WHAT BEGAN as a way to beat traffic jams on her way to work has ended up turning Nikita Lalwani into a bicycle crusader. She now runs the Vadodara-based Cycling Cities, a platform that promotes cycling and aims to encourage “at least one-third of the population of every city to take up cycling” as a commuting option. “Three years ago, when work began on a flyover on the route to my office, it almost doubled my commute time. My office was a mere 4 km away, but I would be mostly stuck in traffic, irrespective of whether I was in an auto-rickshaw or car. That’s how I decided to try cycling to work,” she says.
Lalwani is an instrumentation engineer with German MNC Linde, but doesn’t own a car or a scooter. The 27-year-old says it wasn’t a difficult choice to make — she has even convinced many of her colleagues to take to cycling. “I have been cycling since childhood. I grew up in Kota, where I cycled till Class 12 as my parents felt the city was too small for a teenager to be riding a scooter” says Lalwani.
Soon, as cycling turned into a passion, she began thinking of how she could change the way people travelled. “Cities have turned car-centric, when they should be human-centric. I wanted to make cycles more acceptable in the society and on the roads,” she says. Says Anirrudh Chaudhari, 39, a deputy manager at Linde, “Most of us do desk jobs, which are sedentary. But now, inspired by Nikita, I cycle to work even if it is raining. It probably takes me 10 minutes more to get to work, but it’s worth it.”
In June, Lalwani, who earned the title of ‘India’s Bicycle Mayor’ from Netherlands-based global NGO CycleSpace, travelled to Amsterdam to attend the Bicycle Mayor and Leader Summit. Supported by local authorities in Vadodara, Cycling Cities connects cyclists with each other and with cycle shops and repair centres, and clubs and experts in other cities. It also conducts guided cycle tours around the old heritage city. “The major deterrent is the lack of cycling lanes, traffic and also the depleting green cover,” Lalwani says.
Vadodara Mayor Bharat Dangar says things are changing. “We have been trying to implement a public bicycle sharing system in the city. We are very happy to see citizens coming up with such campaigns, which will help us take that project forward.” Lalwani says her mission has come with some personal perks. “With cycling, I no longer have to watch what I eat,” she says.