Why cycling should be mandatory in smart cities

Mon, 2015-08-31 15:35 -- Pratap Padode

Cycling

The vast majority of city street journeys take place in cars. Despite being clean and green with  a host of health benefits, cycling is really popular in only a few countries. Potential accidents, the lack of a cycle-friendly infrastructure and worries about rain and cold keep many from hopping on a two-wheeled horse, even though bicycles are fast, clean, healthy and inexpensive. In the UK, US and Australia, for example, only about 1 per cent of all journeys are made on a bike. But there are exceptions, of course: in the Netherlands, the number is 27 per cent, and in Danish capital Copenhagen, over half the population cycles regularly. 

The main factor that keeps cycling rates low in many cities is that most people are not comfortable sharing space in streets with fast-moving cars and trucks. Most modern cities are designed for cars. Thus, an intelligent city planner while planning a smart city should assume that cycling, walking and public transport would be the main forms of transport while trying to figure out how to accommodate inefficient, polluting and dangerous modes like private car use.

Cities such as Delhi and Bengaluru have shown spectacular economic growth, but at a price: traffic has literally come to a standstill. This is not only a cost to society but the economy. A sustainable solution involves a switch to other means of transportation. Amsterdam has shown that a transition in modalities of transport is possible. Currently, 53 per cent of all travel in the city is by bicycle, compared to 23 per cent by car. Investment in bicycle infrastructure is a modern and intelligent move for a city to make. Studies from Denmark tell us that for every kilometre cycled, society enjoys a net profit of 23 cents. For every kilometre driven by car we suffer a net loss of -16 cents. Now, the Karnataka government and the city of Bengaluru  are aiming to make urban mobility more bicycle-inclusive as part of the transition to a sustainable, smart city.

Benefits of cycling

Using the bicycle as an urban means of transport can improve the way cities are enjoyed, both for cyclists and other citizens.

  • A clean, environment-friendly means of transport
  • Silent
  • Improves overall fitness and contributes to reducing healthcare costs
  • Traffic jams not usually a concern
  • Reduces the need for fossil fuels
  • Makes it possible to carry objects around
  • Indirect source of cost reduction for cities and countries
  • Cuts carbon, air pollution and calories

Planning for a cycle-friendly smart city

  • If the distance is short between start point and destination, cycling could be preferred. So, streets should be connected in such a way that the distance becomes short.
  • Car-free or limited-traffic streets can become anchors for human-centred activity
  • Bikeways should be smooth and free of obstructions, and preferably separated from traffic by parked vehicles, guardrails, bollards or other barriers that clearly differentiate bike lanes from the rest of the street.
  • 'Smart' bike-sharing systems provide the missing link between existing points of public transportation and desired destinations.

Supporting 'Cycling' is not only an expression of inclusiveness but of health and harmony with environment. It needs to be part of every development plan of private townships and smart cities. More than 400,000 bicycle sharing schemes are used in dozens of cities on the Chinese mainland only, since 2012. Besides in economic benefits, India is the second largest bicycle producing industry after China. This US$ 1.5 billion industry produced nearly 15.5 million bicycles in 2012–13, i.e., 10% of the total bicycles manufactured globally and employed about 1 million people in the country.

Cycling can improve the overall health of a city, in every sense of the word. But to make non-motorised transport a reality in the developing world, city leaders must first improve designs to support walkers and bikers.

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-The writer is Founder Director, Smart Cities Council India

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