Bicycles on JM road in Pune on February 9, 2019. App-based bicycle rental systems launched by various companies had placed nearly 8000 cycles for rent in Pune in 2018. Sadly, they pulled out in the absence of safe infrastructure. (Ravindra Joshi)
Bicycles on JM road in Pune on February 9, 2019. App-based bicycle rental systems launched by various companies had placed nearly 8000 cycles for rent in Pune in 2018. Sadly, they pulled out in the absence of safe infrastructure. (Ravindra Joshi)

Civic Sanskriti: Let’s re-create Pune’s cycling culture!

The cycle elegantly combines individual mobility, health, economy and cool lifestyle with care for the city and the planet.
By Sanskriti Menon
PUBLISHED ON JAN 14, 2021 03:11 PM IST

The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart,” says a fictional character in a novel by Iris Murdoch, set in 1916.

This sentiment has come full circle in a century.

The cycle elegantly combines individual mobility, health, economy and cool lifestyle with care for the city and the planet.

Cycling has been an important commute/travel mode in Pune. Old timers recall the sound of bells as factory workers cycled down the old Bombay-Poona road. Hundreds of cycles were available for rent from cycle shops in the core city, near Swargate, and Khadki and Pune railway stations. As recently as about 10 years ago, about 9 per cent of work trips were by cycle.

Given the importance of cycles for transport, the 1987 development plan had included cycle routes. Unfortunately, these were not implemented. Over time, conditions for cycling have deteriorated greatly, while motorised traffic increased manifold.

Sujit Patwardhan, Founder Trustee of the NGO Parisar, recalls cycling as a child with his cousins and friends from Prabhat Road to Vitthalwadi, Chatushringi and Pune Railway Station.. “Parents did not worry about road safety if children were out cycling,” says Sujit.

Pune is no longer a city where children can enjoy carefree cycling.

The last few months of lockdown saw some resurgence in cycling. Now, it’s almost business as usual with air pollution, fast moving traffic and unsafe road conditions – a danger to existing cyclists and a big barrier for many who wish to start (or restart) cycling.

What can be done?

The Comprehensive Bicycle Master Plan, prepared through a highly participatory process involving both cyclists and non-cyclists, approved by the city in 2017 must be implemented on priority. The plan has provisions and design guidelines for building safe, convenient and comfortable bicycle tracks as a city-wide network.

It recognises that a few tracks here and there do not help people shift to cycling. Municipal authorities are expected to prepare a regulation plan with the Traffic Police to prevent motor-vehicles driving and parking on cycle tracks.

An excellent, safe cycling network would be welcomed by students, women and elderly, who are more dependent on cycling as a flexible and affordable transport mode. As would non-cyclists – studies show that over fifty percent non-cyclists would like to cycle if safe facilities are created.

App-based bicycle rental systems launched by various companies had placed nearly 8000 cycles for rent in Pune in 2018. Sadly, they pulled out in the absence of safe infrastructure. A new workable model to provide affordable rental cycles across the city needs to be developed.

It is commendable that the municipal road department now has responsibilities allocated to implement the bicycle plan, and a non-motorised transport committee.This is in line with the cycle plan’s provisions to increase PMC’s institutional capacity to implement the plan. We hope this arrangement will work effectively in the coming months to develop the required high quality cycling infrastructure.

Philanthropists and corporates can help.

“We give good quality cycles as performance awards,” says Ulhas Joshi, who runs an engineering services company, and is an avid cyclist himself.

Companies can set up cycling clubs, set up changing rooms for employees, gift cycles to employees, students, women workers, and adopt an area in discussion with the municipal corporation to develop cycling infrastructure.

Individuals can help by asking corporators for cycle plan implementation. Those who drive can be respectful towards cyclists (and others too!).

Of course, try leaving behind the motorbike or car and enjoy cycling, whenever possible.

Let’s re-create Pune’s cycling culture!

After all, fast cars, flyovers and wide roads for motor vehicles do not make cities great.

Instead, excellent walking, cycling and public transport facilities help cities be safe, humane, inclusive, and truly modern.

Sanskriti Menon is senior programme director, Centre for Environment Education.She writes on urban sustainability and participatory governance. Views are personal. She can be reached at civic.sanskriti@​gmail.com

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