Transition to pedal

The world is discussing going back to cycling-to-work days. How can we contribute to better environment in 100 km cities?

By Avikal Somvanshi
Published: Friday 06 December 2013

The world is discussing going back to cycling to work days. How can we contribute to better environment in 100 km cities?


It will be amazing if everyone could cycle to work, but that is a utopian notion. Nowadays, with cities sprawling beyond geographical limits most people are living further and farther away from work, which is a problem in itself and deserves a blog of its own. But the question here is given the current scenario how does one transition to a cycle? The mode of commute to work or to any other destination has to be logical, based on distance and not just passion. In spite of my passion for cycling, I opt for the Metro rail and shared-autorickshaw combo when occasionally I need to commute to office from my sibling’s place which is 30 km from office.

People are quick to assume a “cycling haven” demands everyone to cycle to everywhere, all the time. It doesn’t work like that. Cycling makes sense only if the destination is within 10 km. Hats off to people who are cycling 20+ km daily to work. But let’s get realistic. For a normal being, the sheer physical effort involved will be a little too much, even if we have continuous dedicated cycling lanes. After all, we need to work after reaching office and cannot afford the sweet muscle pain and cramps which will follow after such rigorous exercise. That is if one’s work is not to prepare for le tour de France.

Feeder to public transport

If you live far off and take the public transport, your transition can be from the autorickshaw from the doorstep to bus stop, or metro station as the case may be. Urban planners call this the last mile connectivity. Cities have now started initiatives to fix this problem. Bicycle sharing schemes are being doled out so that even the need for a private cycle can be eliminated from one’s daily commute. The vision is to allow anyone to rent a cycle at nominal cost to cover those last to and fro few kilometres to public transport. Namma Cycle is such a scheme working at the Indian Institute of Sciences campus in Bengaluru. Mumbai and Delhi experimented with the scheme but were not very successful. A lot of infrastructure besides cycling lanes needs to be put in place by city authorities for this to take off. Then there are some major logistical challenges, like secure long-term parking facility at these transport hubs for one’s private cycle. Cycle theft is a serious problem because of the ease with which it can be carried out. Even at home I park my cycle on the terrace every night.

Cycle errands

Both cycling to work and cycling to public transport may be not possible for many but don’t get disheartened, try cycling to run your daily errands. Trade your motorised vehicle for the pedal for those small trips to the neighborhood grocery shop. Every petroleum fuelled meter reduced would mean less air pollution, cleaner neighbourhood and healthier bodies. Neighbourhood streets with low traffic are safer to cycle compared to arterial roads, and further reduction of murderous vehicles plying on these internal roads will make locality safer. Jaya Nagar locality in Bengaluru went a step further and allocated separate cycling lanes on its streets to aid this transition. It didn’t quite work out for because of some design disputes and social stigma, but that is also another story.

Open air gym

Last and easiest mode of transition is cycling for fun and health. This won’t save petrol or reduce congestion on city roads but one can still save energy and reduce green house gas emissions. How? Drop out of that gym and save energy wasted on lighting and air-conditioning. One can do this in the safety of one’s township or greenery of public parks like Sanjay Van in south Delhi. Take it up as the weekend sport and may be give the yellow jersey of le tour de France a shot.

Count all of the above as doing your bit for your city. Pick one if not all. Transition is the need of the hour and picking a place to stay or work has a lot of bearing. I have a thumb rule I like to call “20/60”, which says I should spend minimum 20 minutes travelling to work and maximum 60 minutes. Depending on the distance, I decide my mode of commute. I walked when I was living 2 km from my place of work, and took public transport when it was over 15 km; now I cycle since the distance is 6 km. One can pick the mode of transport depending on the place of residence or one can pick a place depending upon preferred mode of transport. Personally I tried matching the house with my cycle.

But even if I hadn’t been so lucky with my home and work positioning, I would have tried to avoid private motorised transport. This is not just for environment's sake but because I would not be able to avoid peak hour traffic anyway. Therefore, I would rather waste my time reading a book in the Metro or bus than stressing out behind the wheel.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.