Cycling was the most common method of personal vehicle transportation throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, most developed countries in the world are promoting cycle transport to stem the pollution from motor vehicles. Bicycles have the least carbon footprint among all means of transportation as they operate using the energy of the rider. However, they are classified as slow-moving vehicles and are banned from entering congested streets in many cities across India. This limited the growth of this eco-friendly mode of transportation in the early 21st century.
In 2020, world transportation was shattered by Covid-19. Short journeys, for which people used to take auto or bus rides, are replaced by cycles. The unavailability of private cars, buses, and autos means the roads are nearly empty most of the time. So cycling on empty roads did not pose any hindrance to the traffic. In such a scenario, the Government allowed several otherwise-congested roads for cycling purposes. Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, all have seen a spurt in the number of cycles and sales of cycles. A cycle is not only very cheap, but an effective mode of transportation for short distance journeys, and can be parked almost anywhere.
However, various independent surveys show that cycling is more a fitness sport than a transport. In lockdown situations, when fitness lovers are unable to move out to gyms or yoga, cycling comes to their rescue. Cycling not only keeps our body fit but also makes us go out in the sun. Various studies show that Vitamin D is linked with our immunity against Covid-19 and the major source of Vitamin D is sunlight. Thus there is a sudden growth in the number of cycle riders in the afternoon.
Seeing a positive response from the public, the Government is now thinking of making the congested cities suitable for large-scale cycle transportation. Cycle helps in reducing pollution, and also saves a lot of fuel. The commuters have also seen the benefits of cycling, both in terms of health and in terms of money-saving. There has been a 300-600 per cent increase in cycle sales across megacities of India. The best-sellers are expensive bicycles, specially meant for racing purposes. The rich section of the society, which previously did not feel the need to cycle, is now considering cycling as a means of staying fit. The Government now requires cycling as a safe form of transport. The Government should promote the development of bicycle tracks across cities so that riders can move from one part of the city to another without disturbing the traffic. The question is, after the pandemic, will the riders feel safe to ride across congested roads. The Government should create an atmosphere of prioritising cycling as a safe and effective transportation option, which not only the poor but also the rich can utilize.
Written by – Himadri Paul