In Delhi, I met a lady called Anita, who had sold her car around 10 years ago and now cycles around instead. She told me that with her workplace and home not too far from each other, she manages on two wheels most of the time. And this too, in Delhi!
She said something else that struck a chord: “Do you notice that a large population of any city is on cycles. You just don’t notice them.”
And this is so true. When I wasn’t cycling (and didn’t know how to!), cyclists never registered in my vision – at least consciously. But there’s a huge lower and middle class population that relies totally on cycles. If you start looking, they’re everywhere. On the road, they’re a bunch of folks who come to your notice only if you happen to be behind them at a traffic signal and in your way. Otherwise, they’re a largely anonymous lot, who are either in front or behind the traffic, or on the side of the road. Sometimes, they’re also on the pavement 🙂
When I began cycling, I realized that it is not easy being a cyclist. That cyclists definitely deserve much more respect on the roads. In fact, even when I drive now, I am more mindful of cyclists because I have new found respect for what they go through everyday to survive on the roads. Roads filled honking and inconsiderate drivers. And a lot of rude, idiotic people in a big hurry to get… god only knows where.
Under these conditions, cyclists need to device their own ways of being safe on the roads and getting through traffic (sometimes they’re faster than you in a four wheeler).
The hazards of being a cyclist:
1) The honking: Everyone honks. And most of the time, you’re at the receiving end because drivers perceive that they’re in a bigger vehicle and therefore have a higher claim on the road. Honking is also the past time of Indian drivers. Whether there’s someone in the way or not – they will honk. As a show of anger, irritation, impatience (any emotion, actually) – this is all conveyed by one constant finger on the horn. In fact, I suspect that a large percentage of our drivers were born with a horn stuck to their fingers.
2) Getting bullied by bigger vehicles. And everyone is bigger. I have had vans, trucks, jeeps and even city buses getting really close for comfort. There’s a huge big road that I’ve left for them (I’m the extreme left corner) and yet they only see the exact position right next to me so that they can just about brush me as they go past.
3) You are perceived as an inconvenience on the roads. Wake up people, I want to scream. A cyclist take up around 1/10 of the space you do in a gas guzzler. It’s not only the most eco-friendly machine, the person is doing your city, your town and your environment a big favour – so respect that!
If you need any more convincing, look at this visual…
So they next time you’re on the road:
1) Respect others, especially cyclists
2) Take your hand off your horn. Give yourself a challenge to go an hour without honking. It’s not as hard as you think.
3) Especially don’t honk at people (and cyclists!) at a red signal (they can’t fly).
They’re cutting down trees, bringing down buildings in an effort to build wider roads. But when will our city planners realize that these measures will never solve a city’s traffic crisis? What happens when there are no more trees to cut down, and no more cars that will fit onto these already widened roads? What then?
I think it will be too late by the time we as a city come to the realization that alternative measures to public transport, improving the current road networks and encouraging means like cycling are the best ways to tackle the traffic problem. What about just making our city bus drivers and our jeep drivers more aware of how to drive on roads (and not to honk constantly). To respect others on the road – all companies and the state transport folks should have some kind of training for their drivers. They are the ones who are a menace on roads. If not for them, a lot more people would take on cycling.
We have a great city in terms of both climate and terrain and it’s actually perfect for cycling. Prabhakar Rao (aka GoGreen Rao because of his green efforts) is doing some great work with the Go Green Go Cycling initiative. These are rides to basically show that cycling is a very feasible alternative way of travelling. And in Bangalore, the traffic should be a reason to cycle (and not a reason not to). The group organises regular campaign rides on weekends to create bicycling awareness – do join in!
Here’s the TV coverage of a recent ride:
When people ask whether it’s safe to cycle in Bangalore, I ask them to check the statistics. What is safe nowadays? You could be hit on the road, while crossing it. You could be hit while driving in your car. You could even crash when you’re flying. How safe is cycling then? I would say, as safe as it can get in today’s times. And there are no guarantees. If you’re on the road, you take all necessary precautions to keep yourself safe. But apart from that, figures also say that there are more pedestrian deaths in Bangalore than… cyclists. That should be a good enough statistics.
Rideacycle Foundation is doing some great work to increase awareness about cycling, especially at corporates and we recently organised a bike workshop in my company. If you want to get this done at your workplace, do get in touch with the folks at Rideacycle.
This is a video I saw recently that is pretty amazing. It also brings home the fact that we really make excuses because we can and we have so many of them (it’s unsafe, my wife/mother won’t let me, i don’t know how etc).
Let me leave you with this perfect place in Netherlands. Many countries in Europe have long since discovered how important cycling is and take it really seriously. And Netherlands is no exception.
I can’t but help thinking that one day, if we can do this in Bangalore, it will be the most perfect place!
Where to get a cycle in Bangalore
RR Cycles, Madivala
Decathlon Sports Store, Sarjapur Road