Cycling In India: Is It Worth The Risk?
It may be the most eco-friendly mode of transportation that can help ease the choking of our cities. It may also be a viable solution to free up our roads from the burgeoning number of vehicles. It may be a great cost-effective alternative to tackle the bloating fuel costs and it may also be a good way to replace a sedentary lifestyle with a more healthy one. But despite all its positives, the humble bicycle invented 200 years ago, has today become one of the most dangerous vehicles, putting its riders to great risk.
On India’s roads 16 fatalities take place every hour and cyclists are among those most vulnerable among the roads users apart from 2-wheeler riders and pedestrians. According to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways Data, 2015 report, states the Vulnerable Road Users make up for 46.3 per cent of the total fatalities. Yet another report, the Analysis of Global Road Safety 2015 done by SaveLIFE Foundation, found that road traffic deaths among pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists comprise almost half of all the deaths on roads across the world.
Also Read: How Dangerous Are India’s Roads?
The Number Game
According to the report by Transport Research Wing (TRW) of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways in the five years between 2011 and 2015, 25,435 cyclists have been killed.
So why is this effective mode of transportation that has been on the roads for two centuries, becoming a dangerous ride?
Problems For Cyclists In India
1. No Continuous Cycle Tracks: First and foremost, India lacks cycle tracks. Currently there are very few cycle tracks in India and even if there are, they are not continuous. The cycle paths are there on some stretches of the road but the condition of the tracks are so bad that the cyclist will end up using the roads, along with motorised vehicles.
Preeti Chaudhary, who is the first cyclist from Delhi-NCR to attain the title of ‘Super Randonneur’ says, The roads are not cycling friendly in India. I have never done a ride alone in India so far as I don’t feel safe on Indian roads. Cycling tracks in Delhi/NCR don’t exist in such a manner that you can train on them. Secondly, people throw a lot of garbage and broken glasses which leads to punctures and frequent imbalance of cyclists. I have only used the cycling track from Akshardham flyover until Mayur Vihar (in East Delhi) but most of the times I prefer cycling on roads only as the lane conditions are bad.
2. Poor Design Of Cycle Tracks: A good cycle track should have a proper marking in place which highlights the fact that the lane is only for the cyclists. Secondly, there should be a system in place which enforces that the lane should only be used by the cycle commuters and not by the other mode of transports or hawkers! Last but not the least, cycle tracks should be properly lit. Sadly, in India, none of the above mentioned criteria are up to the mark, as a result posing risk to the cyclists’ life.
Riding a cycle in India is not only difficult but unsafe! Riding in other countries is way safer as they have proper cycle tracks everywhere, says Deepender Sehajpal who is the first one from Delhi NCR to finish the coveted Paris Brest Paris cycling event in 2015.
3. Lack Of Road Sense Among People: There is little doubt that people in India lack road sense and defy basic traffic rules – they jump signals, over speed, switch lanes or drive on the wrong side.
The SafeLIFE Foundation analysis report on road safety states that vulnerability of road users increases at increasing speed – an adult pedestrian has less than a 20% chance of dying if struck by a car at less than 50 km/h but almost a 60% risk of dying if hit at 80 km/h.
Cyclists in India are bullied badly by all the other mode of commuters. In India, everyone is in the hurry as a result they don’t think of cyclists at all. What I like most about other countries is that road commuters always have a safe distance (about 2-4 feet) from the cyclists. Whereas in India, we as cyclists don’t even get to know who is coming towards us from which direction. They are all over us, added Deepender Sehajpal.
Preeti Chaudhary said, “It’s high time cyclists should be given their due respect as a means of transport.”
SafeLIFE Foundation report also states that successful speed management is crucial for ensuring road safety. Where motorised traffic mixes with pedestrians, cyclists, and moped riders, the speed limit should be under 30 km/h.
In India, the local authority has the power to reduce the national speed limits, but the national urban speed limit is not 50km/h for all urban, rural and motor way roads. India does not have good speed limit law in place, as it does not meet the first aspect of the best practice on urban speed management. The need of the hour is that India should have stricter laws about road safety and people should abide by the rules and regulations whether a policeman is there or not on the road.
What Experts Have To Say?
Kanika Kalra, an urban transport expert with the Indian Institute of Urban Transport (IUT), says, in India, traffic is growing drastically, everyone is in a hurry, and due to lack of road infrastructure for cyclists they end up battling for their life every day.
She also added that a cyclist is more vulnerable to road deaths compared to any other mode of transport. When a car is hit by something, a person does not get hit directly but a cyclist does, that’s why cycling in India is considered unsafe.
Highlighting the problem of poor road designs in India, Kanika Kalra goes on to add, Cycle tracks should be on the roads itself and not on an extreme side, beneath the trees. When people will feel unsafe to use it, they will never ever make use of it. Currently whatever cycle tracks there are in India, they are just not solving the purpose. The tracks mostly are being used by motor cyclists and other non-motorised vehicles.
Currently the government has made it compulsory that the new roads that are being constructed and that are being funded by the government will have mandatory cycle tracks.
When asked about the timelines, Kanika Kalra added, initially India didn’t even had cycle policy, guidelines in place. Today at least we have the policy and the guidelines document sorted, all we need is to get the plan of action kick-started. It will be a slow process, but it will happen sometime soon.
Saji Cherian, Director of Operations, SaveLIFE Foundation says, “Segregation of traffic is essential to reduce road user conflict and protect vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists who form the bulk of urban road users in India. States must ensure that non-motorised transport road users are prioritised in street design rather than motorised road users. The Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Bill 2016 proposes to empower the State Governments to do so by amending Section 138, as non-motorised transport is a State Subject under the Constitution of India.”
The absence of laws protecting vulnerable road users in India is not helping matters. A trend report shows that many people take up cycling as a hobby, but quickly discontinue the same as they feel demotivated after jostling for a secure space on the roads with buses/trucks and other vehicles.