It could soon be the end of the road for cycle tracks in Lucknow, Bareilly and some other cities of UP. The state’s urban development minister, Suresh Kumar Khanna, has justified the move to dismantle the tracks on the grounds “that they are unused and cause traffic congestion”. The tracks were constructed two years ago when the Samajwadi Party held office in UP. The party’s rivals had then seen a political message in reserving large stretches of the state’s roads for the cycle — the SP’s election symbol. Not surprisingly, the SP, now in the opposition, sees political motives behind the move to dismantle the tracks. But there is another aspect to the issue — one that concerns transport, access to roads for non-motorised transport and the environment in general.
The fate of UP’s cycle tracks is another example of the casual manner in which policymakers approach these matters. The state’s former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has, of course, prefaced his criticism of the Yogi Aditynanth government’s move with homilies. “Cycling is beneficial for health, environment and the economy,” he has said. “Conserving the environment,” and “improving people’s health” were also some of the phrases that were used when the cycle tracks were constructed. But creating an eco-friendly transport infrastructure also requires sustained engagement with potential users as well as those likely to be inconvenienced by it. But perfunctory advertising campaigns aside, the Samajwadi Party government did precious little in that direction. The tracks did not have proper lighting and the cyclists had to negotiate billboards, potholes and squatters on their way. At several places, the signboards to indicate the tracks were defaced within months. It’s no surprise then that many cyclists gave up on the tracks, which were reduced to parking zones for autorickshaws and other vehicles. Vendors took over large stretches and the move to encourage the cycle as a “sustainable means of transport” created traffic nuisance.
The UP government should rethink its decision to scrap the bicycle tracks. Most cyclists in the state — as in other other parts of India — belong to the poorer classes, many are daily wagers and students. The salience of their mode of transport has been stressed in literature and policymaking on climate change and low-carbon economy, globally. The SP government too had introduced the cycle tracks as a “sustainable means of transport”. It did not implement its own scheme with the seriousness it deserved. The Adityanath government would be better off revamping the tracks, rather than dismantle them.