How the revival of India’s Bicycling Culture is starting from the South

How the revival of India’s Bicycling Culture is starting from the South

in Society / Cover Story

It is no more a choice that our towns and cities turn people friendly, go green for the lowest carbon foot print & contribute more as individual citizens - today, more than ever, it is an imperative decision we all have to make. More cycles on the road & emission free electric transport is what will get us there. Coimbatore has made a bold move by laying Tamilnadu's first Bicycle Lane, as part of its Smart City project. But how are the rest of us faring?

Cycling is changing the way we approach mobility today.

The bicycles are reinventing the way we approach mobility today. As 800 odd cities in Europe, America & far East are creating futurist infrastructure to enable cycling as a clean transport solution to counter traffic, population & pollution in the ever growing cities, India seems far behind as usual. With the world switching gradually from fossil fuel to safer and emission free modes of transport, today the cities of the world can be broadly divided into two categories – ones that have bicycle networks, and others who want it. So which category are our Indian cities? They belong to a third category: Directionless.

The Bicycle as a socio-economic tool of intervention in TN

Against the National average, one part of the country that has grown in cycle adoption in India is Tamil Nadu. With the Govt. of Tamil Nadu giving away half a million cycles for free to the school students, it has found maximum patronage in the State. But urban students, who grow up zipping around in peppy scooters have barely put half of them to use though rural TN has better proportion of adoption. For all cycle owning students to switch back from 100cc scooters to cycling would be a downgrading and goes against their idea of speedy, upward mobility.

To put the free bicycles to use requires a substantial change in the mindset of the student populace through persistent campaign and reward for adoption. It can start with the Schools & us, parents saying a definite "NO" to children riding to school in bikes meant for adults. This compulsion will have them revert back to the cycle as the only option to school. Alos a bit of Policing could help!

The women of Pudukottai are proving that it could be a tool for socio-economic freedom. It

The Govt. gifted free cycles usually turn up for sale one year or two after disuse in most of the urban clusters, for as low as Rs. 500/cycle. That way Tamil Nadu has also turned itself into one of the largest dump yards of readily useable cycles. Ironically, while the supply exceeds demand in the urban areas, the District of Pudukottai, which has the largest number of rural women cyclist made possible by Arivozhi Iyakam (Adult Literacy Campaign) are badly in need of cycles thought half the populace does not earn enough to afford one. This is just one dimension of the bicycle use in Tamil Nadu.

Coimbatore leading TN cities in Bicycle Sharing 

On the other hand, as a first step towards cities in Tamil Nadu taking to sustainable urban mobility solutions, the Corporation of Coimbatore in association with Ofo, the world’s first dock less bicycle-sharing platform operated via mobile app, has started rolling out city-level services as part of implementing and completing projects under the ‘Smart Cities Mission.' By offering a sustainable and pollution free transport solution that could be scaled up anytime in the future, Coimbatore has broken into the list of top-10 Smart Cities with its Bicycle Lanes. The other corporations need to take the cue. 

Smart roads, cycle tracks & walking paths have been proposed under the Smart cities Project; but its benefit is limited to those living in those cities only. The project does not cover any of the two and tree tier cities, which are left with no plan on their own and so will have to wait for the government to implement one, which might take a decade.

As more and more cities & towns get covered by bicycle sharing platforms, it is only going to get greener. Ofo’s cycle sharing solution has mainstreamed cycling as a sustainable transport for now and the future in these cities. In short, smart entrants like these are revolutionizing the future of town and city transport.

Read this interesting story about Pudukottai Women’s Ride to Freedom by P. Sainath

With urban mobility emerging as a major civic issue, and more Indian cities aspiring for Smart City status, government bodies are striving to reduce environmental impact, improve public transport and the overall quality of life. 

While 200 cities will turn smart, expanding small towns like Nagercoil, with populations between 5 – 10 lakhs have no plan in place for turning itself smart. Nagercoil, yet to attain the status of a Municipal Corporation, does not have a proposal or agenda in place for the envisioned 'Emission Free India 2030'. There is simply total disreagard for rules and flouting of Municipal regulations for a price. The town is already in bad shape with a underground drainage scheme gone all wrong and then there is the NH work in progress, which will last for another year or two.