and less than 30% of the work has been completed till date.

Rajeev said, “Mumbai has tremendous potential to get converted into a cycling capital of India. The MMRDA has initiated the process from BKC and Metro line one stations. The multi modal integration plan at each upcoming metro stations will facilitate non-motorised movement of people by giving priority to pedestrians and cyclists.”

The hurdles

While a number of initiatives have been rolled out in the city, Mumbai still lacks dedicated cycling infrastructure, which makes it safer to cycle on roads. At a press conference held this month, Somnath Gharge, DCP, traffic, said in 2019, nine cyclists died on the spot and 38 were injured in fatal crashes on the road. “We need a shift in attitude,” Gharge said.

Paresh Rawal, a transport planner based in Mumbai, said, “It is not safe to cycle in the city because there is no supporting infrastructure. Cycling can’t be an option if one has to travel from Andheri to South Mumbai, but is definitely an option for last-mile connectivity, if the right infrastructure is provided.”

Soni, whose company offers commuters to take the cycle home or to their offices, agreed that the city’s weather is not conducive for long-distance travel. “This is where public bike-sharing initiatives help. If you want to travel from Borivli to Churchgate, MyByk allows you to travel to Borivli station on the bike and then pick up another bike from Churchgate station. Public bike-sharing, in a way, boosts public transportation,” said Soni, who founded the business after struggling to commute in Mumbai.

“Mumbai can never have a seamless cycle network because of the narrow roads and footpaths. There is not enough space for even pedestrians. We agree, but there are solutions to these problems,” said Suresh. Her team of 24 bicycle councilors are now looking at creating a cycling network. “We are first looking at two wards – Bandra and Parel. The idea should be to have a mixed cycling infrastructure where some roads can have a dedicated lane, there can be shared mobility spaces on some roads and we could also have a lane along the median in some cases. The important thing is to study these patterns,” she added.

However, there are also administrative challenges to be met. With multiple agencies operating in the city, obtaining permissions is complicated. “In Mumbai, the land may belong to the BMC, but the public transport is being built by another. We have been facing a lot of issues with obtaining permissions,” Soni said. Obtaining permissions from the traffic police also is a challenge.

Suresh’s team, which has started a campaign ‘Cycle Chala, City Bacha’ (Ride a cycle, save the city), is also demanding a cycling network and cycle docks at 600 locations in the city. Their campaign aims to make Mumbai the bicycle capital of India by 2030.

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