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Cycling in Bengaluru: What’s the way forward?

Communities celebrate Cycle Day now and then, encouraging people to take up recreation cycling. But has this movement prompted any change of attitude towards cyclists?
Last Updated : 14 June 2024, 21:19 IST

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Last Sunday morning, about 200 Malleshwaram residents took their cycles to 13th Cross Road to celebrate Cycle Day. Tiny tots hopped, skipped, jumped and played while mothers drew rangolis on the road. There was something for everyone while cyclists took rounds in the area.

Cycle Day was envisaged in 2013 as an awareness campaign to identify neighbourhood champions who advocate cycling as a mode for short trips within the neighbourhood. The Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) championed this by partnering with communities.

Since October 2013, there have been 570 Cycle Days in 68 neighbourhoods. “The Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) has partnered and built the capacity of about 70 registered Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) and civil society organisations (CSOs) in 68 neighbourhoods for developing local solutions to promote non-motorized transport use in their communities,” says a note from DULT.

It lists the development of Walk and Cycle to School programmes and Neighbourhood Improvement Plans in Sanjaynagar and HSR Layout and the implementation of bicycle infrastructure in about 18 government schools as some successful initiatives that communities have curated jointly with DULT.

Grand plans, positive outlook

DULT lists the positive impacts of cycle days on communities. “Children have started using bicycles for their short trips and have encouraged their parents to switch to non-motorised modes of transport for their errands. Some communities have observed that Cycle Day has made other road users more considerate towards cyclists, fostering greater respect and awareness when sharing road space,” says the note.

The Comprehensive Mobility Plan (CMP) for Bengaluru, 2020 envisages 600 km of cycle track infrastructure in the city by 2035. “DULT has already planned to retrofit about 350 km of the cycle track network on existing roads in Bengaluru. Detailed designs for implementing the cycle tracks have been prepared and shared with BBMP recently,” said DULT in its note. 

There are many other plans, according to DULT. It has provided cycle stands at selected metro stations. In collaboration with BMRCL, it plans to scale up such infrastructure in other metro stations. 

DULT has installed cycle stands in 18 government schools in the Bengaluru urban area to facilitate children to ride cycles to school.

DULT has installed 12 self-repair kiosks for cyclists called Pedal Ports at ten metro stations and two other places. These have basic repair tools, air pump etc., that cyclists can use to service or repair their cycles if they face any issues mid-way. More pedal ports will be installed at selected TTMCs and other locations in the city to promote cycle usage.

DULT feels that there is growing awareness among people in Bengaluru of cycling. It hopes to increase cycling adoption by combining public transport use and cycling for last-mile access, which is more convenient than personal vehicles. 

“With increased patronage for cycling, cycling infrastructure will become integral to road infrastructure planning and development. DULT is actively promoting non-motorised transport use in the city on many fronts, maybe to increase cycling awareness, help people learn cycling, or scale up cycling infrastructure,” says DULT’s hopeful note.

Mixed feelings

What are the ground realities?

Sathya Sankaran, a mobility activist, says the city has just 6 kms of cycle lanes out of the 600 kms planned for 2035 while wondering whether DULT’s plans have been on track.

Ramesh Sreekantan, a Malleswaram resident, has been cycling 15-20 kms to work on and off since 2016. He says the number of ordinary cyclists has come down. “During Covid, the number of cyclists went up. Now it has come down, as vehicles and traffic increased. Now people cycle more to exercise or for pleasure, not out of necessity,” he adds.

Krishna Panyam, a Malleswaram resident and a cyclist, has participated in Cycle Days. He feels that Cycle Days have provided a fun avenue for cycling communities to connect, but that has not resulted in major changes, like more people taking to cycling, at least in the Malleswaram area. 

He cites the reluctance to cycle on main roads, even during Cycle Day events, as an example of the mindset that prevents cycling from becoming mainstream.

“People immediately say there is traffic. That is exactly the point, to show that it is okay for cycles to be on the road and other road users should adjust,” he says. He says the lack of respect for cyclists is the biggest hurdle.

He finds cycle lanes being laid on pedestrian lanes to be a problem. “It’s already bad for pedestrians, and riding on the footpath is uncomfortable. This will worsen the problem,” he says.

“The reality is that our roads are not wide enough for cycle lanes. In Malleswaram, for example, I do not know which road we can have cycle lanes on without being bogged down by parking problems for other vehicles. None of them are wide enough,” he explains.

Just like people get used to pedestrians, cyclists should also be a norm on roads. “It is important for vehicles to get used to cyclists on the road. Cycle lanes are possible only on newer and bigger roads, not so much in the neighbourhoods and smaller roads,” he adds.

Krishna says promoting awareness of cycling and respect for cyclists among kids is important to prompt behavioural change.

“Fixing potholes and footpaths and designing cycle stands in metro stations and other areas are other things that will promote cycling. Painted cycle lanes do not mean much when compared to these,” he says.

Many loopholes

Pravir Bagrodia, a Whitefield resident, has participated in many cycling events across the city, including Cycle Days. “The biggest issue is wrong-side driving. It’s rampant. The police presence is minuscule, and they cannot control vehicular traffic. Vehicle users try to bully the users by unnecessarily honking and coming close to cycles. I have experienced this. One has to be a good cyclist to overcome these,” he says.

Pravir gives the example of cycling tracks recently laid in the EPIP area in Whitefield. “At weekends, the areas are empty. Cycle lanes have been demarcated here. However, it is almost of no use. There are two issues. Many vehicles are parked on the lanes, leading cyclists to take a detour. Bikes take the same lane, so I could not use the nicely laid cycle lane,” he explains.

He lists pollution, congestion and road safety hazards as other hurdles for cycling. “I venture out for cycling in mostly controlled areas, such as inner roads and bylanes, which are not polluted and do not have traffic,” he adds.

Will marking cycle lanes on bigger roads help? Pravir says BBMP has not regulated cycle lanes wherever it is possible to do it and sees no hope for anything new. “The cycle lane marked on the footpath near the SAP Labs is nice. But it is occupied by Yulu bikes and regular scooters. Cyclists cannot use it. Outside the Karnataka Trade Promotion Organisation area, the space is wide enough, but the cycle track is rendered useless because of unregulated parking and vehicle movement,” he explains.

“The bigger the road, the more difficult it is to regulate traffic. I’ll not recommend new cycle lanes until they fix basic issues on existing ones. It’s a waste of money,” he says.

Cycle-sharing trial

Civic groups in Malleswaram plan to pilot a bike-sharing initiative soon where 15-20 e-bikes will be given on rentals to interested users. Krishna Panyam says the initiative will be championed by the Sampige Foundation and will aided by the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ). 

“At a later stage, we want to see whether people from communities can share their cycles with the needy users,” he adds. The unique project is expected to take off in July.

Ramesh Sreekantan, a Malleswaram resident and avid cyclist, feels that bicycle sharing has not been popular worldwide other than in Europe, and Bengaluru is no exception. “Old Bengaluru has not taken to public bicycles in a big way. Bicycles have been rented more by the gig economy workers than communities and commoners. There is an aspirational aspect behind going for motorised vehicles in India,” he says. People are in a wait-and-watch mode to see the outcome of this trial.

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Published 14 June 2024, 21:19 IST

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