12 December 2017

In Delhi: Getting People To Ride Before It's Too Late

Delhi, like other major cities in developing countries, has an air pollution problem that some are calling a crisis. It's so bad that international players on the cricket field wear masks.

While political parties are playing the "blame game", more than a few people realize that some things must change.  Akash Gupta, the founder of Mobycy--which claims to be India's first dockless bicycle sharing startup system--tells of a report he recently read, which indicated that one of the reasons why people drive or take cabs to work or school is the problem they have with "last mile connectivity".  People can take public transportation, but to actually reach their destinations, they must make switches of transport.  And, the closer they come to their destination, the more likely it is that they will need to switch--whether from one bus line to another or to another mode of transportation entirely.

So, Gupta says, bicycling can offer a solution.  "Cycles should become a norm," he explains, "because they are easy to ride, quick to find, don't let you become dependent on someone else and are also cost effective."  That last point is not lost on businesses, who are finding that making deliveries by bike or e-bike is more effective--because it's faster--in dense city traffic.  

Even as bike share programs and delivery bicycles are becoming more common, and increasing numbers of people are riding for recreation, getting people to trade pistons for pedals in their daily commute has been a difficult task for city planners.  The biggest obstacle for most people is the motorized traffic that planners are trying to reduce.  Many people in Delhi echo a familiar refrain heard in cities all over the globe:  They don't feel safe riding among the cars, trucks and other motorized vehicles--or, more to the point, drivers.   

To that end, bike lanes and other physical infrastructure are being built.  But, as studies have shown, lanes by themselves don't do much to increase the number of bicycle commuters, or cyclists overall.  Vishala Reddy seems to recognize as much.  The founder and Director of Identcity has been behind many projects, such as car-free Tuesdays, to promote cycling during the past decade.  But she says that the real infrastructure consists of attitudes and incentives.  About the former, she says that more respect has to be developed for cyclists on the road.  As for the latter, she believes offices and other workplaces could offer them--and physical infrastructure, such as parking facilities, for cyclists.

Cyclists in Delhi

She and Gupta, unlike too many involved with planning in American cities, recognize that making cycling more appealing and safe is not just something that will make hipsters happy. They understand that their city's economic well-being--and, indeed, its very survival, as well as that of the planet--hinge at least in part on getting people's feet off gas pedals and onto bicycle pedals.  As Gupta warns, "If we don't start using e-vehicles or cycles now, it will be too late."

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