There are two classes of cyclists in Delhi - those who cycle because they cannot afford other means of transport; and those who cycle as a lifestyle choice/hobby. Both face different problems. “I ride by holding my brakes throughout,” rues 43-year-old Sunil Chaudhary who sells baskets on his cycle because it helps him negotiate the narrow residential lanes in the City.
Cycling enthusiast Marcus Santiago, 34, works in a multinational company in Gurgaon. He pedals 22 kms to his office, twice a week. The notion of cycles being a common man’s vehicle disturbs him. “In Delhi, the cyclists aren’t given the respect they deserve. The car and motorcyclists look down upon them as poor and as people who are occupying the road meant for motor vehicles.”
The Delhi government had built cycle lanes alongside the main roads in many parts of the city during the Commonwealth Games. Despite the initial public praise, the drawbacks of these lanes have failed to attract cyclists in the way it was expected to.
Ajay Chawla, a Delhi Cycling Club member says, “There are no continuous lanes for cyclists. At every traffic signal, cyclists are forced to merge with the other traffic which is very dangerous.”
Chawla has been fighting for continuous cycling lanes for a long time and has also written to CM. “The lanes do not serve the purpose either. It is like having goats and tigers at one water location. How will the cyclists survive amidst speeding cars and motorbikes?” Chawla asks.
The lanes are also often taken over by bikers. “There are only motorcycles in these lanes. Be it heavy traffic or less traffic, you will find more motorcycles than cycles in these lanes,” complains Poshaki Lal who takes vegetables from Okhla Mandi to Kotla Mubarakpur (6.5 km one way) everyday on his bicycle.
To encourage people to cycle to work, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation launched a ‘rent a bike’ programme in December 2007. Students and the general public can rent bicycles at Rs 10 for four hours upon producing a valid identity card.
The programme was first implemented at Vishvidyalya Metro station. Many other stations soon followed. However, the programme has met with lukewarm response after starting off well. “Earlier, around 50-60 cycles were picked up every day. Nowadays not more than 10 cycles are taken. The traffic situation is to blame for this,” says Ram Swaroop, a contractor of Vishvidyalaya Metro’s ‘rent a bike’ programme.
The long distance to cover before you can take a U-turn on many parts of Delhi roads has added to the woes of cyclists who use cycles as a mode of transport. Santiago says that is not a problem for people like him who have taken to cycling as a hobby as it gives them an excuse to cycle some extra distance. “This might not seem a big issue to cars, motorcyclists and cycling enthusiasts. But for those for whom cycling is a necessity, this is a major deterrent. There are roads where you have to cycle an extra 3-4 kms to take a U-turn.”
Thomas Schwartz, a German language teacher at Jawaharlal Nehru University bought a bicycle soon after arriving in India in December 2005. “But here, it is like a battlefield when it comes to cycling. These cars come close to me and as soon as they come 10-15 cms close, they start honking. Sometimes I think there is a social Darwinism mentality behind that which says, ‘I have a big car and you have only a cycle or you are just a pedestrian and you have to clear the way for me,’” he says.