Workshop on 'Cycling in the City'

Parisar hosted a workshop to bring about an interaction between various stakeholders involved in making the city bicycle friendly. The event was held on 28th March, 2013 at Indradhanushya Centre for Citizenship and Environmental Education, inviting people from other NGOs, political representatives as well as officials from the corporation. Around 35 people attended this workshop, mostly members from other NGOs, but some political representatives attended the event as well. Rajendra Ravi, a social activist from New Delhi, who has been working on the issue of cycle rickshaws had been invited as the guest speaker for the event.

The workshop started with the screening of two video vignettes made by Parisar as part of 'The Invisible Cyclist - video vignette series'. The cyclists from these video vignettes as well as some other cyclists in the city were called upon to share their experiences while cycling after the screening.

Audience listening to Chhaya, one of the cyclists, sharing her experiences

Rajendra Ravi sharing his understanding of developing cycling friendly cities in India

Rajendra Ravi addressed the group after this, starting out by the fact that Pune was once a cycling city, but now cyclists have reduced to a mere 8% of the total vehicle population. He presented a very unique view of reacting to these diminishing numbers by comparing the situation to that of a family with young children. He likened the situation of the cyclists to that of the youngest child, who is weak and needs to be looked after, and posed the awkward rhetorical question of whether we allow the child to fend for himself with no protection? This was a very interesting social angle to the whole problem of road ownership and equity. He stated that building cycle tracks was not the whole solution for the problems of cyclists, there was a need for comprehensive planning taking into account the needs of pedestrians and cyclists in the city, as even today maximum commute is done on foot and on the bicycle. He mentioned that merely arranging trips in foreign countries to see their infrastructure and management is of no use, if we do not have a comprehensive view of transportation. None of the schemes being implemented there can be copied and pasted as they are in India, they have to be customized, and for this it is essential to understand people’s needs first. He pointed out that the public bicycle system which is being glamorized in our country today is but a modification of the rented bicycle shops we have had for years in our country now. We need to look within before we look outside for solutions to our current problems. He emphasized the role of political will and enforcement as being critical for any project to be successful in our country.

Pranjali Deshpande from ITDP emphasized the importance of design in promoting cycling in the city. She also emphasized the need of functioning in a systematic manner, with the help of experts for proper development of cycling infrastructure in the city.

Anna Malvadkar from Nationalist Congress Party interacting with the audience.

Prasanna Desai, an architect and urban planning expert, stated that the myth that there are no cyclists in India should first be dealt with in order to start the process of providing facilities for them. There will always be 7% captive cyclists in the country because that is the only mode that they can afford, and hence providing for their safety is very important. Having worked with the Pune Municipal Corporation before, he shared that the present condition of roads, cycle tracks and footpaths is a design issue. Design drawings for any project are perfect, but the same cannot be said for its implementation. Today, 90% of roads are used by 10% of vehicles, namely cars. The most important thing in the change stories of cities like Copenhagen is that cycling was made convenient and faster than using the car. But our cities lack the commitment and conviction to take steps for quality cycle tracks and footpaths. Officials in the corporation rely heavily on consultant reports, which according to him, are the most dangerous because of half or no knowledge about ground realities.

Mangesh Dighe, Environment Officer in Pune Municipal Corporation, reiterated the view that there was a lack of interest on part of officials in implementation of cycle tracks and footpaths. The National Urban Transport Policy is treated only as a loose guideline, as it is not yet enforceable in nature. He felt that engineers, officials and consultants must be involved in such workshops as well to ensure greater interest and sensitivity towards the issues of pedestrians and cyclists.

From the political field, Abhay Chhajed from Indian National Congress attended the workshop and expressed his wish to hear more suggestions from NGOs in designing cycle tracks in the city as well as interacting with them for inputs on schemes like the public bicycle system. Anna Malvadkar from Nationalist Congress Party also expressed the need for politicians to engage more with social groups as they have a lot more knowledge about specific issues than the politicians. He mentioned that he would like to continue this interaction on a regular basis with the NGOs to bring about better cycling facilities in the city.

The overall feedback from the workshop was positive, even though the attendance from political representatives and corporation officials was not strong enough. However, we feel that the momentum received from this initiative should be kept up in the form of regular contact with political representatives in order to start the process towards a cycling friendly city.

This workshop was part of 'The Invisible Cyclist' project, supported by Global Greengrants Fund, which comprises of The Invisible Cyclist - video series and a The Invisible Cyclist Booklet.

Media Coverage

'Cyclists pitch for upgrade in facilities' - TOI, 29th March 2013

'PMC officials keep off cycling workshop' - Sakaal Times, 29th March 2013