Jawan Lal Rebari

Barawa village, Rajsamand district, Rajasthan

Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015 | 21:11:47 PM

Jawan Lal Rebari

Jawan Lal Rebari convinced his (Credit: Photographs: Amit Shanker / CS)Initially involved in adult education and health activities, Jawan Lal took it as a challenge to transform degraded lands to productive assets in Barwa village for about 110 families. Jawan Lal says, "Even we realised the importance of water and afforestation early, but people were not ready to join and it took us one year to win them over to our way of thinking." The panchayat, which was reluctant to hand over the degraded lands was persuaded by Jawan Lal. But more problems cropped up when the villagers were misinformed that the land to be developed will be occupied by Seva Mandir. Finally, after a lot of clarifications and meetings the matter was settled. In early 1980s, he played a key role in constructing a check dam in collaboration with the village panchayat. This was followed by the construction of ponds in 1998 and 2000. Jawan Lal is very much interested in extending the watershed management programme to improve the standard of the farming sector in the village. Arranging a separate meeting for women helped in overcoming the attendance problem owing to the purdah system.

Jawan Lal says, "Our women handle their own meetings separately and they have opened their savings account also. Savings have grown up to Rs 2,30,000." Today, he stands tall amongst other village leaders for his uprightness and dedication.

Manukhbhai Suvagia

For a cause: Suvagia committed Concerned over the water level in the region of Suarashtra which had receeded from 15 metres in 1990 to 120-210 metres in 1998, Mansukh Bhai Suvagia, a 37-year-old government servant decided to initiate steps to tackle the problem.

With the help of villagers, he launched a Lok Fund scheme and collected more than Rs 1 lakh to build 17 check dams in the area. "These are the cheapest check dams in the whole country," says Suvagia.

Well-planned locations and building according to the requirements were the two main reasons for the low cost of construction. Cost was further reduced as the villagers built the dams themselves.

Suvagia's wife Rasila helped him out in his work by mobilisng the village women to get involved in the building of the dams. With the help of local women, four dams have been built in the area.

At present, in over 100 villages of Saurashtra region money is being raised to build dams. The amount of money collected ranges from Rs 1-5 lakh. Jamka village in Junagadh district is successfully carrying out the work of building check dams. The village is 1,011.7 hectares in area with a population of 3,000 and the area under cultivation is 809.4 hectares. Even though the area has one river and four rivulets, the water supply is inadequate. Moreover, with 1,200 bore wells the water level has gone down to 200 metres in the last 15 years. The villagers started constructing the dams in 1999 and so far, 51 check dams and two ponds have been built to harvest water. As a result, the water situation has improved and the farmers are able to cultivate kharif and rabi crops even during the drought conditions. Mansukhbhai projects the profit as around Rs 3 crore in the years of good rainfall. This includes money from agriculture, livestock and trees used for afforestation. "It puts the government in a very bad light," says Suvagia. He is all set to spread the message to the rest of Saurashtra and has already created awareness in about 500 villages. He feels that cse is doing a good job of spreading the message of self- help to other parts of the country.

Manna Singh

-- Manna Singh, a farmer by profession is the chairman of Sitapur project in Madhya Pradesh. Couple of years back, 46-year-old Singh was sent as a district representative to Anna Hazare for getting trained. In the year 1996, Union ministry of rural development supported the Sitapur project with a financial aid of Rs 12 lakh. The work started in 1997 and is expected to be completed soon.

In the rainy season the hills called Bhilai hills used to carry sand and silt and make the field unfit for cultivation. So far, 32 check dams have been constructed at a cost of Rs 41,000 and also the Raksamada dam at a cost of Rs 93,000, as a result of this the land has become cultivable. Moreover, he is actively pursuing the afforestation of the region near Son river so that the cultivation of the nearing villages located in the lower landscape does not suffer from the sand and silt which flows towards it and washes away the fertile soil.

Laxmi Narayan Joshi

-- Laxmi Narayan joshi, watershed committee chairman of Saipur village, has been a source of inspiration to the villagers. The watershed work started in 1998-99. Medbandi, a stone embankment built on the lower side of the agriculture field on a hill slope to conserve soil and moisture and help create a level field for cultivation was done in about 300 hectares (ha) of agricultural land. A pond of about 1.5 ha of land with 8,000 cubic metre storage capacity was also built.

Joshi says, "There was a lack of vegetation in the watershed area which resulted in soil and water erosion. Improper management of soil and water resources in the area led to poor recharging of well and it affected the supply of fuel and fodder."

Due to medbandi in agricultural fields, water requirement of plants is being met better. The villagers have also been convinced to replace wheat with sarson (mustard), jau (oats) and channa (gram), crops that require less water.

"It is easy and judicious to promote the water efficient crops in our area. We have planted 6,000 trees in 62 ha land. It promotes groundwater recharge by reducing the flow," Joshi adds.

Ram Karan Bhadana

A long way to go: Bhadana chan Ram Karan Bhadana, a Gujjar is not involved in sheep raring as others, but is committed towards the development of the village. He is a well-known activist for development works in the village with a population of 2,000-2,500. He was actively involved in creating awareness, giving importance to tree and pond worship, making ponds and removing encroachments from pastures.

He constructed three ponds one after the other and changed the face of the village. The first pond is named Phoolsagar because it is surrounded by flowers. The second pond is named Devsagar because of the temples that surround it. The third pond is directly linked with agriculture and is named Annasagar. Four chaukas (bunds) have been made to stop the water for livestock. The money was raised from many sources including their friends and relatives.

Bhadana says, "Earlier our people were going to Jaipur and other towns to work as labourers but now they are in their own village. The lands which were earlier not able to sustain them are now producing profits for them."

Ram Karan says, "The efforts of the villager folk and the motivation of Bhadana have changed the face of the village. We have made good channels for irrigation and started cultivating in the lands, which were lying barren earlier."

R Devendra

-- Sixty-year-old Devendra is the president of the Kedar Village Tank Farmers Society in Tamil Nadu. The society was formed in 1989 and there are around 217 members working with it from 13 different communities. The society operates and irrigates an area of approximately 119 hectares. The Centre for Water Resources, Anna University gave the society Rs 27.6 lakh for the research purpose in 1990. After forming the society they collected Rs 40,000 as seed money and the government also pitched in with a grant of Rs 50,000 for the work. The society designed the structures themselves and constructed a 1.5 km long road all along the canal to maintain it and also to mobilise their vehicles and machines for their fields. This reduced the cost of transportation and the villagers could save 50 per cent of the cost of harvesting.

Initially, the society collected money from the villagers and the Irrigation Management Training Institute, Trichi, gave them a generous grant, which the society has kept in a fixed deposit and the interest on it is used for maintenance purposes that costs them Rs 30,000 per annum.

Devendra says, "Before the intervention of the society, small farmers did not get water because big land owners took a long time to irrigate their land. The society intervened and constructed an earthen sub-channel so that the water reaches both the small and big landowners."

Initially the society did face difficulties like water channels being damaged but it was checked by the active cooperation of local people who fixed a fine of Rs 100 for such irresponsible acts.

People reported an increase in the productivity of their lands due to the availability of water even during the drought months. This has drastically changed their economic status.

Reported by R V Singh, Gopal Krishna and Vibha Varshney

Owning the road

-- When roads become an extension of living rooms
When Hannes Linck moved in August 1999 to Quartier Vauban, a newly-built neighbourhood in the southern German city of Freiburg, he decided to sell off his car. Hannes lives with his wife and two children in a flat built by a housing cooperative and he does not regret his decision. There is a bakery, a cooperative shop, a newspaper stand, a supermarket and a weekly peasants' market, all within walking distance. To the city centre, it takes him 10 minutes by bike, and there is a bus stop right at the quarter's main entrance. As a member of a car sharing company, Hannes can avail of a car any time. After making a reservation by phone, he goes to the garage where the cars of the company are parked, takes the car keys from a box and drives off. For transport needs, he can even get a small truck.

One of the most striking sights of Quartier Vauban is the number of children roaming around in the lanes on their own, playing and biking. There are no cars, no parking lots in front of the houses, no garages. The road is a riot of bicycles, toys, buggies, tables and benches, small trees and bushes. Without cars and traffic, the lanes have become an extension of the living room. A meeting place and a playground without fear of accidents.

Like Hannes, today pedestrians are back to many inner-city areas of European towns which are free of cars. In Bonn, Bologna or Vienna, access to several streets in the main shopping areas is restricted for private cars. Delivery to shops, departmental stores and supermarkets is allowed only in the morning hours. Underground garages and parking lots have been made expensive to discourage the use of private cars when going for shopping. City centres are becoming attractive again for strolling and shopping. Weekly markets have revived, streetside cafes and restaurants are reclaiming the streets from the cars.

Islands of peace
These inner city areas are "small islands" in an otherwise nightmarish urban traffic snarl. Hannes, who is also the secretary of the Association of Car-Free Households, says that he especially enjoys the serene surroundings free from air pollution and clamour. The community life, the proximity with his neighbours. The extra space adds to his comfort.

When the former French military camp Quartier Vauban was bought by the municipality of Freiburg in the early 1990s for a housing project for 5,000 people, it was a local groups' and citizens' initiative, which introduced the concept of car-free living.

Actually, the quarter is not fully car-free, as people with and without cars stay here. But car-owning residents are not allowed to park their car in front of the house. They have to pay a hefty amount for a parking lot in a garage at the fringe of the quarter. Residents without a car just own a "virtual" parking space, a compromise that was necessary to satisfy building regulations. Every non-car owner buys a few square meters of a meadow nearby, where parking slots could be built later in case he would decide to buy a car. But this has not happened yet. Instead, a few car owners have sold their cars.

More dreams sans cars

 When adults are children:The< Say 'no' to cars. This is the ultimate verdict from people now fighting hard to reduce the dependency on automobiles. An idea that seemed utopian in the early 1990s is now firing the imagination of many more across the continent. Car-free cities are poised to chase dream cars out from crowded city centres. There are no car-free cities yet. But there are quite a few car-free housing development schemes in different European cities and stronger policies to promote cycling and walking in other parts of cities as well. These schemes encourage people to reduce car dependency and move towards housing developments which give priority to pedestrians, reduce pollution, potentially lower the cost of housing, provide a quiet environment and alternative mode of transport.

Initially, the idea of the car-free city centres emerged as a very loose concept in the 1960s and 1970s. The focus then was to reduce traffic in busy shopping malls and business centres. Over time it assumed a concrete shape, meaning and perception. During 1990s, an increasing number of local initiatives in the United Kingdom and Germany provided opportunities to European citizens to think about more ecofriendly urban mobility. These initiatives got good popular support.

Soon, as a symbolic gesture, September 22 was declared car-free day. The car-free day concept is not merely of limiting traffic in certain streets but of enabling city dwellers to discover other means of transport.

More than 150 cities worldwide observed car-free day on September 22, 2000 as a symbolic gesture to ensure mobility without compromising on the quality of life. Each year on the same date, the European cities participate in events that reserve an area for pedestrians, bikes, clean vehicles operating on lpg and natural gas, electric vehicles and public transport.

But this concept has been so strong that now many cities around the world have begun observing car-free day every year. Originally, a European concept, many other countries have caught the idea and implemented it.

"This is a reaction that is slowly setting in as cars and more cars are choking cities and leaving citizens breathless. From Bangkok to Los Angeles, from Berlin to Capetown, urban planning for the last few decades has been determined by mass motorisation," says Heiner Monheim, expert for transport policy at the University of Trier, Germany. Obsessive focus has been put on increasing the number of automobiles, widening roads, making flyovers, tunnels and highways, and turning open spaces into parking lots. However, increasing traffic from trucks and private cars creates related problems of congestion, pollution, noise and the emission of greenhouse gases. Follow-up costs for maintenance, health or environmental damages are staggering. Public transport has been neglected, increasing the need for private cars. As a result, pedestrians and cyclists are pushed aside. Many of the cities in usa and its suburbs are among the world's most pedestrian-hostile environments. In fact, 50 per cent and 70 per cent of us downtown space is allotted to traffic lanes, parking lots, garages, gas stations and car dealerships. Worse still, in Berlin, cars take 50 times as much space as do playgrounds for children.

Test drive
The car-free day provides an opportunity for the municipalities or urban areas to test new measures or new developments in terms of urban mobility, for example, delivery systems using clean vehicles, a new route of public transport, car sharing in companies and bike-parking areas. The concept aims to promote public awareness to influence commuter behaviour that is compatible with the improved urban mobility and protection of environment. It seeks to raise awareness with respect to the thoughtless use of cars in towns and to reaffirm a place for pedestrians, cyclists and public urban transport.

A major initiative came from the French Ministry of Land Planning and Environment. It launched a nationwide operation in 1998. About 35 French towns responded and organised 'In town, without my car' day on September 22, 1998. A year later, a total of 66 French towns (almost twice as many as in 1998) and also 92 Italian towns and the canton of Geneva participated in the first European 'In town, without my car' day. All these towns banned vehicular traffic in certain areas where only public transport, cleaner vehicles, bikes and of course pedestrians were allowed. In Italy, an overwhelming majority of the city population used public transport or travelled on foot or bike. The average number of people using the transport network also increased by an average 10 per cent on that day. Some cities even registered increases up to 900 per cent more cyclists.

'In town without my car' has become an organised movement today, thanks to the official support of the European national governments and the European Union. As these initiatives are in line with priorities of urban transport and sustainable policy for towns of the European Union, the European Commission and the Directorate General for Environment have decided to provide political and financial support for organising a car-free day in Europe.

The entire programme is aimed at promoting voluntary efforts but each city is free to choose locally-appropriate systems. With the political and financial support of the European Commission, many partners have gathered to form the current life project team that will contribute to national initiatives. These include the French Ministry of Land Planning and Environment, the Italian Ministry of Environment, the French Environment and Energy Management Agency, the Italian Agency for the Environment, New Technology and Energy Management, Climate Alliance of European Cities and Car-Free Cities Network.

Get rid of your car
Some 60 European towns have joined the Car-Free Cities Network, since it was launched in 1994. The network is committed to develop and implement technologies and management methods for traffic volume reduction in cities by encouraging the use of more environment friendly modes of transport. Moreover, mayors of different towns sign an undertaking that states, "in order to ensure the success and common European nature of the event we undertake to plan our actions in accordance with guidelines..."

The success of this initiative involves mobilisation of as many countries and towns as possible and also requires common tools for implementation. Members of the European Union will have to play a role and guarantee consistency of the political message, develop common methods and organise dissemination activities in each town and city. At the local level, stakeholders like the shopkeepers, companies, associations, schools, will mobilise people. All these initiatives aim at promoting greater mobility and at the same time promote better quality of life.

Interestingly, the concept has generated a lot of political interest too. On the car-free day, several members of the European Commission including environment commissioner Margot Wallstrom cycled to Cinquantenaire Park in Brussels to celebrate car-free day. Wallstrom launched the car-free day in 2000 to bring together national ministries and energy agencies, networks of local authorities, non-governmental organisations and the European Commission (see box: Going into overdrive ).

The concept has also caught the imagination of the developing countries. Residents of Bogota, Columbia went for bicycles and boarded buses and walked down to get to work on the car-free day observed on February 24, 2000. To raise public awareness, the streets of Bogota were closed to personal motor vehicles from 6.30 am to 7.30 pm on the car-free day. Nearly 400 km of streets, alleys and other pathways were strictly reserved for bicycles and pedestrians.

On this occasion, the Bogota mayor, Enrique Penalosa Londono, said, "The goal should be for Bogota to make a collective decision to ensure by first of January, 2015 three rush hours in the morning and three rush hours in the afternoon, without private cars. Everyone should move in public transport and bicycles." Quite surprisingly, in Bogota, only 14 per cent of the city's residents own a car. Yet it takes more than an hour to travel 10 km during peak traffic. The car-free city concept evoked support of 65 per cent of the Bogota population.

Going beyond the rhetoric
Experiments with car-free city centres have gone much beyond the symbolic celebration of car-free day once a year. Such initiatives have helped to kick start major changes in urban planning in many European cities. In March 1994, the conference on car-free cities was held in Amsterdam with representation from 21 European countries when the concept of car-free cities was integrated with the Urban Environment Unit of the European Commission.

Jan Scheurer of Murdoch University, Australia, who has researched car-free housing in European cities says, "When first European car-free housing schemes were proposed, the novelty of the concept lay not so much in houses without car parks, rather what appeared radical was a blunt defiance of aspiration to car ownership and getting rid of legal barriers to attaining it. Now more and more schemes are coming up not only to save costs associated with developing parking facilities, but create residentail environments sheltered from noise and pollution." A Dutch study outlines the basic features of car-free residential areas. According to this report 'car-free' means 90 per cent of the residences in the area do not possess cars. The remaining 10 per cent are located along the outer fringes of the car-free area. The prerequisite of a car-free city is that it does not impede inhabitants' access to mobility. According to Victoria Transport Policy Institute, Ottawa (Canada), car-free planning includes several methods to reduce car use in a city centre. This would include

l Developing residential neighbourhoods where personal vehicles are unnecessary and vehicular traffic is restricted

l Housing developments where residents are discouraged from owning private cars

l Pedestrian-oriented commercial streets where driving is discouraged or prohibited

l Resorts and parks without vehicular traffic

l Car-free events are organised

l Temporary restrictions on driving, such as during pollution emergency days and so on.

These concepts are implemented largely through municipal planning efforts or as part of project development like housing complex. Car-free planning has been largely integrated with housing development schemes in some European cities as of now. The basic idea of the concept of car-free housing is simple: People without a car should be offered a surrounding where they benefit from the absence of cars. Car-free initiatives can be very effective in European countries where about 80 per cent of Europeans live in cities and 30 per cent of car journeys in the 15-member European Union involve distances of less than three kilometres.

Car-free housing schemes
The very first proposal for a car-free housing scheme was the settlement of Hollerland near Bremen in Northern Germany. The proposal was initiated in 1992 in cooperation with the municipal building association, the department of environmental protection and urban development and the department of building of the city of Bremen. It was preceded by an experiment wherein six families, all with little children, volunteered to refrain from car use for a period of six weeks.

"The results showed that none of the family felt restricted in mobility," recollects Michael Glotz-Richter, head of the section for ecological urban design at the department for environment protection and urban development and one of the initiators of the Hollerland project. They either changed their behaviour by shopping in the neighbourhood, or chose other activities like bicycle tours instead of car trips, thus leading to a new and different lifestyle. All of them recalled new experiences while travelling in a bus or a tram and a different perception of the environment, making up for longer journeys. After the experiment, five of the six families sold their car.

"The concept of car-free housing is radical," says transport policy expert Monheim, "as it breaks away from the prevailing principle of transport policy and urban planning that people may buy as many cars as they want while the community will take care of sufficient space to park or drive." The first and immediate advantage, of housing geared especially towards non-car owning residents, is costs. Because of less roads and parking lots, development costs can be lowered by up to 10 per cent per unit. The second advantage is more space for lawns, gardens or playing grounds. In Hollerland, for instance, only 17 per cent of the area was earmarked for roads and parking space compared to 40 per cent in a conventional housing project.

One of the main obstacles to car-free housing is a regulation which requires developers to supply parking facilities with each project, normally one lot per residential unit. A sufficient supply of car parks as close as possible to the house is considered to be a precondition to market a housing project and to avoid a burden on the neighbourhood by increased parking pressure. To scrap this provision, interested parties in the Hollerland scheme had to give a binding declaration never to buy a car. But there is scepticism over such a "life-long" declarations of living without a car. Its legal status is questionable too.

To address this concern, more flexible mechanisms like those in Vauban have been developed. In some states like North Rhine Westfalia (the area in which Bonn is located) or Berlin, the provision was scrapped altogether or relaxed. Hollerland never got off the ground. Despite a lot of initial interest, the offer of the first units did not get the expected demand due to a recession in the housing industry. But the project challenged the traditional car-friendly planning requirements. It also stimulated a new integrated and more participatory planning approach. The project also inspired many similar initiatives and projects all over Western Europe. In Bremen itself, a car-free housing project was realised in an inner-city area, although on a much smaller scale. There are other similar schemes in Germany like in Hamburg, Tbingen, Munich and Freiburg, as well as in Amsterdam, in Edinburgh and in Vienna. Most of them combine various ecological and social features making them into models of a new sustainable livelihood.

One of the earliest and largest car-free housing projects so far is the gwl -Terrein in Amsterdam with around 600 residential units, some offices and small enterprises, situated close to the city centre, the railway station and shopping areas. When the project was completed in 1998, all flats were already sold or rented. Many residents moved into the gwl -Terrein because of the bigger size of the flats and the proximity to the city centre.

But one third gave the car-free concept as a decisive reason. About 57 per cent of the households, surveyed in 2000 by the Australian-based Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy ( istp ), live practically car-free and 62 per cent do not own a car. Both figures are significantly higher than the average. Unlike the gwl -Terrein, which was planned and executed by the local council, Quartier Vauban was planned and implemented with a lot of participation from residents' and citizens' groups, organised in the Forum Vauban. Most houses in Quartier Vauban were built by co-operatives and small groups of individual owners, according to their ideas and wishes. The houses are especially built with wood to reduce energy, most of them have solar panels on their roofs and a common garage building. The planners expect that in shops, offices and small manufacturing or service companies, around 600 jobs will be created thereby reducing the need for residents to commute further.

"Compared to conventional housing projects, car-free housing poses several challenges for municipalities and planners. City planning is mainly done by persons aged between 30 and 50, who are traditionally more oriented towards cars," explains Esther-Maria Dellmann from the Car-Free Living Association in Berlin. Moreover, most municipalities are not used to an integrated planning, considering long-term benefits too. And shifting planning priorities and funds towards other forms of mobility like public transport is often difficult because of vested interests or public opinion.

"Besides, without the push from organised citizens' groups, hardly any project so far would have been realised," observes Willi Loose from the Institute for Applied Ecology/ ko-Institute in Freiburg, Germany. And for the success, participation of people in planning and implementation is essential, because it generates a lot of enthusiasm, ideas and commitment.

To allow for such participation, in Freiburg, the city's Building Department formed a separate task force, co-ordinating planners, councillors, developers, architects, residents and citizens' initiatives. "Regular meetings and dialogues created an atmosphere of cooperation, mutual trust and learning and gave future residents a say in the design of their houses and their environment," informs Loose. Roland Veith, in charge of the project in the Building Department of Freiburg, is full of praise for the cooperation with citizens' groups and initiatives. "There have been conflicts," he admits, "but overall it has been a unique process of 'learning planning', making the implementation much smoother, faster and better." Veith proudly says that mayors from as far as South Korea come to visit Vauban. An important precondition for the success is an efficient and fast public transport system.

From crazy leftism to market advantage
Transport policy expert Heiner Monheim envisages a modern mobility management system by systematically and efficiently combining a variety of mobility services like car sharing, an infrastructure for biking and walking, and public transport. With such a system in place, living without a car can be much cheaper even than owning a car. Slowly, the idea of car-free living is picking up speed. Currently there are nearly 24 projects in Germany realised or in the pipeline, and several more in Europe. Observers feel that the market potential is far from exhausted. Some estimate it as high as 10 per cent to 15 per cent of all new housing projects. Market research done in Edinburgh shows that there is significant demand for housing on this basis.

Markus Heller, a young architect in Berlin, is also confident, that the concept of car-free living is a marketing success. When the municipality failed to attract commercial developers for a conventional housing project right in the heart of the German capital, he was asked by a group of environment organisations and citizens groups to draw up a plan for a block with 600 flats, spaces for shops and services, cultural and social infrastructure, sports grounds and parks, completely free from motor traffic.

One of the most interesting features of this car-free development will be the inclusion of a city farm, which will serve as an ecological service transforming organic waste into fresh fruit and tasty vegetables. It will also include a community centre and shops. The farm will provide plenty of leisure facilities for children. "In the sluggish housing market of Berlin, car-free projects with their benefits not to be found easily on other housing projects are attractive," Heller feels. "Initially we were regarded as crazy leftists," he recalls, "but now there are several potential investors."

Making an impact
Many people who come into towns on car-free days are particularly amazed by the lack of stress and the improvement in air quality. French air quality monitors declared the results of the second national car-free day (September 22, 1999) as 'satisfactory' after only clean fuel cars and public transport in city centres were allowed. Figures show that in central Paris, levels of carbon monoxide fell by 30 per cent while those of nitrogen dioxide dropped by 15 per cent.

An opinion poll carried by the French environment ministry on September 22, 2000 showed strong public support. Over four-fifths of the respondents said the idea was a good one. One-fifth of respondents in participating towns claimed to have renounced their car for their daily trip to office and 44 per cent felt the car-free day should be a weekly event. Opinion surveys carried out in Italy and France show a high support with as many as 85 per cent approving such an initiative. A survey conducted in Dormund, Germany established that 75 per cent considered a car unnecessary for their mobility needs.

Hindustan motors

 The lone bicycle path in Delh (Credit: Amit Shanker / CSE)Whereas European cities are making an effort to return to walking and cycling through innovative ways of pedestrianisation and car-restraint policies, the tradition of cycling and walking is being squeezed out of Asian cities. Only Japan and Singapore are making some efforts to revive these practices. In Chinese cities, where non-motorised transportation can still cover up to 80 per cent of total daily trips, wrong transportation policies are edging them out. This policy neglect is most obvious in Indian cities that are now in the deadly grip of killer fumes and noise. Since non-motorised modes are seen as a symbol of backwardness, infrastructure development is planned only for cars and other motorised transport. This is leading to fast deterioration of road conditions for cyclists and pedestrians. Roads are more dangerous for them and not enough space is left to accommodate them.

Delhi, the capital city, is an excellent example of mindless traffic planning. Apart from feeble gestures to get a plan for bicycle tracks or pedestrianise a few shopping malls in Delhi, nothing much has really happened. Only after the Supreme Court ( sc ) began to mount pressure on the Delhi government to take action to control vehicular pollution, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests issued a White paper on the state of Delhi's pollution in December 1997. The White paper proposed for the first time a "provision for bicycle tracks and greater use of existing tracks" and the responsibility was assigned to the traffic police department to implement it by April 1, 1999. The Environment Pollution Control and Prevention Authority ( epcpa ) responsible for monitoring of the sc orders found no action was taken on this count.

All proposals for exclusive bicycle paths are buried in files. Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme ( tripp) , spearheaded by a team of transportation planners and engineers in Indian Institute Technology, Delhi, has prepared a bicycle master plan for Delhi. This master plan, submitted to the Delhi government, brings out detailed design solutions for the existing roads to improve flow of all modes of transport including the non-motorised mode. But action is missing in this direction too.

Yet there is an immense potential to create car-free zones in Delhi. When members of the Central Road Research Institute in Delhi surveyed the traffic pattern in Delhi in 1990, they were amazed to note that bicycle usage in many parts of Delhi was still very high. It was as high as 48 per cent of the total traffic flow in gt Shahadra road in east Delhi, 45 per cent on Madangir road in South Delhi, 45 per cent in Loni road in east Delhi and so on (see box: The josh machines ).

The proportion of bicycle traffic is more than 30 per cent of total traffic during peak hours on many arterial roads. On one of the major highways (Rohtak Road), cycles constitute 43 per cent of the total traffic during peak hours. Even today, Geetam Tiwari of tripp estimates that 25 per cent of shopping trips, 15 per cent of the trips to work, and 50 per cent of the trips to schools can be undertaken by bicycles. Though the share of bicycle trips has declined over the years, it is not certain whether the absolute number of bicyclists have reduced. A large number of commuters still cycle or walk along the inter-city highways with comparatively long trip length -- but in this case due to inadequate mobility options.

Lack of support from the state government coupled with hostile traffic conditions, middle class disdain, and lack of infrastructure support, is increasingly depriving bicyclists of their driving space.Motorised vehicles are crowding them out.

While in 1957, the bicycle transport in Delhi met 36 per cent of travel demand, it declined to 17 per cent in 1981 and then drastically to just 6.61 per cent in 1994. Share of bus has steadily increased meeting almost 62 per cent of the travel demand (see table: Road nonsense ). Though the number of cars have increased dramatically, their importance in meeting travel demand is not as much as two wheelers and buses. In fact their share has declined. This means there are more cars on road meeting lesser travel demand. The average trip length for bicycles has dropped marginally from five km in 1957 to 4.89 km in 1994 but that of motorised transport has almost doubled during the same period indicating greater intensity of automobile use.

It, therefore, makes a lot more sense to set aside road space dedicated to cycle use. tripp estimates that a 3.5 m lane has a carrying capacity of 1,800 cars per hour but the same lane can carry 5,400 bicycles per hour. This means if the same number of cars were to be accommodated, three times more road area would be needed. The bicycle master plan as proposed by tripp estimates that bicycle lanes can increase road space availability to motorised transport by 50 per cent on three lane roads. In the absence of a segregated bicycle lane, the cyclist in Delhi uses the curb-side lane (the lane to the extreme left). If a separate lane is constructed for bicycles, then the curb-side lane, will become available to motorised transport, creating more space and reducing congestion. The curb-side lane, which is mainly used by bicycle traffic and other non-motorised vehicles at present is 3.5 metre wide. But a bicycle lane would need a lot less -- only 2.5 metre.

Most trips are tiny trips
According to tripp study, the most dramatic profile of the Delhi traffic is that for all modes of transport a very high proportion of trips are in the distance range of less than five km. In fact, as the study indicates, 30 per cent of all bus trips, 44 per cent of all scooter trips, 60 per cent of all three wheeler trips, 33 per cent of car trips, 43 per cent of taxi trips and 71 per cent of all cycle trips are under the five km range. Thus a staggering 2.2 million trips in Delhi have the potential to be converted for bicycling and thus reduce congestion and pollution.

There is a great scope for promoting bicycles in schools. The Delhi High Court order which restricts admissions to schools within an eight kilometre radius provides an opportunity to convert a great proportion of trips to school to cycles. Geetam Tiwari estimates that even today nearly 50 per cent of school trips can be on bicycles. But, not many schools are conscious of this. When questioned, the transportation department of Tagore International School told Down To Earth that they had never given any thought to such an idea. Only a few like Mother's International School have taken a conscious decision of encouraging admissions from a very close radius so that students can walk to school. Those who walk to school are given a seperate walker badge. But the over-riding concern for most schools and guardians is how to ensure road safety if cycling is encouraged. Only dedicated bicycle paths can help to build confidence in cycling in the city. If this is ever achieved, it would allow for a real change of traffic flows, reducing the number of cars, the growing need for new roads and parking plots, the sealing of open spaces and the emissions.

Needed: a vision
Bringing living, working and recreational opportunities closer together again need a paradigm shift in city planning. Car-free city centres can help to reduce the mobility needs in the long run. Road nonsense
In the face of hostile motorisation, bicycles are getting adged out in Delhi

Meeting travel demand (in per cent)


Holiday resorts discover the added value a car-free surrounding can offer and stop private cars outside the city limits. Car-free city may seem like an utopia today only because of the lack of imagination of citizens, politicians and planners who are used to car. To provide them with visions, existing projects can be models or pioneers, hopes Loose. The experiences gathered will help to convince city planners, councillors and developers to give more projects a chance. Because they prove, that there is life in the city even without a car.

Written by Uwe Hoering from Germany and Anumita Roychoudhury and Lopamudra Banerjee in New Delhi

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