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          Cycling to work must be incentivised

          Incentivise cycling to office. Companies should build parking lots

          Bengaluru’s first Bicycle Mayor Sathya Sankaran finds reason to cheer as cycle sales surge and new cycling tracks emerge in the city

          Sathya Sankaran. Credit: DH Photo

          Spearheading a campaign for sustainable mobility for years, Bengaluru’s first Bicycle Mayor Sathya Sankaran finds reason to cheer as cycle sales surge and new cycling tracks emerge in the city. Excerpts from an interaction.?

          What role does a Bicycle Mayor play in a city like Bengaluru?

          The post allows cycling to have a voice. It helps in articulating the utility of cycling, getting more people on board and in pushing the government and businesses to understand and support the cause.

          What explains the recent surge in cycle sales in the city?

          There are multiple causes. Due to the lockdown, levels of activity came down. There is only so much you can do indoors. Gyms were closed. So, to get some fresh air, free their minds, people started walking and cycling. Besides, we have been drumming up climate change for quite a while now and this was a window of opportunity for people to reset their lives.

          Statistics have shown that commute and recreational cycling trips are almost neck-to-neck. Since the lockdown, the commute trips have come down and the recreational trips have increased exponentially. Cycling sales have increased by almost 200 to 250%.

          Is cycling a viable option in a city notorious for its unsafe, heavily congested roads and traffic indiscipline?

          You have a safety problem for cyclists when the traffic goes very fast, not when it is slow. In a traffic jam, a cyclist can go faster than all the cars. It is a perception that when you see too many cars parked around, you feel it is unsafe. But it is actually safer.

          Nevertheless, there is a degree of unsafety attached to this vehicle because it looks vulnerable. On big roads where vehicles go faster, like the Outer Ring Road (ORR) or Ballari Road, there is definitely a need for physical segregation of cycling traffic from the carriageway. This provides a lot of safety and that is needed in most parts of the city, smaller roads included.

          How can the ORR cycling track change public perception on cycling? Can it be scaled up?

          Yes. The willingness to allocate space on a wide road, provide it to cyclists and say ‘we want to keep you safe, can you come out and cycle’ is a big statement that the government is making.

          The scaling up is already happening. They have planned almost 80km of cycling tracks, 30 km in the CBD area. But there is a long way to go. We should be doing 200 km every year for the next 10 years. But this is a good enough start. We need to now fill the streets with cycles and claim that road space.

          How can companies create the necessary infrastructure to facilitate cycling to office?

          I have focused a lot of my energy on this issue for the last three years. Using technology, I looked at ways to make the IT crowd, who mostly use motor vehicles, to switch to the bicycle. The attempt to convert some of them has taken off pretty well.

          Companies provide car parking lots, car loans, insurances and petrol allowances to employees. Why can’t they provide the same incentives to employees who come on a bicycle?

          A cycle costs hardly Rs 15,000, which is less than a cell phone these days. Going forward, especially in a post-Covid and climate-change era, the large number of IT firms and MNCs should provide incentives and build more and more cycle parking lots.

          Every bicycle that comes in and every car that is removed is valuable real estate saved. Building car parking lots cost a lot of money. It is rental space that is going out.

          Businesses should be putting up dedicated cycle parking lots by default in every building.

          Can cycling be a viable last-mile option in residential and commercial areas?

          It is actually a very viable option. In some countries, it is the public transport operator that is running cycle-sharing services. To me, this integration with public transport is the most natural fit for last-mile cycling. Standalone cycle-sharing operators have not been able to get the expected returns.