Cycle tracks in KK Nagar are used for parking and vending
CHENNAI: Commuting post-Covid will not be the same. A survey by Institute of Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) has found that cycling will increase by 50%-65%, including trips to workplaces and shops as cities come out of lockdown.
But is Chennai’s infrastructure good enough to ensure cyclists maintain ‘social distance’ from cars and bikes when the traffic resumes? To address that, the Smart Cities Mission has thrown a challenge at the city’s administrators – find temporary solutions that can give cyclists their long overdue right of way.
For starters, pop-up cycle tracks may be a new feature on the city’s roads. These temporary tracks ideally involve construction of an elevated lane made of a synthetic track that would be three to four inches above the road to give the cyclist a smooth ride. Across the world, such lanes are being experimented temporarily by placing traffic bollards separating the lane from main roads. It may become permanent features based on the usage. For example, in London several such lanes are being set up and a 30km car-free zone is in the pipeline.
“If these pop-up lanes come up in the city, it will be beneficial. But we would need strict enforcement from the police to ensure they remain free from encroachment and exclusive for cyclists,” said Gratian Govias, president of Chennai Amateur Cyclist Association, and cycling coach.
V Padmapriya, a city-based cyclist, said any infrastructure for non-motorised transport requires awareness and education to ensure people use it the right way. “The 3.5km stretch from Island Ground to Napier bridge through Kamarajar Salai has trucks parked on them. So a dedicated cycling lane is just on paper. Even on Raj Bhavan road, two-wheelers enter cycling lanes. Unless and otherwise there is lane discipline, it is very difficult to implement or put to use,” she said.
Under this challenge, 140 cities across the country, including 11 in Tamil Nadu, will participate and come up with temporary and quick interventions to promote cycling. They will have to complete a pilot project by October that can be scaled up in future. Eleven best projects will be selected and awarded Rs 1cr.
Kunal Kumar, joint secretary smart cities mission, said Indian cities have already begun promoting cycling as a response to the pandemic. Kolkata has proposed a dedicated cycle corridor by reclaiming parking spaces. In Guwahati, a survey for citizens to vote for best routes for bicycle lanes is being conducted. The cities should identify a nodal officer and other members of the team who are expected to coordinate on the planning, design and implementation of the challenge.
Ashwathy Dilip from ITDP said there should be coordination between the citizen and the infrastructure created for them. “Lot of people are buying cycles as gyms are closed, traffic has reduced and there is no mode for exercise. While 3% use it for connectivity, 7% use it for recreation. But cycling is not picking up due to safety concerns and lack of physical infrastructure. Also, access to cycles is an issue because either a rich person cycles for fitness and recreation or a poor man uses it as he has no other choice to commute. We need to provide cycles through rent, sharing, free schemes, community intervention programmes and extensive campaigning to break stigma and make it attractive. All of this will be part of the project,” she said.