R Madhavan, a 47-year-old senior manager in an IT company in Bangalore, India, used to commute every day to office in his own car. Given the present state of traffic and road conditions when we asked him about his experience of every day commute to work, he said “I can’t think of a better word than outrageous to describe Bangalore traffic. To move a distance of 100 meters, it may sometime take up to 20 minutes.Further,long hours in traffic jam, bumpy rides, constant pedal-push and so on lead to stress, road rage, irritation which affects work adversely. On top the rising oil prices add up to the plight”.Fed-up with this daily torture, he decided to ride his son’s cycle to office. It had been years that Madhavan had last pedaled and if so, only in the gym.But that day changed it all. He started cycling to office every Friday which not only saved him from the traffic-ragging but eventually gave him a thinner waistline. Now he has a set of friends for company and they have renamed Fridays as – “Free-key Fridays”.
If you are thinking this as a single odd example, then empathize this! Cycling is a new trend seen in offices and especially with the youthall across. Infosys, the IT giant, has implemented innovative policies to reduce the carbon footprint in the campus premises.One such green initiative is use of cycles asthe way of commutation, and ispracticed across all Infosys campuses in India.Motorized vehicles are not allowed inside except, for a few exceptions. Rajesh, an IT professionalin Infosys Bangalore, says, “We use cycles extensively to commute within the campus. The primary reason may be to enable quicker movement to different buildingsand so contributing in sustaining an environment-friendly atmosphere, but it also gives great sense of pleasure for reasons more than one.”
Does this mean that the trend is more dominant in IT companies? No, because a lot of other corporates and knowledge hubs are following this as a step towards social and environmental reform. ‘Namma cycle’ is a cycle renting project being piloted in the campus of Indian Institute of Science (IISc). It allows people to rent a cycle for commuting within the sprawling campus. The renting system uses a simple web application for bicycle reservation, pick-up, drop-off, and information tracking. A central stock circulates the bicycles between renting stations to ensure that bicycles are available at all nodes, at all times. Murali HR, a senior consultant, who has been an integral part of the bicycle sharing project says, “Our objective is to re-establish bicycles as a respected and accepted form of transport and also as an important factor of bio-diversity.”
Cycling is slowly becoming a vogue with which more and more environment conscious citizens and, pleasantly the youth, want to associate with. Srijini, a student of Delhi University says, “North Campus of Delhi University has introduced ‘hire a cycle’ concept for the students to commute from the nearest metro station to the campus. All we need is step out of the Metro, submit our ID card, and take the bicycle. The last mile connectivity has become so much easier!”
As public transit system in most cities continues to suffer, changing perception towards cycling is very evident, given the growing popularity of it. But cycling within university campus is not a new concept in India. The standard form of transport in Viswabharati University, Shantiniketan has always been bicycle and cycle rickshaw. Toshali, a student of Social Work in the university says, “Students come here from all across the world. We buy bicycles during our stay because these are the practiced mode of transport and as we leave we pass it on to ours juniors.” Prof Sarbajit Sengupta, who has been teaching economics and politics in the university since the past twenty years,reinforces that bicycle use in Santiniketan is a product of two factors,environmental awareness promoted by the founder Rabindranath Tagore and, the economic and financial conditions of the residents. He further says that though reforms in pay commission has seen an increase in motorized vehicles in the town, there are some who still adhere to Tagore’s environment friendly approach. There is a professor of physics who travels to his department in a modified bicycle which creates enough energy to propel a fan as it moves!
In recent times though, ‘mobility’ focus in most urban sectors is tuned more towards flyovers and automobiles, many cities worldwide are experiencing a bicycling renaissance that cuts across demographic lines. Copenhagen has been termed as the world’s first bike-city while many other European countries like Germany and Netherland are not far behind.
Today, the Gen –Y in India is much more aware of the fallouts of climate change. Projects like ‘Namma cycle’, ‘Ride a Bicycle’ and cycle marathons are steadily attracting people towards the benefit of cycling and the day is not far when cycling will become a cult.
Sonali Chakravorty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org