Lack of dedicated bicycle lanes, unruly motorists, and encroachment by street vendors have left Chennai residents feeling discouraged from cycling on the city’s roads. Many cyclists feels they get little support from other road users who tend to sideline them, literally, and, sometimes, even knock them down. During peak hours, motorists even use the footpaths, exposing pedestrians to danger.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, Felix John, the ‘Bicycle Mayor’ of Chennai, says the city corporation needs to enforce strict rules for lawbreakers.
“In the recent past, many have started using a bicycle as a mode of transport to commute, but the safety aspect remains a point of debate. Riding with safety gear or a line of demarcation alone doesn’t guarantee safety, the other road users need to change their attitude, and they should learn to give way to cyclists. The most vulnerable people are the pedestrians, the food paths are encroached by street-vendors, motorists, and sometimes party flags,” John says.
‘Bicycle Mayor’ is an initiative by an Amsterdam-based social enterprise that encourages cycling. The organisation has 100 plus Mayors around the country.
The 3.5-km lane track implemented by the city corporation in KK Nagar for cyclists and pedestrians was well received by locals as it helped school students and others commute without any hindrance. But, in less than a year, motorists began to trespass the lane citing traffic jams. The end result: cyclists and pedestrians are forced to expose themselves to the city traffic.
“The main issue with our city is the lack of maintenance. In a bid to protect the environment, the state government comes up with many projects. It will be inaugurated grandly, but after some years the same place will deteriorate. Take KK Nagar as an example, they laid two lanes in that area as there are many schools in that area. Now, if you go and see there the entire area in been encroached, it is used as a parking space. Then came the smart city plan, the bicycle lane was laid around 17.5 kilometers around areas like Sardarpatel road, Island grounds, and an area near Marina. Slogans like ‘Give Way for Bicycles’ are written on the roads, signboards are kept, but nothing is been followed by the public. There is a big gap between planning and executing, they are not thinking people-centric,” says John.
John adds that there is no law to register an FIR in case a motorist knocks down a cyclist, unless the injuries are grievous.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, Babu, a senior official at the Chennai Corporation said they are working on the process to make Chennai, a better city for cyclists. “We understand the cyclists’ concerns, other road users are overtaking on lanes dedicated to them, the corporation is taking steps to address it soon. Yesterday the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCP) launched the ‘Mega street Project’ programme to improve the arterial and sub-arterial streets around the city. The state government is going to conduct a safety audit, the centre has allocated funds for this program. This will help us improve the condition of the city,” he said.
Mithran, a 25-year-old cyclist from Chennai says safety is a concern for riders. “Early in the morning, you can hardly see any patrolling vehicle. Recently, one of our group members got hit by a motorist even though he was following lane discipline. Apart from this, few miscreants specifically target cyclists who are riding alone, so we always prefer to ride in groups and also in our cyclist group, we are advised not to wear any gold or other expensive items when we are riding. If the corporation aims to make this city cyclist-friendly, it should focus primarily on safety aspects,” he said.
“When I go cycling in Pedestrian plaza early morning, I used to see autos and tri-cycles been parked over the footpaths. People sleep inside those vehicles, if the police are not controlling them, the number of vehicles will increase. Middle-aged people like us know to navigate the roads, but old-aged persons who are riding bicycles on a daily basis are facing a lot of trouble from the other road users. Cycling is different from riding a two-wheeler, the momentum goes down for a cyclist if they are disturbed. By conducting events and awareness drives we are getting closer to the public, but that’s not enough we have to gain momentum,” says John.
John, who is also an office bearer of “We are Chennai Cycling Group’’ (WCCG), wants corporates and other private players to encourage their workers to commute using bicycles.
“Corporates should get involved and encourage their workers who stay closer to the office to commute in bicycles. It’s not something new, It’s been followed across the globe, we just need to implement it. They should provide a parking space for bicycles, four of them can be parked in one space they provide for cars.”
WCCG has over 5,000 registered cyclists around the city and focuses primarily on neighborhood cycling. “The group was formed in 2012, and since 2015, it actively began to conduct various events every second-Sunday of the month. There are different genres in cycling like commuting, recreational, endurance, etc. Around 2,500 active riders belonging to WCCG are there in the city, most of them come for fitness reasons. Our primary focus is to encourage neighborhood cycling, we have 11 ride chapters across the city,” he says.
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