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Cycling for Urban India: 10 Ways Indian Cities Benefit from Cyclists

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

Cycling for the health of the planet, the economy and humankind.

Artwork by Tanishk Katalkar

The benefits of cycling are countless, well-accepted, and far and wide. However, what is lesser known are the ways in which cycling can benefit those beyond the one pedalling – including other individuals and structural entities such as cities. This holds especially true for Indian cities, wherein the act of cycling can not only bring about community welfare but also enhance the state of the city and its economy, amongst other things. This article explores ten of the many ways in which it does so.


Cycling helps fight climate change

Indian cities are increasingly facing worsening conditions due to climate change, with rising carbon emissions and temperatures and decreasing resources being one of the biggest challenges. Excessive human activity and development projects, too, are exacerbating these conditions and causing more and more Indian cities to experience the urban heat island effect; a recent analysis indicated that the resultant temperature increase in our cities could be anywhere between 2°C and 9°C. In a situation like this, cycling presents our cities with a cost-efficient solution. It reduces carbon emissions while helping improve the overall city environment.



Cycling conserves residential spaces

Another notable feature of Indian cities today is an increase in concrete structures with negligible to no green cover. Cycling can help change this by improving climate conditions and creating opportunities for less concrete and more plant life.


Cycling adds years to the roads’ life.

The benefits of cycling for the city’s infrastructure even extend to its roads, which are in bad shape due to countless potholes and continuous wear and tear more often than not. In contrast to the effects of motorised vehicles on these roads, cycling contributes to road conservation. This is owing to the minimal load it puts on the surface and the relatively reduced surface it uses.

Cycling reduces congestion and related costs.

Indian cities are also particularly congested to the extent that a significant amount goes towards dealing with its consequences, such as increased travel costs and fuel consumption, driver stress, etc. A 2013 Bangalore-based study suggested that just a 1% shift of commuters to non-motorised vehicles such as cycles in a single day could lead to mammoth savings of Rs 2,50,000. In addition to the monetary benefits, it has the potential of reducing accidents and related costs too.




Cycling eases the burden on public health institutions.

Given the various (often unhealthy) sedentary lifestyle patterns present in our cities in addition to the frequent fatal accidents there, a significant number of residents experience hypertension, cardio, diabetes and vascular diseases, and mental health issues, to name a few things. These conditions have not only reduced quality of life but have also started leading to premature deaths. As a result, current health-related government and private spendings are massive. These issues, too, can be alleviated through cycling, ultimately reducing such costs. Cycling is likely to have positive effects on both mental and physical health. For instance, a study projects that Cycling 3.5 kilometres every day for 120 days might prevent up to 4,756 premature deaths.


Cycling creates safer, equal and better communities.

Our cities also stand a chance of benefiting from cyclists as more cyclists instead of motor-vehicle users can create safer roads for all. This is because the presence of such non-motorised vehicles has the potential of safeguarding not only those on the road but also pedestrians. Furthermore, city-wide facilities for cyclists can also improve access to jobs, education and health facilities for those with no better, feasible alternatives than cycling. This can go a long way in enhancing connectivity between places and enabling different sections of society, especially women, to access amenities. A probable instance of this could be increased female school enrolment and attendance, which will ultimately promote gender equality and lead to empowerment.

Cycling allows riders to connect intimately with their city and its communities

A lesser talked about the benefit of cycling is that the very experience of cycling can create an opportunity for the rider to truly immerse themselves in the city. With the anonymity that accompanies city life and the fast-paced life that city dwellers live, riding on a bicycle becomes a medium of witnessing and acknowledging the city with all its elements – including the ones that we turn a blind eye to. Furthermore, it has the potential of breaking down walls between communities and helping them connect. Bicycles then become catalysts for understanding issues plaguing the city and nudging citizens to work towards resolving them actively.


Cycling produces hard economic value and jobs

The presence of a significant cycling population can also have profound effects on the city’s economy. This is because such a presence creates more work opportunities, especially for those in the repair economy. A few relevant subsectors here include retail, industry, infrastructure, tourism and services. Not only that, but cycling-related facilities can also improve property values in any given residence. Bike trails and other such facilities have been shown to positively impact home values in several cities already.


Cycling improves our GDP

Owing to the many economic benefits listed above projected to result from cycling, our overall gross domestic product stands a chance to be improved. Having a population that cycles for short distances can bring us closer to this. A 2019 study by The Energy Resources Institute suggested that such cyclists can provide benefits of up to Rs 1.8 lakh crores to our economy.


Cycling suits the narrow lanes of our cities better

Lastly, barring these socioeconomic benefits of cycling, it is also pragmatically suited for Indian cities. This is due to our cities’ spatial configuration, wherein there are more narrow spaces than wide lanes. Both connectivity and accessibility will be improved with increased cycling or cyclists and cycling-related facilities. Additionally, such a switch will ultimately reduce congestion and related consequences. For instance, in the city of Mumbai, where footpaths have been encroached on for vehicle parking and road widening, a switch to cycling will not only reduce the need for the aforementioned but also enhance safety, especially for pedestrians.


In order to reap the benefits, what is needed first is a well-defined framework to implement the plans in place. Sign this petition and become a part of the movement striving to make urban India a better place.

References

Blondiau, T., van Zeebroeck, B., & Haubold, H. (2016). Economic Benefits of Increased Cycling. Transportation Research Procedia, 14, 2306–2313.


Falcocchio, J. C., & Levinson, H. S. (2015). The Costs and Other Consequences of Traffic Congestion. Road Traffic Congestion: A Concise Guide, 159–182.


Gandhiok, J. (2019, January 14). Health is wealth, literally. How cycling can give GDP a boost. The Times of India.


Kumar, S., & Karthikeyan, S. (2022, July 31). Can cycling emerge as the best medium of transport? Financial Express.


Liu, J. H., & Shi, W. (2017). Impact of Bike Facilities on Residential Property Prices. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, 2662(1), 50–58. https://doi.org/10.3141/2662-06


Rahul, T., & Verma, A. (2013). Economic impact of non-motorized transportation in Indian cities. Research in Transportation Economics, 38(1), 22–34.


Reduce Urban Heat Island Effect. (2022, March 23). US EPA.


Tandon, A. (2022, April 15). [Explainer] What are urban heat islands? Mongabay-India. https://india.mongabay.com/2022/04/explainer-what-are-urban-heat-islands/


The Real Reason Why Bicycles are the Key to Better Cities | Smart Cities Dive. (n.d.). https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/ex/sustainablecitiescollective/real-reason-why-bicycles-are-key-better-cities/25116/


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