Cycle streets, they should be the next grand infrastructure project for India

Bicycle use is being marginalised in the wake of continuous motorisation in Indian cities. A government study shows that the share of cycling in 87 cities in India has declined from 30% (1994) to only 11% (2008).

There are multiple causes for the decline of cycling or bicycle use in Indian cities. Here we speak to Rutul Joshi from CEPT University who tells us about the causes he feels are most significant in this decline.

On the bicycle crash in Indian cities…

The social status attached to cycling is a problem; in a typical Indian urban context bicycle use is strongly associated with belonging in a low-income group. Most regular cyclists are ‘captive’ users who cannot afford public or private transport. The aspiring urban middle class do not like to be associated with cycling. In popular culture such as Hindi films, the bicycle is absent (the protagonists are rarely cyclists), basically cycling has an image problem especially for the aspirant middle class.

The other main issue is safety – sometimes perceived dangers with cycling deter people from using them in their daily lives. It is a fact that cyclists and pedestrians are the majority of the victims in road crashes but we also know that fatalities can be reduced (as seen in Denmark) with the provision of dedicated cycle infrastructure. Indian cities are cycle-able as far as their urban form is concerned; many are dense with a dense road network. What we need to re-think is the way we apportion road space to give users other than motorised vehicles safe space.

And on fighting back….

I think, Indian urban streets are inherently accommodative. There are constant negotiations (and contests) for space. Many streets are ‘shared space’ by default. This doesn’t allow a contest between just two modes (like cars vs. cycles). A cyclist is never a ‘lone warrior’ and there are always other activities and fellow cyclists around. The average traffic speeds are not very high which is good for cycling. But lately, with increasing levels of motorization, the streets are becoming ‘roads for vehicles’, both in terms of mobility and parking.

If bicycle use is to improve in India then a lot of collective and all-inclusive efforts need to be initiated. There is a two-fold challenge of retaining existing bicycle users and bringing in new ones. The governing agencies and urban local bodies have to be committed to creating infrastructure for cycling. There should be exclusive funding for cycling infrastructure and bike sharing/renting schemes. Civil society organisations will have to work with both groups of aspiring and existing cyclists – some of which are the low-income ones. I believe, there is a lot of scope for positive social marketing of bicycle use amongst all income, age and gender groups.

Founder of Cycle Chaloa Raj Janagam is working towards a cycling sharing scheme across India through advocacy and hopes to lobby for the construction of basic bicycle friendly infrastructure first and then bicycle sharing schemes will follow.

We have tried to bring cycle sharing system in India through a similar corporate sponsorship model to that of New York and London. Our focus has always been to act as a catalyser between the public authorities and corporate sponsorships but the model hasn’t worked so far we are now advocating that the government consider it as another public infrastructure project. We believe with the right infrastructure and funding mechanisms privately led cycle sharing schemes will follow what has to be public expenditure in the basic infrastructure.

I believe though that there is a huge opportunity for ‘Collaborative Consumption’ in India, the biggest in the world in fact! Sharing is embedded in our culture; we learn collaborative consumption from our values and parents. It can shatter the existing business models and build the newer and much more powerful ones. If the government saw cycling as a national infrastructure project cycle sharing would surely follow in its wake.

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