A sustainable future for Mumbai has to make cycling a part of its present.
With sustainability coming to the forefront of the development discourse, the city of Mumbai is witnessing policy interventions in the form of the Mumbai Climate Action Plan and Mumbai Development Plan 2034, amongst other things. While the aforementioned’s action areas include waste management, urban greening and biodiversity, water resource management, sustainable mobility, etc. and planning blueprints, a vital area with great potential gets neglected. Despite the aim of becoming sustainable, the plans see no specific provisions for developing or promoting non-motorised transport, especially cycling. This becomes of greater importance when considered in light of the place cycling holds in the lives of countless Mumbaikars.
Estimates show that a significant number of people rely on cycling as one of their primary commuting methods in Mumbai. These include livelihood cyclists (dabbawalas, newspaper vendors, milkmen, etc.), labour, students, and members of the lower socioeconomic strata with no feasible alternatives apart from cycling enthusiasts. Some even have to cycle for 30 kilometres or more for work. Additionally, data shows that the biker population shot up by at least 35% post-Covid (as of 2021). In spite of the contributions of these cyclists to the smooth everyday functioning of the city, there are no proper provisions for them or their safety.
The roads of Mumbai do not have dedicated tracks and parking spots for cyclists or smooth roads for cycling. Instead, they are marked by potholes and missing paving blocks alongside frustrated drivers and endless road rage. These factors have proved to be fatal for those on cycles. In 2019 alone, 9 cyclists died on the spot and 38 incurred severe injuries on the roads of Mumbai. Furthermore, even when the cyclists are safe, their cycles are not for theft, too, which is rampant in the city. Lastly, even those who can afford to cycle safely cannot do so because of no parking spots at the first and last mile, congested roads and Mumbai heat. As for the privileged, cycling to their offices is next to impossible due to the lack of shower facilities in offices.
These shortcomings can be attributed to a number of factors including planning issues and a general lack of political will and budget allocations for furthering the cause. Despite a prominent cycling population, the structural design and planning of the city were such that the city was not made for non-motorised transport. The same is reflected in the ongoing developmental projects. For instance, Mumbai now has over 2,000 kilometres of roads and more than 65 flyovers – all encouraging the use of motorized private vehicles. This, in turn, can be tied to the minimal emphasis placed on cycling and cyclists in political conversations and consequent budget allocations for related projects. As a result, the plans initiated in the past like the BKC Cycle Track and the Powai Cycling and Jogging Track have not faired well either.
The solution to this issue then lies in working with these shortcomings to make Mumbai more cyclist-friendly, which will ultimately bring the city closer to achieving its sustainability goals. Doing so is imperative in the city’s growth as becoming cycling-friendly would not only be a sign of being more sustainable but also more inclusive. Given the extant spatial configurations of Mumbai, a mixed cycling infrastructure can be incorporated into existing architecture. Some roads can have dedicated cycling tracks while others can have shared mobility spaces based on the area’s usage patterns and demography. Similarly, citizen needs, especially those of livelihood cyclists’, can be accounted for by including them in the discourse. For instance, considering dabbawalas’ calls for separate wagons and ramps in the locals can reduce the stress for new parking spots and enable more people to use cycles for first and last-mile connectivity at the same time.
Further, capacity-building workshops with key stakeholders can be initiated to engage public voices and offer support and resolution on both ends. Inspiration can also be drawn from other Indian cities that have been successful in fostering safe and sustainable cycling communities. Specific needs can be identified and catered to as was done by Kolkata for livelihood cyclists, Guwahati for students and Jaipur for tourists. Public bicycle sharing can also be presented as a cost-effective option in a fashion similar to that of Bhopal, Ahmedabad, Mysore and Pune. All of this is to say that incorporating cycling safely into the city’s infrastructure can help with not only making it safer for many but also bringing it closer to its sustainability goals.
Although the Mumbai Climate Action Plan has attempted to align itself with national and international commitments of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, it has forgotten to account for the actual prerequisites for doing so. With the advent of carbon removal technology far from sight and minimal adoption of sustainable transportation by both the State and the public, nature-based solutions are then one of its best bets in addition to working with its existent variables. Moreover, with changing land use patterns and new development initiatives such as the metro project, the city is likely to face new challenges and second-order effects. In light of the same, making the city cycling or cyclist friendly then is one of the most feasible, cheapest and inclusive solutions to moving a step closer towards being sustainable.
Sign this petition, and become one of the voices, asking for a better infrastructure for the cyclists of Mumbai.
(Also Read: Cycling Beyond the Margins: A Gendered Perspective)
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