Dr. Viswanathan Iyer has recently been appointed as the new Bicycle Mayor of Mumbai by BYCS – a non-profit organization based in Amsterdam. He is a brain and spine surgeon by profession. He has been cycling since 2011 and uses his cycle to commute to his clinic and hospitals very often. He was the T-ward bicycle councilor for “Cycle Chala City Bacha” (ride a bicycle and save the city) and conducted many cycling promotion activities. He can speak multiple languages and that helps him connect with many people. He dreams of the day when maximum Indians will cycle to work!
I got into a conversation with Dr. Viswanathan Iyer about his appointment as a Bicycle Mayor of Mumbai, his long-term goals and what he intends to do for the bright future of cycling in the city.
Tell us about your cycle to work experience and how others can take it up?
Initially, when I started using cycle to visit my patients in the hospitals, the security guard used to stop me. I had problems with parking the cycle safely. But now most of the staff in the hospitals know that I commute by cycle and very proudly support me. In fact, many of them have started using the cycle to reach the hospitals. I think leading by example is the best way to influence others.
Mumbai is in a middle of a huge transformation with major roads undergoing facelift with Mumbai metro projects, do you see that as a challenge?
I am an eternal optimist and I see the facelift of the roads and the Metro projects as an advantage to promote commute cycling.
What is your target group in terms of communication focus and the core group set you want to get into cycling for various purposes?
My primary focus is people between the 15 to 25 age group, with a strong sense of fitness and environment. They are also the influencers and the future leaders.
In a recent study, Mumbai has been featured in the top list of Most Polluted cities, what can we do to mitigate the issue of air pollution?
Managing the issue of air pollution is a combined effort of the various government bodies, the private sector and the people of the city. Each one has to be aware of the perils of air pollution and try to reduce it.
Despite advancements, the participation of women cyclists in the city remains low, how can we increase gender representation?
Women riders face multiple issues like catcalls, harassment, lack of safe, bathroom facilities etc. With the support of the fellow male riders and the public, women rider numbers will increase.
How do you plan to promote Public Bike Sharing services that help in bridging the gap of last mile connectivity?
Last mile connectivity using public bike sharing services can work only if there is ease of use. It may be better for the various bike sharing companies to have a common platform. So the consumers can easily move from one to another as required.
In what ways do you intend to increase engagement with the cycling community and the government authorities?
The support of NGOs like “Cycle Chala City Bacha”, “Smart Commute Foundation” and “BYCS Global” will help me coordinate with government authorities and increase the engagement with the public.
Since you are a doctor, do we foresee high involvement of the medical fraternity for the growth of cycling under your influence?
I see myself having a distinct advantage as a doctor. I have a reach within the community and my network extends to fellow doctors, staff member’s patients and their families. This will help me encourage people to take up cycling both for fitness and for environment.
In terms of cycling infrastructure, what according to you would be a good idea to implement as a starting point for safe and protected bicycle lanes, cycle stands etc.?
The authorities seem reluctant to make cycling lanes and stands, since we do not have enough critical mass of riders using a bicycle to commute. We must work in parallel- increasing the number of riders and improving the infrastructure.
What measures do you plan to take to enhance road safety for pedestrians and cyclists?
Road safety is a mindset and I believe it will require a constant and emphatic push to change the mindset of Mumbaikars. This is one more area where I think the young generation will make a difference.
What is your message for the Mumbaikars and in what areas do you seek our support to make Mumbai a cycling-friendly city?
As the Bicycle Mayor for the beautiful city of Mumbai, I would request my fellow citizens to start using a bicycle for small distances like shopping, reaching the local railway station, going to school etc. Once we have more people using bicycle for commute, the safety will increase exponentially.
Photo credits: Dr. Viswanathan Iyer, Bicycle Mayor of Mumbai
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