The first thought that crossed my mind when I read about Delhi’s plans to construct a 6 km elevated corridor was: how difficult it’s going to be to go up that corridor!
While I have a cycle that has 24 gears (makes it a breeze to tackle the uneven terrains in Bangalore- where I live), I see several of my fellow cyclists get off their non-geared cycles to walk up difficult stretches. Sometimes a pang of guilt runs through me as I effortlessly peddle past them, so I slow down to make myself feel better.
There are many kinds of cyclists. But when it comes to cycling, we share an unspoken bond – income, colour and origin don't matter. And there is one thing that unites us – the contempt towards traffic and cars and particularly the sight of large vehicles being occupied by just a single person. They take up almost all of the space on the road and spew toxic fumes into our lungs. It’s hard as it is, fighting our way through cramped roads and the heat. Aren’t public spaces meant to be shared equally? Where is democracy?
I would do anything to get away from these four-wheeled monsters. The idea of an exclusive corridor – even if it means cycling uphill make sore calf muscles a pleasure - compared to being stuck with cars. Racing at more than 50kmph, I also imagined the adrenaline rush of going down hill. And the best part: the proposed corridor in Delhi will have a roof top which will be covered with solar panels. It will also have benches and open spaces for public activities.
Creating physical barrier to separate cyclists and pedestrians from motorists on the road is crucial. Cyclists are far more vulnerable to road accidents.
Previous attempts to segregate cyclists have failed miserably. In Bangalore, for example, cycle tracks are available on a few stretches. They are, however, marred by several obstacles. Utility boxes, construction debris, slow moving pedestrians and dug up patches are annoying at best and dangerous at worst. And the Indian mindset poor man’s mode of transport does not help our case - cars and bikes whiz past cyclists with abandon.
The Delhi government’s proposal to create this physical barrier seems inviting at first glance. At least now, cyclists’ needs are within its purview. But is this the smartest thing to do? Have they considered what countries like Copenhagen, which is known for its cycling infrastructure, has done? Copenhagen is considered the best city for cyclists. It provides a large network of exclusive roads for cyclists with supporting amenities like air pumps. To further encourage long distance cycling, Copenhagen built ‘Super highways’ for cyclists coming to the city centre from suburban areas. Their traffic lights are also intelligent. If you cycle at a speed of 20kmph, you will be greeted with green wave.. Not having to wait at traffic signals saves about 10% of a cyclist’s commute time.
On superhighways, motorists can also take part in the ‘karma campaign’ by rewarding cyclists with chocolates. Cycling was part of their public discourse for several decades. They built their first cycle lane over a hundred years ago. However, an elevated corridor (Cykelslangen) was built only in 2014 – that too only about 700-feet long. Its purpose was to segregate cyclists from pedestrians who were sauntering around on the harbor front underneath.
Building an elevated corridor exclusively for cyclists is a step in the right direction. However, it seems as though Delhi has jumped the gun and taken to last resort as its priority. The Delhi government should consider this project as imperative to improve infrastructure for cyclists across the city - much like what Delhi Metro Rail Corporation and Chennai Metro Rail Limited are attempting to do.
For starters, the Delhi government should ensure cycle paths remain free from encroachments. Is it too much to ask for cycle lanes that are physically separated from the main carriageway? A Rs 50 crore development cannot remain a one-off project. There has to be a larger policy in place to create an atmosphere that promotes cycling.
This may be seen as an inconvenience for those using cars. But it’s up to the government to stand ground and make the right decision – a decision that is democratic, eco-friendly and citizen-oriented.
Kathikeyan Hemalatha is a Communications Campaigner at Greenpeace India