Saturday, September 19, 2015

on Transportation, cycling

From Vinay Nair, shared over Vikal Sangam mailing list. Check out the links.. amazing resources and some very surprising truths

Perhaps this is an opportunity to begin to talk about cycling as a healthier and a more socially & environmentally responsible form of personal transport, and wonder why cyclists are treated as second-class citizens in this country?


Electric carts may well be a viable short-term solution, especially for school-going kids, but it side-steps fundamental flaws in city design. At present Indian cities are far too car-centric with infrastructure projects focused on road-widening (that eat into walkways) or building flyovers. There is no evidence that flyovers actually reduce congestion over the medium-to-long term because 1)they do no accommodate for sheer number of cars on roads and 2)they also fail to consider yearly car sales in a society drenched with car commercials. In the outer suburbs of Bangalore such as Whitefield for example, new building projects are 1000-home apartment complexes that will add at least 700 new cars as new middle and upper middle-class tenants move in. 700 new cars in a neighbourhood that is already creaking is no small number. And that is from just one single apartment complex.


Talk of massive investments in public transportation such as a metro network usually begins when a city is saturated with cars and wants to shift some of that away. But again, as with flyovers, nobody knows at what number that some becomes sufficient to reduce congestion. The Delhi metro is generally put up as the shining example of a modern efficient system that connects all of the city's corners and transports huge amounts of people every day. And for the most part, it is. Yet Delhi's roads are still as clogged as ever and its air is one of the most polluted in the country. Why? Because nobody thought of thinking how many people would choose to drive anyway.


Flyovers, metros and even electric vehicles are classic examples of the technocratic mindset - to invent itself out of problems in the short term. Whichever way we toss and turn it, a car-centric city either has to add more concrete to itself or spread out in search of new land, or both. And we are yet to consider the impact on rural areas where that concrete is found at the expense of forests, agriculture, people etc ..


But this is Vikalp Sangam and what can we do about it? How do we end our love affair with the automobile? How do we make cycling or walking to work or school safe, and more pleasant given our climate? Clearly there are two aspects to it - the technical and the psychological. I believe the technical bit is the easy bit, and that the real challenge lies in people's perceptions on cars, walking, cycling, and modernity.


Some links that document how change was brought to the Netherlands and why myths and perceptions are important (the website is a fantastic resource): (before and after conditions in cities after shifts in policy) (myths and excuses about cycling) (can children and old people cycle?) (child safety)

And finally something funny:

These are from the west, and undoubtedly for India, solutions will have to be tailored. But I think the lessons and the principles are essentially the same.


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