March 29, 2009

Cyclists in City Ask For More Pedal (India)

MUMBAI: Why are bicycles, which don’t pollute, take up little space, are cheap and have virtually no maintenance cost, not a popular mode of travel in Mumbai? According to activists and cycling enthusiasts, the reasons are a mindset that favours motorised vehicles and a lack of infrastructure to promote cycling in the city.

These were the two chief issues discussed during a public meeting at the Carter Road amphitheatre, Bandra (W), to popularise cycling in the city to check pollution and reduce traffic congestion. The meeting, which generated a buzz in the vicinity, had several passersby joining in. Also among the participants were young professionals working in the IT industry and call centres.

Biking enthusiasts and activists discussed the need for dedicated infrastructure comprising separate facilities for cyclists. This includes segregated lanes, bicycle parking stands at railway stations, shopping malls and public places, special signage and traffic signals for bicycles.

Activists said dedicated infrastructure for bicycle riders would allow faster short-distance journeys (between one and six km), which might even be more effective than going by car. Added to this are the health benefits of cycling, they added.

Activists Fawzan Javed and Colin Christopher, who initiated the move for the meeting, felt that starting a bicycle movement in Bandra would set a precedent for other suburbs to follow.

Javed is an architect from Mumbai, while Christopher, a student at Columbia University, New York, is currently doing a stint with Pukar, an NGO. “Once the initiative takes off, it will grow and we will have less congestion and pollution on the roads,’’ said Javed.

Javed, who has undertaken a project on the bicycle movement across the globe, said it was becoming popular in Asian cities and was already an established mode of transport in European cities. His idea is to have a bicycle lane network in Bandra to enable citizens to ride along freely.

Ashok Datar of the Environment Social Network said over the last four decades, roads have been overtaken by cars, edging out the humble cyclist. “We have the usual delivery boys and milkmen using bicycles, but there has been a steep decline in the number of people riding bicycles in general. This is because of a lack of dedicated space for bikers, unlike in other cities of the world,’’ he said.

“Six percent of the city’s population owns bicycles, which is the same as the percentage of motorised vehicle owners. This only shows that there is a need to give environment-friendly modes of transport, such as bicycles, as much importance as is given to others,’’ added Datar.

Several bikers from Dadar, who are part of the Mumbai Critical Mass cycling event, cycled down for the meeting and expressed concern at the problems bikers face on the road daily. Critical Mass is held every Friday in over 300 cities around the world to promote an alternative means of transport, they explained.

Seema Parakh of the World Resources Institute, said they were networking with local ALMs and citizens’ groups to set up the bicycle path network in Bandra.

Javed said the central government was gradually changing its stand and encouraging non-motorised modes of transport in cities under the plans funded by the JNNURM. Development of bicycle infrastructure projects was underway at Delhi, Pune, Nanded and Bangalore, he said.

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Cyclists in City Ask For More Pedal


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