Enough Of Cars
- Lets Walk and Cycle in Our Cities

Enough Of Cars
- Lets Walk and Cycle in Our Cities

Ms Aakansha Jain
PhD Research Scholar, University of California, Davis, USA
IISD-CMI Research Intern, 2015-18

In recent years we have observed our cities struggling with maintaining sustainable environment. The rising pollution level, congestion, noise pollution; all these are the outcomes of our heavy reliance on private cars and two wheelers. Increased income levels have led people to live a life of comfort which often incorporates unsustainable living style. Higher dependency on motorised vehicles have not only made our lives more sedentary but have also led to negative impact on nature and environment. Till now many of us have often neglected the adoption of sustainable practices in our lives including walking and cycling. However, the current states of affairs amid COVID-19 have made us realise the importance of clean environment and healthy lifestyle. The current pandemic has made us all accept the new ways of life and have made us observe nature reclaiming its own space.

As cities around the world are planning to implement various policies in order to maintain social distancing norms, it has been observed that they are giving more and more importance to walking and cycling as sustainable forms of transportation. Considering that mobility forms a crucial part of our daily lives and staying away from transport systems cannot be an option for long, there is a need to review the existing transportation scenario in India. It is now high time to create more green and lively spaces in our cities by giving more spaces to pedestrians and cyclists. By adopting policies that encourage non-motorised transport, cities can not only reduce ill-effects of high motorisation on environment but can also decrease the health burden by reducing the incidences of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, strokes, etc. In order to ensure healthier lifestyle and better immune system, there is a need to ensure an active lifestyle and pollution free cities and increasing the share of cycling can help us in achieving these goals in a sustainable manner. Hence, bringing change in people's behaviour and by putting better infrastructure in place, India can transform both its environment and citizen's health in a positive manner.

As India's public transport systems are already struggling to manage the travel demand in an efficient manner, implementing social distancing norms in public transit modes are going to deprive many people of meeting their daily travel needs. The burden of this will certainly be much more on the vulnerable section of the society who are already struggling to meet their basic needs in the present pandemic. Another likely impact of COVID-19 will be on the usage and demand for private vehicles, with occupancy of public transit systems curtailed, many people are going to shift to private modes of transport which is going to have an adverse impact on the environment and will also make congestion worse in Indian cities. As several studies have also found out that the mortality impact of COVID-19 has been higher in the polluted cities of the world, it would be all the more necessary for Indian cities to reduce its dependency on private motorised vehicles. There is a clear need to think over and change the way how people move in India by shifting towards safer and sustainable form of mobility, walking and cycling. The present scenario necessitates the need for transitioning towards non-motorized form of transport and making them more inclusive by putting the necessary infrastructure in place. While there is no doubt that public transport and other forms of shared mobility are an essential part of India's transport system, cycling for short distance work trips and other essential trips can allow people to avoid overcrowded transit modes and can also aid in maintaining adequate social distancing.

Cities around the world have started expanding cycle tracks and sidewalks in order to ensure that workers who are delivering essential services and residents are able to stay healthy and active while maintaining social distancing amidst the coronavirus pandemic. While Bogota temporarily increased its cycle network by 100 km by turning city streets into cycle-ways, Mexico is also planning to increase its existing cycle network by four times. Such measures are being taken in several other countries around the world. Most of these cities have lesser number of people cycling as compared to India but still lie much ahead in terms of per capita ownership and usage of cycles. As per Census 2011 estimates, 111 million of households own cycles in India and more than 26 million people commute to work by cycle in India while almost 45 million people walk to work. In a country where almost a large share of population depends on walking and cycling for their day to day activities, infrastructural provisions in terms of creating and saving the road space for them remain far too inadequate.

In the post pandemic scenario, social distancing norms are going to reduce passenger carrying capacity of public transit systems as the overcrowding of these systems will pose further risk of disease transmission. Some of the travel demand from formal sectors might reduce due to work from home provisions but most of the jobs in both formal and informal sector are going to require people on-site. Hence, a large surge is expected to happen in private vehicle ownership and usage. As a result, India the hub of most polluted cities in the world will again see the pollution levels shooting up. Knowing the impact that poor air quality have on India's mortality rate, the need arises for cities to revive and rebuild the depilated and most of the time absent footpaths and cycle tracks and to invest more in creating new non-motorised transport (NMT) infrastructure. This will not only help in curbing the pollution levels in the city but also promote a healthy lifestyle amongst people while reducing the burden on limited parking spaces.

Creation of NMT infrastructure based on a participatory infrastructure design would prove to be a first crucial step towards transforming Indian cities. In order to ensure that people make use of these spaces more efforts will be needed in terms of creating positive outlook among citizens about the associated benefits and supplementing these campaigns with schemes such as car free days, cycle to work programs, bike share facilities, etc. As this pandemic has already necessitated the need for redesigning our urban spaces and transport policies, integration of walking and cycle tracks with other modes could be one of the key solutions for making our cities more efficient while ensuring the safety of its citizens.

Increasing investment and usage of cycling for short distances can also help in achieving massive economic savings. As per the study done by TERI last year, cycling for short distances can result in an annual benefit of INR 1.8 trillion to the Indian economy, which is equivalent to 1.6% of India's annual GDP. It has a potential of increasing personal fuel savings by INR 27 billion. . The analysis also suggests that by cycling regularly for 120 days over a distance of 3.5 km can promote active lifestyle and can avoid 4,756 premature deaths, the primary cause of which is our sedentary lifestyles. Apart from the economic savings, cycle has a potential of uplifting the status of people in rural India and other transit poor areas by increasing their access to education, health and employment.

Prioritising investment in NMT infrastructure will also reduce the burden of morbidity and mortality on already hard - hit strata of the society, the daily bread earners of India, who often travel in unsafe conditions due to economic constraints. Most of these users are also captive users of cycling and are more prone to pollution exposure and road accidents. Hence, creating safe infrastructure and implementing rules for safeguarding there space could save millions of lives.

This pandemic has definitely made us all realise the importance of essential service providers. Most of these service providers such as sanitation workers, ASHA workers, postmen, etc. used to cycle to work and are still continuing to in order to ensure safety of others. In my view this phenomenon creates a golden opportunity for policy makers to provide these lifeguards their fair share of road space, security and safety.

The Author is a PhD Research Scholar, in Transportation Technology and Policy Program, at University of California, Davis, USA, who was a Research Intern at IISD-CMI, on Natural Resources Accounting, Green GDP and Sustainable Mobility in 2015-18.

A Lady worker is going to work at Delhi

(Photo Courtesy : Reuters)

An Employee is going to his office, wearing a mask at Delhi

(Photo Courtesy : Reuters)

A Plumber is going for work

(The Photograph is taken at India Gate, New Delhi)

(Photo Courtesy : Reuters)

Benefits Of a Bicycle

(Source for Benefits of Bicycle - Assaad Razzouk - Group CEO at Sindicatum RE )

Cycle rally held in western India to promote cycling and healthy living

Source: YouTube: Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India

Voice for the Planet

Source: YouTube: WWF-India: Aishwarya Sridhar