The India Cycles4Change challenge is beginning to gain momentum in Indian cities. The challenge was launched last year under the Smart Cities Mission by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs on 25th June, 2020, as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic that was gaining ground in the country. Over the last year, a cycling revolution has taken over India, with cycling being seen as an important mode of safe and healthy personal transport medium that ensures social distancing, while being environmentally sustainable.
As the COVID-19 pandemic was making inroads across the country, cycling saw a huge rise in demand. The lockdown restrictions had significantly affected the commuters of public transport, who saw cycling as a personal and COVID-safe alternative for short and medium distance commute. Moreover, cycling was also seen as a means of staying healthy- physically and mentally by the people who were confined to their homes.
In this backdrop, with the launch of India Cycle4Change challenge, 107 cities registered to be a part of the cycling revolution and 41 cities undertook initiatives vis. surveys, discussions, pop-up cycle lanes, safer neighbourhoods, open street events, cycle rallies, or online campaigns that were aimed at creating a cycle friendly city. Cities as part of the campaign have initiated work covering approx. 400 kms of arterial roads and more than 3500 kms of neighbourhood streets. The Smart Cities Mission, in association with Institute for Transport and Development Policy (ITDP) conducted training modules and other capacity building initiatives to guide 107 cities on various cycling initiatives.
Progress since launch of the challenge:
The challenge had a Test-Learn-Scale (TLS) approach which the participating cities adopted by testing various initiatives through quick low-cost interventions in the first phase of the challenge, learning from them, and preparing for scale up in the second phase. The key intervention areas identified for piloting of solutions are as under.
1. Identifying barriers to cycling by listening to the people
Cities undertook perception surveys to understand citizens needs with regard to cycling. Several city leaders took the lead by cycling themselves and engaging with cycle users and other citizens to get a better sense of their perspective.
To understand cycling needs, the cities conducted surveys and interviews and engaged with more than 60,000 people throughout the country.
The engagement initiatives included people from diverse usergroups including inter alia; the team interviewed postmen in Rajkot; roundtable discussions with women were conducted in Hubli Dharwad and Kakinada; and Aizawl involved children in the cycle rides to understand their concerns.
2. Making streets and neighbourhoods safe and fun for cycling
Cities created dedicated cycle lanes to help cyclists ride safely.
Cities like Bhubaneswar, Surat, Kochi, Greater Warangal used traffic cones, bollards, and paints to test out interventions. Aurangabad reused tyres as planters to segregate their cycle lanes from motor vehicle traffic.
Many cities like Vadodara and Gurugram made intersections safer for cyclists and pedestrians to cross by painting colourful crosswalks. Chandigarh also installed cycle signals to prioritise cyclists at junctions.
To make neighbourhood streets safer for everyone, cities like Bangalore and Jabalpur designated ‘slow zones’, restricting motor vehicle speed through speed breakers, chicanes, and road signs.
New Delhi created a cycle plaza for children in the Lodhi Garden Colony by rerouting vehicular traffic.
3. Creating a cycling community
Local Civil Society Organisations were engaged with to conduct various events at a large scale and in neighbourhoods level to bring the cycling community together.
Pimpri Chinchwad, Kohima, Great Warangal, Nagpur, Panaji and many other cities hosted rallies and cyclothons, bringing thousands of cyclists onto the streets.
In neighbourhoods, open street events— where streets are made into temporary public spaces by blocking out car and motor vehicle traffic and allowing people to walk, jog, play and cycle—built the confidence of women, children, and new cyclists.
Cities such as Jabalpur, New Town Kolkata hosted cycle repair clinics to make cycle service accessible and affordable, encouraging more people to come on to the streets.
As a direct impact of these pilots, many RWAs demanded cycling-friendly neighbourhoods from their city authorities.
4. Empowering women to cycle
Many cities including Nashik, New Town Kolkata, and Bengaluru hosted cycle training camps for older women, boosting their confidence to cycle.
To improve access to cycles, Kohima, Rajkot, and Chandigarh launched cooperative cycle rental schemes and public bicycle sharing systems in neighbourhoods.
These initiatives were particularly empowering for women, giving them an affordable means to move freely in their cities.
5. Changing everyday behaviour through campaigns
Cities such as Rajkot and Jabalpur launched Cycle2Work campaigns, where senior officials of the government pedalled to office to inspire citizens to cycle.
In Rajkot, the city distributed cycles to employees, awarded them for their efforts, and regularly showcased the carbon offset they had achieved through cycling. Other business organisations also embraced the Cycle2Work campaign, offering incentives to employees, inducing a shift to cycling.
To ensure sustained efforts on the front, cities are also setting up departments focused on cycling with the help of transport experts and government stakeholders. Over 30 cities have initiated work to adopt a Healthy Streets Policy, which sets out the vision, goals, and the steps required to transform city streets into safe, attractive, and comfortable spaces for walking and cycling. Having tested and learnt from these pilots, cities are now developing cycling plans to scale-up these initiatives across their cities to achieve the goals set out in the policy. This will lead the way for different government departments and citizens to work together towards a walking and cycling-friendly nation.
As a part of their post Covid recovery plans, cities across the world are quickly testing cycling infrastructure and then making it permanent to rebuild. The pandemic has also highlighted the need for affordable and sustainable options for women’s mobility to compete in a post-COVID 19 economy. Cycling can play an important role to address this as a sustainable and equitable mode of transport. Moreover, in the future, cities must become compact and inclusive, to meet the needs of all residents within 15 minutes by walk, cycle, and public transport. This will reduce carbon emissions, increase safety, and enhance liveability.
The pandemic is an opportunity for cities to reinvent themselves. Through quick and easy interventions, more Indian cities can support the vulnerable population during this crisis, while also strengthening social, economic, and environmental development. As per reports, As per ITDP, Investments in cycling infrastructure have economic benefits of up to 5.5 times the initial investment. Cycling for short distances can result in an annual benefit of INR 1.8 trillion to the Indian economy. Indian cities must prioritise cycling, walking, and public transport to build resilience to face future pandemics but to also effectively tackle climate change.