This blog post is part of the Catalyzing New Mobility program and receives support from The Rockefeller Foundation.
With the initiation of the National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP), the government of India has shown a clear interest in promoting sustainable transport initiatives which include bicycles and non-motorized transport. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), an initiative of the Indian Ministry of Urban Development, calls for bike facilities to be integrated into BRT systems along with bicycle sharing systems. While there seems to be a clear policy level focus on non-motorized transport, projects which have been implemented have not been very successful in luring riders to non-motorized transport. Cities such as Delhi, Pune and Bangalore have created bike lanes without much success. Pune, has more than 80km (49.7 miles) of bicycle lanes,the lengthiest in India, and Jayangar, a neighborhood in Bangalore which has recently constructed around 40km of bicycle lanes. At a policy level both of these projects have identical goals – to promote as a viable alternative for commuting. Since they have not been very successful, where could they have gone wrong?
Jayanagar is predominantly a residential neighborhood with many schools and a gridded street network. Both of these are positives for creating a bicycle network. In the Bicycle Friendly Streets Report, school children have been targeted as the intended users of the bicycle lanes This decision seems to be driven by the presence of many schools in the neighborhood rather than the number of children bicycling to school. Experience shows that insufficient demand (or, critical mass) on these lanes could lead to other uses such as increased car parking demand – which is indeed occuring in Jayanagar. Secondly, the bike lanes have been marked inconsistently, varying from half-a-meter to two meters into the streetway, causing a jarring switch for users, in addition to being too small for use at the narrow half-meter minimum (see headline image).
The other issue plaguing this network is street selection for the bike lanes: most are on main roads. Since Jayanagar has a gridded street network, it would have been better for parallel streets to be chosen for implementing bicycle lanes. This would have physically separated bicyclists from faster moving vehicles and provided a greater sense of safety. Of course, it would be possible to physically separate bicycle lanes from traffic, but that would be a costly affair (discussed later). Finally, the issue of parking – the picture below speaks for itself. It is necessary to remove existing parking symbols where the bicycle lanes have been implemented. Public education and a redux of system implementation, including outreach efforts, enforcement and overall better design are all potential solutions to these problems.
Critical Mass Creation
Essential to creating successful bike lanes anywhere is creating a base of users: a critical mass. Instead of merely linking land uses, traffic trends analysis and identifying groups likely to make use of bike lanes is key, and is a best practice used by Transport for London. Creating comfort and ease of use has to be intuitive to even an achieved critical mass of riders, while accounting for cost of street reengineering. While physical separation from on-street traffic is best at attracting riders (and also solve other infrastructural needs – see image below) only high speed “arterials” merit this kind of infrastructure upgrade. With the renewed interest in cycle as a sustainable mode of transport, funding these projects might not be that difficult.
Creating a safe, well-lit, obstruction-free environment for cyclists is also key when designing bicycle lanes. On these streets sufficient lighting must be provided to encourage bicyclists. Physically separating bicycle lanes also helps reduce the potential for conflict with other modes of traffic and hence improve safety. By providing a ‘utility buffer’ between the bicycle lane and traffic, we can ensure that there is continuous pavement for pedestrians as well as continuous lanes for bicyclists. Issues such as the image below can be eliminated .
Cycling as an alternative mode of transportation is gaining momentum and the Government of India is promoting this as well. The pilot projects in Pune and Bangalore have been very good cases and have provided sufficient learning. A few minor changes to the planning of these networks will help us implement a successful bicycle project in India