The Karnataka government cannot shy away from prioritising new cycling tracks and focusing on the needs of Bengaluru’s cyclists. Cycling is trending the world over. Even British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution” specifies making cycling and walking more attractive as one of its key elements.
During the Covid-induced lockdown, cycle sales surged and what with activity levels coming down and gyms closed, the only way to get some fresh air was by walking and cycling making recreational bicycle trips increase exponentially. Fortunately, Bengaluru has a pro-active “Bicycle Mayor” who is the human face and voice of cycling progress in the city. He is uncovering economic, societal, health, and environmental benefits, addressing cycling challenges and convincing more and more people to take up cycling.
Bengaluru’s cyclists can exult at Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and Directorate of Urban Land Transport’s (DULT) plans to set up an 80 km bicycle track network, with 30 km in the Central Business District area, connecting Minsk Square and Chalukya Circle - the major landmarks in the central part of the city. A pop-up cycle lane on the Outer Ring Road will change public perception on cycling by indicating a willingness to allocate space on a wide road, and assuring cyclists that the government is keen on ensuring their safety.
But what happened to cycle lanes in the past, the specially the marked one in Jayanagar, built some time ago? Bengalureans use the space to park their cars today. When clear road dividers were earmarked for cyclists, the space was taken over by motorbikes and scooters, who otherwise ride with impunity on footpaths, despite technical solutions including cameras and image recognition software available to nab people misusing lanes.
The DULT is overseeing a low-cost, environmentally-friendly mobility option to city residents through a Public Bicycle Sharing (PBS) system, especially at industry clusters where a significant dent in last-mile connectivity from metro stations is possible. Integration with public transport is a natural fit for last-mile cycling using the PBS system. With a smart card or another form of identification, a user can check out a bicycle from a station and return it to any other station. Bicycles will be available on-demand, providing fast and easy access for short trips, public transport-linked trips and tourist trips.
The city’s community of cyclists have other reasons to cheer with several stretches in and around Cubbon Park getting cycle lanes, and with initiatives like “Feel Bengaluru Cycle Day” making cycling popular, building enthusiastic masses of cyclists to reclaim the streets of Bengaluru by bringing in huge numbers, filling the streets with cycles and laying claim to road space. Only with this, the city’s cycle tracks can become like the ones in Amsterdam or Berlin where even if a pedestrian accidentally strays onto one, he is yelled at, pushed aside or even run over.
Bengaluru’s large number of IT firms and MNCs must be roped in to create the necessary infrastructure to facilitate cycling to office by providing employee incentives and building dedicated cycle parking on corporate premises.
Bicycle friendly city?
What do Bengaluru’s cyclists actually experience while cycling in a yet-to-become-cycle-friendly city? Riding to the office is a challenge, Bengaluru’s weather means you arrive at your workplace slightly out of breath, reeking of sweat, making a shower and a clean-up mandatory. No one needs to elaborate about Bengaluru’s roads with their potholes and debris with small ponds and pebble patches with boulders of different sizes that can either topple you or puncture your tyres.
Bengaluru vehicle owners are notorious for driving on the wrong side. Parents dropping kids to school and professionals indulge in this practice, happy to save 10 seconds at the cost of other people’s time and safety. Bengaluru has its fair share of parked vehicles on roadsides and on pavements - bigger threats than even the moving ones.
Inconsiderate people force cyclists to brake to a standstill on an uphill slope which they are struggling to manoeuvre, even blocking cycling lanes. In the “might is right” attitude of Bengaluru’s road users, perhaps the only group treated worse than cyclists are pedestrians. Bengaluru’s cyclists need to empathise and follow traffic rules carefully because pavements are for pedestrians unless demarcated for cycle usage. Cyclists should walk their cycle when using pavement and not scare pedestrians out of their wits.
Perhaps it will be ages before Bengaluru becomes another Amsterdam, the centre of bicycle culture. Nevertheless, the inconvenience of driving a car, parking fees and tackling streets either closed to cars or meant for one-way traffic has already made cycling an economic, comfortable, easy and sustainable way of commute in the city.
Now only if DULT builds more bicycle lanes, the city’s IT firms and MNCs build more cycle parking lots and encourage cycling to and from their offices, and road users become a lot more considerate, Bengaluru, which is today on the threshold of becoming a bicycle-friendly city, will actually become one.
(The writer is former Executive Director on the Board of BEML)