I had never imagined that I would be able to cycle in the middle of the road, thanks to Car Free Day organized by Mumbai Police. Car Free Day also called #SundayStreets, this campaign started with 6 streets going car free on the 1st Sunday and 9 streets on the 2nd Sunday from morning 6am to 10am. The number of locations will increase and more streets will be added, suggests the twitter handle of Mumbai Police.
Cycling in the middle of the road was never a dream but it has become a reality. I can ride with complete freedom without being intimidated by car drivers. I don’t have to worry about getting hit by a vehicle approaching from behind. Neither do I have to watch-out for wrong side drivers. My brain doesn’t have to multi-task and it can relax and enjoy the ride.
Instead of traffic, the Car Free street is taken over by children, pets and youngsters playing outdoor games. It’s such a pleasant site to see people of varied age groups come out in large numbers. At Least for a few hours of the day, the streets are reclaimed by people who can walk freely. The black roads turn into a large canvas on which children draw their imagination. The whole street is alive and a vibrant place for community engagement.
So far, I had only read about the concept of Car Free Day, but this is the first time in my life I have witnessed it. I am a part of it. I feel cared and valued by the authorities who are responsible for the wellness of its citizens. Somewhere the change has to begin and this is a good start I believe.
Mumbai is a large city and densely populated. It has its own share of problems. The fast paced lifestyle leaves very little time for people to engage at a broader level. The idea of going Car Free is a welcome change for the society to explore their neighborhoods. What Mumbai needs is a fresh mindset towards its urban lifestyle and the #SundayStreets provides just the right platform for people to come out of routine. It is an opportunity for the public to form new habits, think differently, act differently, and lead a healthier life.
Cycling is one of the many outdoor sports that the Car Free Day promotes. The cycling community surged during the pandemic outbreak but the numbers dipped when the city went into unlock mode. It was business as usual and people once again avoided cycling due to high traffic. But post-pandemic, Car Free Day has once again turned the tables and we can see more people cycling now. It is a good sign that more and more youngsters and elderly are cycling for fun and recreation. From here on, some of them will graduate to become endurance cyclists and cycle long distances, some will pursue cycle to work, some may stick to leisure cycling while some may drop-out due to reasons of their own. Overall scenario will change as the ridership will grow in the city. This will compel authorities to create cycling infrastructure and facilitate commuter cyclists in the future. Even though to become a cycling city it is a long process and will take decades to make the shift, the time to do that is right now.
We are witnessing a spike in global oil prices due to the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine and many other international macro-economic factors. The Indian government is rapidly increasing the fuel prices almost on a daily basis. People have started to feel the pinch of expensive fuel cost and it has hit their monthly transportation budgets. This is the time to make an alternate choice and choose cycling as an economical mode of personal transport. Cycling to work might be difficult in the beginning but the sacrifice of traveling via a car will be almost negligible compared to the gains achieved by cycling in the long-term. People can start by taking-up short trips of 2-3kms on a bicycle and gradually go further. The benefits of cycling far outweighs the costs that are incurred to create road infrastructure for cars.
We need to become a car-lite society by strengthening the public transport systems which Mumbai is already doing with the ongoing Metro projects. Once the metro network gets fully operational, the dependency on cars will be reduced. More people will opt for public transport. The next big thing should be to reduce the speed of cars to 30 Kms an hour as implemented in European cities. This will minimize accidents and improve road safety. Cyclists will be able to share the road confidently and pedestrians will feel much safer.
Eventually, more cycling uptake means Business of bicycles will increase. It will help in creating more jobs and boost the economy. Growing demand will see opening up of new cycle shops and enhanced retail business. New start-ups will flourish and the existing players will expand their operations. So, it’s a win-win situation for the bicycle industry.
It is my wish to see Mumbai become a cycling city and therefore I constantly advocate for it. It requires a collective effort and a strong will to mitigate climate change and cycling helps in the cause since it ticks many of the sustainable development goals set by the United Nations. The world is more united with cycling. It’s a better place to live, work and play. Cycling is peaceful and harmonious.
I know that things will not change so fast, perhaps not in my lifetime. For now, I am happy to cycle in the middle of the road on a Car Free Day. I can assume it’s a cycle path – a temporary one established for cycling lovers like me. Thanks so much Mumbai Police!
You might also like to read: CYCLING CITY OF MY DREAM!
Enjoy the photo album:
Author: Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai