More Cycles, Less Cars

Cars are the most inefficient modes of transport for cities. They pollute, they cause congestion and they kill.

Even though the automobile is one of the key drivers of the Indian economy it is also one of the prime reasons for the rising pollution levels in cities around the country. As per a study done by IIT Delhi the transport sector contributes 22.5% of all particulate matter. Many steps have been taken to reduce the amount of pollutants coming out of automobiles and the government is in-fact planning to have 30% of all vehicles to be electric by 2030. Problem is electric cars do not directly pollute but they do not lessen congestion.

The average car takes up space of more than 6 cycles and is 80% empty when driven or occupied by one person. These are parked 90% to 95% of the time taking up lot of space for parking.

With more cars on our city streets our daily commutes are becoming slower and more stressful. The streets cannot become any broader chiefly because there is not enough space left. And more importantly it’s not wise to keep increasing the streets since the rule of diminishing returns kicks in caused by Induced Traffic Demand. Research has found that with an increase in road width to ease congestion more people are induced to buy more cars and use them more frequently resulting in more congestion after a few years. If the idea is to reduce congestion then we need to reduce cars from our streets rather than just widening the streets to accommodate more cars.

According to a study by the University of Michigan and IIT Delhi, Cyclists and Pedestrians account for more than half of all road fatalities in the country. There has been an increase of 8-10 times in the number of fatalities during road traffic accidents in Assam between the period 1996 to 2016.

Cars make the people inactive and unhealthy. The economic, human and environmental costs of inactivity and traffic congestions are huge. The average trip length in Guwahati is 4.1 kms across all modes of transport combined. TERI's analysis shows if 50% of two-wheeler and four-wheeler trips under the average distance of 5 km shift to cycling can bring significant environmental benefits and economic savings of upto Rupees 1,435 billion.

Cars just fulfil the aspirations of the people. It is one of the biggest liabilities for both the owners and the society. You spend a lot of money to run it, maintain it, pay regular taxes and insurance premiums for it without any positive returns.

Luckily for us Guwahati is not yet among the most polluted cities in the countries and nor do we spend the most amount of time commuting. Our luck may not last long if we do not take corrective measures. We need to shift our focus from car centric infrastructure development to people centric. We need our streets to move people rather than cars and other motor vehicles.

Non-Motorised Transport (NMT) i.e. walk, cycle and cycle rickshaw are green modes of transport that belong to the low carbon path, do not consume energy or cause pollution, provide social equity and in addition provides employment.

All urban mobility issues can be solved by an efficient public transport system combined with NMT facilities to take care of last mile connectivity. The good thing is that a number of policies are already in place to make the transition.

Policies and Projects

As per the Guwahati Smart City project presently, 45% of the road space is being occupied by parking, and once freed up a lot of this space will enable construction of barrier-free international class sidewalks and cycle-tracks for the city in addition to giving space for the buses to be operated smoothly, ensuring clear safe passage through specially marked bus-lanes.

The previous Guwahati Comprehensive Mobility Plan 2008 envisages 50% of all trips to be on NMT. The dedicated cycle lanes need to be provided on all mobility corridors of the city. The non-motorized vehicle lanes should be continued and form a smooth flow network.

Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India (MoUD) issued the National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) in 2006, to bring about comprehensive improvements in urban transport services and infrastructure. The policy focus is on moving people rather than vehicles.

As per the State Annual Action Plan for Assam for the years 2017-20 an amount of Rupees 82.74 crores has been earmarked for development of NMT facilities in Guwahati under AMRUT

Promoting Cycling

It is just not enough to create dedicated cycle lanes in the city. There should be disincentives to owning and riding private motor vehicles in city streets.

Some of the ways are – congestion fees, high parking fees and high interest rates for car loans. Parking on the road should be heavily penalised. At the same time parking at dedicated parking spaces need to be incentivised by lesser parking fees.

The streets of Guwahati are wide enough for dedicated cycling lanes. Cycling lanes should be built on the busiest streets where most people need to move. Cycling should be seen as a mode of transport and not just as a recreational or sporting activity. The benefits of cycling are not lost on anybody they just need a safe and conducive environment to keep cycling.


This article was written by Arshel Akhter and had first appeared in The Assam Tribune (Horizon - the Friday supplement) on 9th August 2019

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