Once upon a time, Pune had the well-deserved sobriquet of ‘the City of Cycles’. Gradually, as cycles gave way to cars and two-wheelers, the city lost that status. Today, Pune ranks among cities with the highest density of vehicles — higher than Mumbai and Delhi — and second only to Chennai.
There have been efforts to popularise the practice of cycling. The efforts sometimes remained restricted to mere lip service, and at other times were launched as campaigns. But they have been met with only one result: Failure.
In the last 10 years, at least half a dozen campaigns have been launched, and they have fizzled out, with crores of rupees going down the drain. The situation on the ground remains as dismal as it was a decade ago. A bicycle rider faces as many difficulties and remains as prone to accidents, as he did a decade ago.
In 2006, when the Pune Bus Rapid Transport System (BRTS) became operational, as was mandated in the JNNURM guidelines, all bus corridors were built with a dedicated cycle track. Pune got about 75 kms of cycle tracks along the various existing and planned BRT corridors. As it widely known, neither the BRTS nor the cycle tracks ever received approval from the public.
In 2008, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Interface, a Dutch NGO, for Cycling Expertise (I-CE), to come up with plans to improve the cycling infrastructure in the city. A Non-Motorised Transport (NMT) cell was also created, but the initiative failed to show any results.
In 2009, the then Municipal Commissioner Pravin Pardeshi took up the cause of promoting non-motorised transport by urging civic officials, corporators and the public to use bicycles. He also initiated a “No Vehicle Day” at the PMC every Tuesday. The ‘No-Vehicle’ Tuesday fizzled out as soon as Pardeshi’s tenure ended.
In 2010, the PMC created a proposal for a pilot public bicycle scheme, which was to be developed on the DBOOT (Design, Build, Own, Operate and Transfer) model. As part of the scheme, the agency was going to provide 300 cycles, which would be made available at 25 cycle stations across the city. The plan received lukewarm response by private bodies; only one bidder showed interest, but later backed off.
In May 2013, the PMC made public its plan to construct a lane, made of synthetic material, for cyclists on the Pune-Saswad Road at a cost of Rs 70.5 lakh. The project never took off.
The civic body then embarked on an ambitious Comprehensive Bicycle Plan (CBP) in July 2013, which is still in the pipeline and progressing slowly. According to those involved in its execution, this plan may finally achieve the concrete result that has eluded all previous efforts.
“This plan has the possibility of… bringing back people to cycling, as it envisages a multi-pronged approach to using cycles as a mode of intra-city transport… The plan had picked up speed after the Union Ministry of Urban Development agreed to bear 80 per cent of the cost… however, in the last few months, it has slowed down,” said Ranjit Gadgil, programme director, Parisar. Gadgil is one of the nine members of the Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) which is supposed to oversee preparation of the comprehensive plan, with the help of the three technical consultants appointed by the PMC.
The BAC held its first meeting on January 6, 2016, and it was expected to submit the draft CBP within nine months. It is already nine months past the deadline.
According to Gadgil, the reason for overshooting the deadline is that PMC officers have shown little interest in the project. “The BAC was supposed to meet every month, but only four meetings have taken place in the last 18 months. The draft proposal, presented in December 2016, can, at best, be called a precursor to the draft plan since it has many improvement areas. We haven’t heard about the plan since then,” said Gadgil.
PMC officials said the CBP has taken a backseat, with PMC Commissioner Kunal Kumar showing more interest in the Public Bicycle Sharing (PBS) system, under which 7,000 bicycles are to be provided at a few hundred stations across the city. With a membership, users can pick up a cycle from any of the stations and drop it at another station.
“The PBS is a small component of the Comprehensive Bicycle Plan. It can’t work until other plans and components are worked out and executed,” said Gadgil. Shriniwas Bonala, head of the Traffic Planning Department, and Municipal Commissioner Kunal Kumar weren’t available for comment.
Other civic officials said the tender for PBS is expected to come out soon and the scheme would be on the tracks within a few months.