New Delhi: In a city jammed with four-wheelers, the bicycle as an alternative mode of transport has predictably found few takers. The reasons are varied–extreme weather conditions, unmanageable traffic, lack of government initiative, even a lack of bicycle stations in different parts of the capital. Yet, a look at how cycling can change the way a city is perceived makes it apparent that it’s a mode of travel that the government needs to promote.
It’s a desirable and practicable goal that cities like Copenhagen have achieved. From an industrialized city in the 1970s to the “Bike City of the World”, Denmark’s capital has come a long way. Much like India now, Denmark was faced with a rapidly expanding population clamouring for infrastructure. As in Delhi today, there was a conflict between bicycle and car interests. However, the solution was found in city planning that gave space to four-wheelers, bicycles, pedestrians and public transport. Thus grew Denmark’s extended network of cycle lanes along roads, which has been replicated elsewhere in Europe.
With population and traffic becoming unmanageable in Delhi, the time is ripe to promote the bicycle as a mode of transport. It is easy on the environment and also works wonders for people’s health. According to government data, carbon monoxide emission from private cars is as much as 34% while from two-wheelers it is around 61%. Yet, the vehicular population has grown 10% annually, bringing the total to 72 lakh.
It’s not easy to bring about change, though. Sudhir Haryal’s company, Planet Advertising, manages the nine bicycle stands built along the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor. While five stations are available at Moolchand, the other four are situated further down towards National Stadium. With nominal charges–Rs 10 for the first four hours and Rs 5 for every subsequent hour–the bright green bicycle stands not only allow commuters to rent bikes but also park them. But it’s been an uphill battle to get commuters to opt for them. Haryal says only 10-12 people rent bikes at a station in a day. “A number of foreigners opt to take a bicycle. It’s more popular during winter, obviously,” he adds.
BRT is not the only corridor where the government has tried to implement its non-motorized transport plans. At the Vishwavidyalaya Metro station, Jitender Khurana runs a fairly successful bicycle stand. His 25 bikes can’t be found after 9am. “Students are especially keen to take these bicycles around the university,” he says.
That there are takers for bicycles as a mode of travel is obvious from the rising, albeit marginal, group of cycling enthusiasts in Delhi. Cycling clubs abound, with groups of early bikers being seen early mornings in various parts of Delhi on weekends. Ragini Sharma is one such enthusiast. Working with a research think-tank in the ITO area, she used to cycle to work in winter–all the way from Dhaula Kuan. While it took over an hour, Sharma says the benefit, apart from burnt calories, was the sense of relaxation that she got. “However, the traffic was very stressful… people in Delhi have no concept of giving way, even to a bicycle,” rues Sharma.
Like Sharma, many people are keen to cycle but wary of the traffic conditions. The absence of proper cycle tracks along arterial roads is a major hurdle. In 2010, during the run-up to the Commonwealth Games, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit had promised bicycle tracks along all major roads, including flyovers. The promise is yet to be implemented in entirety. The cycle tracks that were built have been encroached for unauthorized parking. Two-wheelers and autorickshaws avoiding jams, besides hawkers and squatters, also use them. At other places, cycle lanes are used to dump waste and construction material.
Bicycles contribute to about 4% of the city’s total commuting trips, against about 60% in the 1960s. The Delhi Master Plan 2021 recommends cycle tracks for all roads. However, Haryal says, “There are many who want to take up cycling as a zero-pollution and affordable transport, but are not able to do so as there are few cyclist-friendly facilities. The government needs to promote the concept.”
Way back in 1998, experts from IIT-Delhi led by Geetam Tiwari had even made a “bicycle master plan” for Delhi. The suggestions were not implemented. Experts say just creating cycle tracks is not enough. In some countries, governments use tax exemptions to promote cycling. Schemes to make commuters switch to cycling for all trips shorter than 5km need to be implemented. Cycles can be an effective feeder system for the Delhi Metro, BRT and even buses.
Source: Times of India