Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Commute in Indian cities

I have been wondering off late about difficulty in daily commute in most Indian cities. The city that I live in, Bangalore, surely has this problem, it is also a problem in most other cities. The average speeds in most Indian cities is now down to single digits kilometers per hour.

So, that got me thinking. From my personal experience, the mass transport system only solves partial problem. It is a great solution that can do a reasonable walk (max couple of kilometers) to a metro (or any other variety) station, take the transport to their place of work and then come back to home the same way. This solution doesn't work for many people who may not have a metro station near their office or home.

One thing is sure, vehicle usage within the city needs to be seriously discouraged. I did 40 kilometers of cycling everyday for a couple of years but had to stop cycling because of constant fear of being run over by mad drivers. I realized after my cycling days, that a cyclist is almost at the bottom of chain of people who are using the roads. The bigger vehicles have no respect for him because they are bigger and even pedestrians don't stop for him because they think, it is just a cycle.

So here is my utopian world looks like. Make cities cycling friendly. Here are the steps that need to be taken at a minimum to make this work. There are similar initiatives that exist in other parts of the world.

  • Take 5 feet distance from both sides of roads and create a cycling lane. Here I don't mean a lane created by painting a yellow line on the road. That is too civilized and will not work in India. To create a cycling lane, do all of the following things.
    • Create proper metal barricades on both sides of the lane. Only cycles are allowed.
    • Pass proper laws, anybody not on cycle in the lane has to be punished by law. 
    • The punishment would not involve paying fine, it has to be a criminal offense, something on the lines of "Causing wilful endangerment to the life of a cyclist" with mandatory jail time.
    • Add special signals just for cyclists for crossing junctions.
    • I understand all these measure would make current traffic situation much worse but I think at some level that is the point. Using vehicle should become so difficult that people are forced to look for alternative and if the government provides them another viable alternative, they will opt for it. This may be a good way to influence public behavior with a good policy.
  • The test for safe cycling environment is that one can take a 10-12 year old child cycling with him without fear of an accident.
  • Owners who hire chauffeurs for their vehicles have to be held criminally liable for the offenses committed by their chauffeurs.
  • Make sure there are no puddles on the road, this would require fixing the drainage system.
When I visited Thimphu, I liked the place just because it is small enough that for practically every purpose you can just walk. But let's be practical, cities can not remain small and walking is not a practical option for most cases. I think cycling the best alternative for making cities safe, environmentally friendly and fun place to live in.