Once upon a time, Hyderabad was the ‘City of Cycles’. Ask old timers and they will tell you how the streets were full of cyclists, a complete contrast to the congested mess of cars and motorised vehicles that have taken over all roads, big and small. In olden days, it was much safer for cyclists too, because there were fewer motor vehicles on the roads and therefore, the risk of cyclists meeting with serious or fatal accidents was low. Things, however, have changed drastically now.
As the Bicycle Mayor of Hyderabad, I am in close touch with the cycling community in the city and frequently get to hear of unfortunate incidents, either involving accidents on potholed roads or close calls in hit-and-run cases or shoddy treatment of cyclists by motorists on the streets.
If I look back at the past couple of weeks only, a cyclist from Tankbund met with a hit-and-run accident involving a Honda City in Madhapur. Yet another cyclist, Monu Yadav, was hit by a two wheeler in Kukatpally area. Punctures and broken spokes due to potholed roads in the Nizampet area are a common phenomenon. In fact, I met with an accident myself when I was hit from the rear by an auto at the Biodiversity signal. It took 10 days for me to recover from the injury.
Hyderabad perhaps mirrors the reality in most Indian cities today and justifies the questions being raised around our present model of urbanisation: Is this the right model to follow? Across cities in India, and in many other parts of the world, roads are being made almost exclusively for cars and motor vehicles, with scant thought for pedestrians and cyclists. Can we rethink the entire approach and instead build more inclusive roads that will also invite and accommodate pedestrians and non-motorised transport users?
Let us take a dive into the problems that cyclists in Hyderabad face today. I ask myself, as a daily commuter on bicycle or as one who cycles for utility, do I have a safe route for riding from one place to another in the city? For example, if I have to get out from Madhapur to BHEL or from Banjara Hills to Gachibowli, do I have bicycle lanes that will allow me a smooth, safe ride? Can I allow my 15-year-old daughter to ride to school without any supervision, in the same way that I did in my school days? Unfortunately, the answer to all these questions is a ‘no’.
Just as cyclists are not safe without a bicycle lane, pedestrians in the city also lack continuous footpaths for them to walk safely from one place to another.
How should the city create bicycle lanes?
Bicycle lanes are of different categories – Integrated (no separate lanes), Segregated (demarcated by a painted line drawn to border the bicycle lane), Dedicated (separate roads for cyclists) and Divided (curbs built between bicycle lane and other road users). Currently, we have integrated roads where cyclists have to share the same road space with other motorists. In the absence of any kind of lane discipline, this leaves them increasingly vulnerable to accidents.
There are some segregated lanes in our city, but unfortunately, they are all being misused or violated by car parking, including lanes around KBR park, Hussain Sagar lake.
The first step would be to choose the routes to be prioritised: Which are the most used routes for daily commute to workspaces, for example where are offices and commercial buildings concentrated? One of the first areas that comes to mind is Hi-tech city, and all roads leading to or within Hi-tech city should be targeted. Then there are many government offices in Khairatabad and Lakdikapool area. The roads leading in from Secunderabad, from Gachibowli, Miyapur or Uppal would also be good choices.
Once the routes are chosen, appropriate bicycle lanes must be built based on road space availability and just as for footpaths, continuity should be maintained for all cycling lanes, too, across the city. It would be ideal if the government can seriously rethink town planning to accommodate cyclists and ensure their safety.
Responsibility of citizens
Cyclists include everyone, and do not only include those who cycle for fitness or recreational cyclists, but also those who ride to work or use cycles to earn a livelihood. They might not belong to the upper class of the society, but they contribute significantly to the economy, even as unskilled labour. It is the duty of the government to ensure that road conditions ensure that they are protected.
At the same time, some part of the responsibility for safety also lies with commuters, both on cycles and those driving other motorised vehicles.
Cyclists themselves must:
- Wear helmets,
- Follow all traffic rules,
- Add lights on the front and back
- Stay to the left side of the road.
On the downside, on the same road, they often have to share space with other rash motor vehicle drivers, drivers who come in from the opposite direction, and even drunk drivers. In general, there must be enough sensitisation for all road users and especially those on motorised vehicles.They should
- Maintain lane discipline
- Open doors with due caution
- Follow signals and traffic rules always
- Yield to vehicles on wider roads or pave the way for pedestrians and cyclists, and most importantly
- Respect cyclists and pedestrians on the road.
What cyclists in Hyderabad want
In summary, a three-pronged strategy is needed for city streets to become welcoming for cyclists again:
Education: Fundamental awareness generation and education is critical for all. One of the best ways to do this is by including these aspects in the courses taught and the training imparted at Motor Driving Schools.
Enforcement: Strict Law enforcements for all the motor vehicle drivers in Hyderabad, who must give priority to pedestrians and cyclists.
Encouragement: Government can come forward to encourage citizens to take up cycling and take all the steps outlined above to make it safe for them.