By Satinder Kumar and Surjith Karthikeyan
World Cycle Day, which is celebrated on 3 June every year to embrace the cycle as a medium of transport, plausibly augments physical health and is environment friendly. This year, World Cycle Day was celebrated with the tagline “appreciate uniqueness, longevity, and diversity of bicycle” which glorifies the culture of cycling that has been prevalent for over 200 years. As per the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the urban population in developing countries will continue to grow, adding about 2.5 billion residents to cities by 2050. Of this increase in urban population, 90 percent is concentrated in Asia and Africa alone.
Similarly, according to the 2011 census, 31 percent of people live in cities in India and its urban population is expected to swell to 814 million by 2050. Ahmedabad, Chennai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad are poised to assume the status of megacities in India by 2050. Continuous urban population growth has unveiled myriad problems viz. traffic congestion, road accidents and environmental pollution et al.
In addition, as labour participation rate rises, people would compulsorily have to embrace a sedentary lifestyle owing to negligible to no physical activities because of prolonged physically inactive, seated, or resting postures. National Family Health Survey figures indicate higher incidence of hypertension, cardio, diabetes, and vascular diseases lately assuming significance. It further adds that changing lifestyles due to job requirements, sedentary lifestyles, and competitive living are attributable to these diseases. It mentioned that about 13 percent of women and 9 percent of men are overweight or obese and the death rate due to heart-related diseases has soared to 165.8 per 1,00,000 population. Similarly, around 116.4 per 1,00,000 population in India die of vascular diseases.
To cope with the challenges posed by zipping urbanisation stride, we need the urgent restructuring of urban development policies, especially the mode of transport wherein cycling could be a win-win strategy. Cycling is a low-carbon mode of transport that enhances the quality of life, adds to social cohesion, is inexpensive, flexible and a personal mode, enabling low- and middle-income groups to healthily contribute to the economy and community. Vehicular traffic on urban roads, clogged with humongous traffic snarls, exudes toxic smoke whereas cycling may decongest and cut down greenhouse gases as well. Moreover, cycling helps reduce diabetes, some types of cancer, and cardiovascular diseases thereby enhancing the longevity of life. According to a research finding in the United Kingdom, commuting on a cycle is directly associated with 45 percent lower risk of developing cancer and 46 percent reduction in cardiovascular diseases compared to commuting by car or public transport.
The government of India may initiate restructuring of urban development-oriented policies with an emphasis on popularising the ‘culture of cycling’ among the urban populace. Measures underlined below may be adopted to increase the “culture of cycling in India”:
Firstly, road construction in cities is enormously haphazard, suitable only for cars and public transport. Most of the roads in cities are hogged by private cars, and heavy vehicles while leaving little space for cycle riding. Even on existing roads, riding a cycle may turn fatal due to a lack of security. People generally fear meeting accidents on roads congested by cars and bigger vehicles. Provisioning for separate bicycle lanes, inevitable for cycle riders’ safety is lacking in our cities. Thus, while laying roads in cities, bicycle lanes must be made mandatory to ensure the safety of cycle riders. This would instill confidence to happily embrace cycling as the mode of transport. Lessons may be drawn from Amsterdam which has been crowned as the bicycle capital of the world in the 21st century.
Secondly, there are scarce parking facilities for bicycles in India, dissuading people to adopt them as a mode of transport. Generally, people encounter problems while parking bicycles after finishing their ride. So, most people dodge cycle commute because of the fear of it being stolen. To overcome the dearth of parking facilities, the government ought to furnish bus boarding areas, government office premises, and corporate working places with bicycle parking facilities. This may help in rebuilding lost confidence among people pertaining to the security of their own cycle(s).
Thirdly, the Government of India must come up with tax break-based incentives to encourage cycling in India. As of now, there is no scheme to provide tax exemption for buying bicycles in India. Lessons may be learnt from other countries such as the United Kingdom (UK) which introduced the “Cycle to Work Scheme” back in 1989, providing tax exemptions to bicycle riders for buying cycles and related equipment. This scheme has significantly improved cycle adoption in the United Kingdom. Therefore, it is imperative to account for tax breaks in public budgeting to buy cycles and equipment for the promotion of cycling as a means of transportation.
Fourthly, altering the public conscience is inevitable for the adoption of cycling. In India people think of those riding bicycles as people with insufficient money to afford a car or motorcycle. Such an attitude encumbers embracing cycling and forgoes myriad benefits entailed therewith. The government of India must therefore make a move to shatter this stereotype through persuasion. For this, it may use social media, put hoardings and billboards, celebrate cycling as part of the Olympics and pursue a career in cycling. Local urban bodies and schools may showcase the benefits of cycling that enlighten children and people to adopt cycling as a means of commute.
Hence, the adoption of cycling as a way of life would enhance the longevity of life and enable the reduction of greenhouse gases and pollution as well.
(The authors, Satinder Kumar, is Deputy Director at Government of India and Surjith Karthikeyan is Deputy Secretary at Government of India. Views expressed are personal.)