What Stops India From Cycling Its Way Up?
Did you know that more children die in road accidents each year than due to crimes against them? A report estimates the toll at 43 children per day. Again, over the last decade, there have been over 1.3 million reported deaths on the roads. Logically, if cities have to be made smarter and safer, urban planning should resort to better, cheaper, cleaner modes of transport. Dr Steven Fleming, architect and consultant at Cycle Space International, envisions a city that provides for bicycle-architecture called Velotopia, where bicycles are the default mode of transportation and not cars.
How does Velotopia help?
Fleming says, “Velotopia would allow for all the advantages of 21st century urban life as we know it, except with healthier activity levels, less pollution, and more human connection.”
Some salient features and benefits include:
- A typical cycle-friendly infrastructure boasts protection from all kinds of weather. Rather than juggling for a car parking miles away from a shopping mall and having to walk all the way down, it becomes easier if bicycle architecture lets you cycle up to the stores.
- Bike highways and pedestrian bridges that connect raised buildings would work as passageways for bikers.
- Acres of land minus cars give you ample space for urban farming and entertainment.
- Velotopia may require an alteration in how traffic is controlled these days. Those who aren't able to ride bicycles owing to age, disability or discomfort could be provided allowances in terms of alternative modes of transport.
- If both the origin and destination are conveniently designed to accommodate a bicycle infrastructure, it may not take more than 30 minutes to cover a 10-km distance.
- Developers, too, should be able to accommodate cycles as they do wheelchairs and prams today.
Towards the good road
Authorities in Delhi considered a three-month car-free zone in Delhi's most crowded business and commercial district, Connaught Place. And, there is no reason why other state authorities should not consider adopting similar practices.
Pankaj Joshi, executive director, Urban Design Research Institute, is quoted by a news website as saying: “All over the world, cities are planned by prioritising pedestrians first, followed by public transport and then private transport. But in India our priorities are backwards – we put private transport ahead while planning our cities.”
And rightly so, we are at the moment very far from becoming a metropolis.
Roadblocks to a cycle-friendly India
In India, there are many roadblocks. The first and foremost being that cars mean status, cycles mean a hand-to-mouth existence. Second, the infrastructure is not cycle-friendly either. Third, cycles in India also need a policy push. Amongst those who can afford only cycles, excise duties that make it expensive means we are paralysing the situation further. As long as Indian urban and rural areas still boast a few cycles, efforts should be taken to encourage this.
Corporate offices, too, should encourage the culture of cycle-to-work. In Copenhagen, professionals in business attires, with a matching helmet and cycling shoes is a reality. In India at the moment, it may give an impression of an underpaid professional and that is primarily why Delhi alone boasts more than 90 lakh cars.
As of March 2015, there were 154.30 million two-wheelers in India and 28.60 million cars. India has 90 cycles to every 1,000 people. Naturally, our cities aren't as cycle-centric as Amsterdam, Eindhoven or a Copenhagen where up to 70 per cent of all journeys are made on bicycles. So, while bicycles may not be a status symbol in our Indian cities, some of the developed cities have opted for a sustainable way of life minimising road accidents and pollution. There is a lesson in urban planning we need to adopt.