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As Cycling Culture In India Gains Momentum, Infrastructure Needs Utmost Attention Some crucial action points have been implemented by states for improving cycling infrastructure, but there are some pivotal steps that need to be enacted for encouraging people to adopt cycling

By Sachin Chopra

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A study conducted by Institute for Transportation and Development Policy forecasted that bicycling in the current post-pandemic phase is set to increase by 50-60 per cent across the country. This is a result of the cycling boom which has emerged due to various reasons during the pandemic. However, there is still a sense of uncertainty whether the nation has the infrastructure to support this cycle-friendly culture.

Cycling is one of the oldest forms of transportation known to mankind. But over the last few decades, its use cases for transportation have considerably dwindled in most of the industrial world. Despite it being the most sustainable, healthy and low-cost mode of travel, cycling hasn't been pursued by people especially in urban India. It has usually been associated with people involved in the informal sector, who couldn't afford any other vehicle. However, restrictions imposed due to the pandemic gave a renewed boost to the activity. With restricted access to gyms and apprehensions about exercising in parks, people took to cycling to meet their fitness needs. Restriction in terms of vehicular movement as part of mandated curbs meant that cycling to work and for other engagements became more and more pragmatic. This has made people across the country realize the significance of this safe, convenient and socially distant mode of transport. It has started to emerge as a mainstream activity with people of various age groups and economic backgrounds now adopting it as part of their daily commute and fitness regimes.

The enthusiasm towards cycling has increased considerably in the last couple of years, but it is equally imperative to maintain the momentum. It is crucial for the government to take initiatives that will encourage people to pursue cycling regularly. One of the prominent initiatives has been the "Cycles4Change Challenge', an initiative executed by the ministry of housing and urban affairs to implement cycle-friendly infrastructure. Launched under the Smart Cities Mission, the challenge has seen initiatives by many cities who have started undertaking different ways to enhance cycling infrastructure and promote cycling culture. The challenge brought in some extremely encouraging results with cities such as Bhubaneswar, Surat and Kochi using traffic cones to test out lane systems, whereas Kohima also launched a survey to understand the perception of people about cycling and implemented schemes for the same.

Many metro cities have executed initiatives to promote cycling. For instance, New Delhi recently created a cycle plaza for children in the Lodhi Garden Colony; Bengaluru became the first Indian city to create a pop-up cycle lane on the city's outer ring road; and Mumbai started a public bike sharing service at some of their metro stations. Not to mention, several bike sharing programs being introduced by startups across the country.

With COVID cases subsiding and restrictions easing up, it is vital for India to adopt a strategic approach at the planning and execution levels. The necessary steps are being taken, but India still lacks a dedicated cycling infrastructure that ensures safety of cyclists. With vehicles plying on road like pre-pandemic times, rise in traffic congestion will make cyclists prone to accidents without proper cycling infrastructure in place, and can deter people from using bicycles for daily commute. If the government aims to make cycling a mainstay activity in India, it must become an integral part of the long-term development plans to ensure safe and secure riding experiences for cyclists.

Some crucial action points have been implemented by states for improving cycling infrastructure, but there are some pivotal steps that need to be enacted for encouraging people to adopt cycling:

Bicycle parking system: More people will be encouraged to travel through cycles if they have the privilege of secure parking lots for bicycles with facility to lock and store them safely.

Traffic signals for bicycles: An established traffic signalling system for the cyclists will be a sign of coordinated safety measures for them. Such an initiative will make it easy for them to cross roads and intersections without risk of accidents.

Engaging cycling groups: Cycling groups are often directly affected by lack of cycling infrastructure and thus, by involving them in decision making, cities can generate vital inputs to implement schemes for improving cycling infrastructure.

Ensuring connection with other transport networks: Cities must also ensure that the cycling networks connect with other transport networks and key areas of the city. Ensuring connection to high activity areas will make it safer for cyclists to commute to those places.

Reallocation of road development funds: The policymakers must reallocate significant amount of funds allocated for road development projects to enhance cycling infrastructure. The active integration of cycling infrastructure into road development projects will ensure the required development.

The last couple of years have been instrumental in creating a foundation for popularizing cycling, but more steps are required to benefit from the ongoing momentum. With the awareness around the importance of adopting sustainable mobility growing every day, cycling as an activity and as a means of transportation is gaining the much-deserved attention and thus, authorities will need to scale up ideas to nurture the infrastructure for the same in our country.

Sachin Chopra

Co-founder and CEO, Ninety One Cycles

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