On World Bicycling Day (June 3), a fresh campaign called upon Bengaluru’s citizens to ditch their cars and bikes and buy bicycles.

Bengalurus bicycle mayor hopes to make city cycle-friendly post lockdown
news Transport Wednesday, June 03, 2020 - 20:17

On March 29, during the early stages of the COVID-19 lockdown, a group of 75 volunteer cyclists came together in Bengaluru to deliver essentials to elderly persons living in different areas of the city.

The volunteer group 'Relief Riders' responded to calls made to a helpline number publicised in the city and delivered grocery items and medicines. "The riders clocked around 1,400 km helping people in the city get access to various items whether it was vegetables from the nearby grocery store or essential medicines they needed to procure," Sathya Sankaran, a sustainable transport activist and Bengaluru's 'Bicycle Mayor' tells TNM.

According to these relief riders, bicycles could be the solution for the fears of commuting in the city during the pandemic. "There is less occupancy in public transport now and people will naturally turn to private vehicles and bicycles could be a very effective tool in a pandemic," Sathya adds.

The people behind the relief riders' initiative are connected to BYCS, an Amsterdam-based network of international cycle mayors which work with businesses, governments and nonprofits to promote cycling in cities.

On World Bicycling Day (June 3), a fresh campaign was started to make Bengaluru 'cycling-friendly' by BYCS and Jhatkaa, a campaigning organisation. The petition sought steps from the government and from citizens to make Bengaluru a haven for cyclists.

These steps included declaring bicycle shops an essential service, shopping streets as walking or cycling only to provide space for physical distancing and to allow bicycles to move freely without passes even during a lockdown. 

And officials are listening. For example, Bengaluru Police Commissioner Bhaskar Rao surveyed a 17 km area along the Outer Ring Road in Bengaluru and decided to declare it as a cycle lane this week. 

"As Commissioner, I’m passing a Magisterial order declaring these 17 kilometres as cycle lanes. And anyone who enters this inadvertently is likely to be prosecuted by law. We want to have some legal muscle with regard to the cycle lanes," Bhaskar Rao said during a webinar by the  Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) India. The police commissioner also said that officials intended to put bollards and signages along the 17 km stretch, and white markers at junctions.

The campaign also asks citizens to ditch their cars and bikes and buy bicycles. "The first plan is to get people to buy bicycles. The act of spending on a bicycle is the first step in taking to cycling and it gets people over a big barrier. After people have bicycles, they are open to the possibilities of where they can cycle within the city and people won't just be showing up like tourists at events like World Bicycling Day. Instead, they will actually have bicycles with them," says Sathya. The campaigners have also roped in nine bicycle retailers in Bengaluru for the same.

Sathya's words are echoed by citizens and cycling enthusiasts in Bengaluru. "We need to prepare ourselves to live with the virus for the next year or longer. I don’t see any better mode of transport than a cycle; affordable, sustainable, offers physical distancing naturally," activist Srinivas Alavilli says. He also adds that more people taking to cycling will push the civic administration in Bengaluru to provide better infrastructure for cyclists.

In addition to the health benefits of cycling, there is also the advantage of reducing Bengaluru's pre-lockdown traffic congestion and deteriorating air quality. "Consequent to the lockdown, Bengaluru’s air pollution rate has dropped by over 40% just with vehicles off the road. We know it's impractical to continue this way, but with over 40 of the world’s major cities planning to go cycle and pedestrian-friendly, it is time our city show the same intelligence and pro-environment action. We must not miss this window of opportunity to rethink our roads which will be difficult if things go back to old normal,” states the petition.

Last year, the campaigners provided bicycles to police officials at the Cubbon Park police station. The move was aimed at reducing the use of vehicles in a green space like Cubbon Park and also to make it easier for pedestrians to approach police officials. With a renewed campaign this year, the campaigners hope to add more bicycles on Bengaluru's roads and improve conditions in Bengaluru for those who take to cycling

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