CYCLING CITY OF MY DREAM!

‘Good Morning’ – greeted Mr. Mehra while I was unlocking my Gazelle preparing to leave for work.

‘…good morning dear friend … have a nice day’ – I replied.

It’s 08:30 am on a Monday and I find myself navigating my way through traffic. But this ‘traffic’ is of a different kind. There are bicycles all around. Men, Women and Children all dressed-up for their destination, pedaling their way to a routine weekday task – business, school, shopping, cafe etc.

Near the sidewalk, I stopped to say hello to Alok – my childhood friend. He was on his ‘Urban Arrow’ going to purchase food for ‘Betsy’, his 3-year-old pet sitting inside a buggy. Alok has recently shifted to Mumbai and lives half-a-mile away in a quaint neighborhood. A quick exchange of greetings and we set-apart.

There is plenty of shade on the cycle path with golden shower trees perfectly lined-up in a row. The birds sounds are playing music in the background as I hum a song soaking in the morning sunshine.

Tring tring… my phone rings and I halt to respond. Using a mobile device while cycling is illegal and I have to abide by the law to escape a ticket. I have been asked to collect a parcel on my return journey which I’ll do.

Fifteen minutes of cycling and I reached my office and find it tough to locate an empty parking spot. However, nothing to worry about as my company has recently installed a new bicycle parking facility of 1000 slots and it features automatic locking system. My Gazelle will remain safe and protected through the day along with hundreds of other bicycles in the parking station.

60% of employees in my office arrive on a bicycle, 30% use public transport and rest prefer to commute on scooters and cars. That’s a healthy transport hierarchy. Over the years, cycling has become a way of life in Mumbai city.

But it wasn’t like this. Thirty years ago – around 2020, Cycling was low in numbers and near to impossible because of safety hazards. White collared business professionals, and the educated class barely cycled, and if they did – it was limited to recreational purpose. Livelihood cyclist used the machine extensively to overcome transport poverty and for logistics – transporting goods and manage deliveries.

Now in 2050, a lot has changed – we have a well-connected vast network of cycle routes in Mumbai city. One can easily cycle farthest to the city outskirts on the dedicated cycle tracks. And for short distances too, cycling makes a practical sense. Therefore, people prefer to commute by bicycles and more often walk from A to B, and B to C.

There are an average of 4 bicycles in every household and total 8 million inhabitants live in the city. A Mumbaikar rides 15 Kms distance daily; and half of the population cycles to work. Nearly 49% of cyclists are women, not far behind the Netherlands which has 55%. Streets are accessible to people of all abilities and age-groups.

Cycling is introduced at a very early age to the children. Every child is mandated to undertake six months cycle training course; pass the physical tests and get certified by the ‘Mumbai Cycle Training Institute’ authorized by the national government.

The organization in which I work, also provides one time annual allowance to all its employees for purchasing a standard bicycle or an electric bicycle – 100% of purchase value is reimbursed. Carbon credits are allotted annually to the employees for the total distance covered and measured via an app; and are tradedable in the open market for goods and services.

The reason for the growth in cycling and it becoming mainstream, is the combined efforts of activists, NGOs, urban planners, bureaucrats, influencers, citizens and the government. I remember the days of struggle when there was hardly anyone who would listen to our demands. Cyclists were in minority and people laughed whenever we insisted on building cycle tracks or asked ‘if they are willing to cycle to work?’ and the answer was a clear rejection.

The reason for the growth in cycling and it becoming mainstream, is the combined efforts of activists, NGOs, urban planners, bureaucrats, influencers, citizens and the government. I remember the days of struggle when there was hardly anyone who would listen to our demands. Cyclists were in minority and people laughed whenever we insisted on building cycle tracks or asked ‘if they are willing to cycle to work?’ and the answer was a clear rejection.

Things started to change with the efforts of BYCS, an Amsterdam based non-profit enterprise that entered the Indian cycling scene somewhere in 2017. It had a clear vision of 50by30 – half of all commute trips in the world by bicycle by 2030. A lot many people contributed to make this vision a reality. The best practices were sourced from European countries, redesigned to fit India context – geography, climate, culture etc. The cycling associations and their panel of experts were the guiding force in execution of plans.

The global pandemic that brought the world to a halt between *2020 to 2022 also triggered surge in cycling. India was already one of the largest cycle manufacturers in the world and post-pandemic, it took huge strides to earn the status of becoming a global bicycle factory. Bicycles were mass produced, exported and sold in the local market at subsidized rates. Alongside, its quality was maintained and eco-system was created such as cycle stands, technical training and after sales-service. The government of India waived-off all taxes on sale of bicycles which further gave impetus in uptake of bicycling amongst the citizens.

The increase in ridership compelled government authorities to revisit the drawing board, and rebuild the city to meet the evolving needs and the shift in the transportation behavior – from use of private cars to bicycles. They began experimenting with pop-up cycle lanes, drew learning’s, enhanced the designs and later converted the facility into permanent infrastructure. The city was divided into smaller zones, and multiple amenities were created with an aim to achieve ‘15 minute cities’ – where everything is available within the short distance of 15 minutes.

In the post COVID-19 recovery phase, the corporate sector extended the work from home option, which further reduced road traffic, saved commute time and minimized unnecessary trips and carbon emissions. This policy raised productivity and improved mental health of employees with more family time, pursuit of hobbies, fitness activities including cycling.

Lastly, Climate crises and India’s commitment to ‘Paris agreement’ to cut carbon emissions were also a factor why India as a nation turned towards bicycling as a solution to reduce pollution.

Today after thirty years of struggle and progress, you will see even the tourists conveniently enjoy the city’s heritage either on foot or by bicycles. The physically less-abled can cycle comfortably because the street designs are inclusive and equitable.

The struggles of livelihood cyclist who once carried heavy load on roadsters, was resolved with the introduction of electric cargo bikes and cycle-logistics becoming more organized. All thanks to the efforts of International Cargo Bikes Festival based in Nijmegen, in Netherlands for exporting their knowledge, best practices, technology and creating an eco-system conducive for effective use of Cargo Bikes. It has wide applications in the day-to-day life, from grocery shopping to commercial use for logistics. Some people even carry their kids and pets on cargo bikes like in the case of Alok and thousands of others.

Besides cycle paths, Mumbai has built several exclusive underpasses for cyclists, cycle highways and ample of parking facilities all throughout the city. The roundabouts are safest for cyclists where they get priority and ensure smooth flow of traffic. Bicycle rental schemes operate in full-swing 24/7 and are tied-up with public transport for last mile-connectivity. All this and more could not have been possible without the assistance of Dutch Cycling Embassy.

Although, more than a decade late, I’m glad the BYCS mission is successful. The city that we had dreamt about – #50by30 – a ‘Cycling city‘ and a ‘Walk-able city’ is the city I live-in. It’s people-friendly, suites to all age groups, abilities, economic classes and cultural backgrounds.

Mumbai is the Cycling City of My Dream!

Sunrise at Marine Drive Beach. Mumbai.

According to a recent global survey, Mumbai is rated as one of the best cities to live in the world. It ranks 5th for its cycling infrastructure and positioned 4th in the global cities happiness index report.

Mumbai’s climate has improved – it’s predictable and habitable with cleaner air, more greenery and open spaces suited for people from 8 to 80 years old.

I have now reached my workstation and it’s time to start my day.

“It was a good idea in the past to ride a bicycle and it will always be in the future”

This story submission won the second prize in a World Bicycle Day 2021 online contest conducted by the Bicycle Mayor of Udaipur, Yougal Tak.

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Imagined by Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai

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