Cycling: Don’t lose track – Deccan Herald

“A cyclist is bad for the economy” proclaimed a meme that went on to list how a cyclist is inimical to doctors and fast food jobs. While many took it as satire, it is important to point out to others that a study done for the League of American Bicyclists estimates that bicycling related activities contributes $133 billion to the American economy, supports over one million jobs, and brings in nearly $18 billion in tax revenue.
The ‘Cycle to Work’ platform in India has tracked more than one lakh trips of cyclists from 480 companies and 67 cities across the world. They have clocked 8.7 lakh kilometers, saved more than 90,000 litres of petrol and have become so popular that smart cities across India are beginning to adopt it to transform their cities.
Fully segregated lanes
But these impressive numbers are not why you would pick up cycling. Among various behavioural biases and social norms you carry, the feeling of safety when you are on the streets riding a bicycle is primary. Across the world, a variety of interventions have led to cyclists feeling safe enough to step out in numbers. These include fully segregated bicycle lanes and traffic calmed streets that prioritise cyclists. This has not been the case in India.
Bengaluru embarked on experiments with bicycle lanes around 2012 in Jayanagar. They died a slow death due to encroachment by motor vehicles and the next round of road contracts failing to have instructions to protect the lanes.
Muted signage
The Central Business District (CBD) cycle track efforts by the Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) in 2010 came to be included in the TenderSURE roads along with the footpath. That was the first attempt at a shared path but the designers and builders choose to keep it understated with muted signages and coloring on the paver blocks.
The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) tried its hand at cycle lanes on Cubbon Road using paver blocks with limited success. However, the most visible effort came during the pandemic when two women, Manjula V of DULT and Hephsheeba R K of Bengaluru Smart City, decided to design and build segregated cycle tracks.
Despite various challenges, they managed to create 17 kms of pop-up bicycle lanes on the Outer Ring Road and 2.5 kms of shared bicycle tracks in the CBD. Designers also managed to have BBMP include some cycle tracks in the model high density corridor segment on Old Airport Road.
Unrelated to this, Yelahanka got two kilometres of cycle tracks along Sandeep Unnikrishnan Road and under the Sustainable Mobility Accords (SUMA) programme of DULT, a 1km stretch in Doddanekundi also got custom designed bollards as bicycle separators to create the first contraflow bicycle lane in the city.
CMP 2020 cycling plan
After representation from the cycling community and data from the Cycle To Work platform, the Comprehensive Mobility Plan (CMP) 2020 increased the allocation of bicycle lanes from 175 kms to 600 kms over a 15 year period.
Phase one promised 50 kms by 2022, but BBMP is nowhere close to that number today. Cumulatively, there may be about 30 disconnected kms of bicycle lanes in the city in various shapes and forms. The tracks disappear at junctions and each one has a different material and design.
Unlike roads for motor vehicles, none of it really makes for a nice network of lanes that makes the cyclist want to ride on it across junctions and to destinations. The commitment to making the city a leader in the future of transport seems clearly lacking within the city government.
Bicycle safety
While bicycle lanes are seen as panacea for safety, it is only true when the movement of traffic is fast, like on arterial roads. Research has proven that the likelihood of sustaining a serious or fatal injury in a collision with a vehicle as a pedestrian or cyclist goes up dramatically from 18% at 32 kmph to 77% at 64 kmph.
BBMP has more than 2,000 kms of major roads within its limits. Wider roads tend to have faster traffic and hence segregation is a good idea. However, slowing down traffic can make collector and local streets safer and build safe neighborhood networks for cycling in shorter time frames. Traffic can be slowed by design and enforcement.
Slow streets
Community organisations are being galvanised to identify such streets and apply to DULT and BBMP for creating a network of ‘slow streets’ that can come up quicker while the bicycle tracks are being built out on the major roads.
The positive role bicycles will play in congested and polluted urban areas is already being seen in countries across the world. It has become a preferred, clean, convenient, inexpensive transport option across segments of society. It has gained a reputation of being a lifestyle vehicle.
Arriving to work on a bicycle is increasingly being supported by companies as a part of their environmental compliance. In the increasingly expensive fossil fuel world, the time for the bicycle is here.
(The author is Bengaluru’s Bicycle Mayor)
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