Wellness on Wheels




“Most cities have been designed around mobility for cars, and it is high time we change this and start designing cities around human mobility,” - Rob de Jong, Head of UN Environment’s Air Quality and Mobility Unit.


Almost everyone nowadays understands and agrees that cycling is beneficial for one’s mind, body and the environment yet most people still resist cycling. There are various reasons – many people still believe cycles as poor man’s vehicle, that cycles are slow vehicles and they prefer faster vehicles, many aspire to own a personal motor vehicle whenever their finances permit. There are others who say that the city terrain and even the weather is not conducive. However, the biggest concern is safety - of one’s own or one’s near and dear one’s life or limb.


Safety of cyclists

A few behavioural changes, like the ones mentioned below will help make our streets safer. Their impact can be easily observed by everyone.


People who drive motor vehicles can make the city streets safer by respecting other users of the road. They need to understand the values of sharing the road with others. Lessening the vehicle speed and giving space to slower vehicles specially cyclists to pass will go a long way in preventing accidents. Road rage and behaving as if one owns the road does not help anyone.

Secondly following traffic rules help prevent a lot of accidents. These rules need to be followed by all users of the roads and it includes cyclists also.


Some safety measures are about physical interventions.


Cyclists can themselves take care of their safety by wearing kits like elbow and knee guards as well as Helmets. Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), based out of Birmingham, UK, strongly recommends cyclists wear a cycle helmet. Helmets might not prevent crashes or guarantee survival, but they are an important safety feature and can reduce the risk of a serious brain or head injury in an accident.


Development of proper cycling infrastructure specially dedicated cycling lanes is the best way that will ensure maximum safety for cyclists. Although cycling infrastructure includes cycle parking areas, cycle carrying facilities in public transport and cycling lanes this article will delve more into cycling lanes.


Cycling Lanes

According to a study named ‘Why cities with high bicycling rates are safer for all road users’ by Wesley E. Marshall and Nicholas N. Ferenchak, that appeared in June 2019 issue of Journal of Transport and health, - Cities with high bicycling mode shares have surprisingly good road safety records. The study conducted with data from 12 US cities spread over 13 years by researchers at the University of Colorado Denver and the University of New Mexico discovered cities with protected and separated bike lanes had 44 percent fewer deaths than the average city.


Notably, they found that painted lines on the road did not help bring down deaths for all road users, with only physical barriers observed as reducing fatalities. “Regular, painted bike lanes turned out to be insignificant,” said study co-author Wesley Marshall. “These may help in terms of bicyclist safety but weren’t a factor when we focused on all road users.” They found out that the places with a lot of bicycling turned out to be some of our safest places – and not just for bicyclists.


Caution

Cycling lanes have been created in many Indian cities and sadly many of these projects have been badly implemented or designed without fully recognizing the limitations and problems faced by cyclists. As has been mentioned in the National Urban Transport Policy 2014 such facilities should be constructed after open debate with experts and intended beneficiaries. Non-Motorised Transport guidelines provided by Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) have also emphasised on the same.


Cycle Lanes need to be along the routes which have maximum traffic of cyclists. Cycling should not be looked just as a recreational activity and park like facilities created to cater to a very exclusive group of users. Cycling lanes need to be contiguous and not constructed at just some corner of the city. City planners need to take into consideration the rights of cyclists and pedestrians and their equitable use of city street space and not just implement projects keeping private cars in mind.


Infrastructure facilities constructed for public utility must be created where the users need them and not where the implementing agency deems fit. Public appraisal and participation would lead to better street designs that enable greater use by the potential beneficiaries.


Not following such best practices have led to wastage of huge sums of public money. One such glaring example is the 250 kms cycle lane made in Uttar Pradesh a few years ago. Presently vast tract of the lane has either been destroyed due to lack of maintenance or has been encroached upon.

This article was written by Arshel Akhter and had first appeared in The Assam Tribune (Sunday reading supplement) on 10th October 2019

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