I started commuting to work by cycle in 2011, to avoid the stress of getting stuck in traffic jams on the Outer Ring Road (ORR). Surprisingly, I found that cycling was not as hard as I imagined it to be. Slowly, my frequency of cycling increased, and while the traffic jams on ORR, Whitefield and Sarjapura Road peaked too, it hardly affected me. I was riding a 23-km round trip everyday to work, come what may! Cycling brought immense flexibility and freedom to my schedule.
Now, due to COVID and the work-from-home option, the number of commuters including cyclists have reduced. But it is common to see a healthy proportion of cyclists during the rush hours on ORR. Contrary to popular opinion, the majority of cyclists are not those riding expensive bikes to their high-end jobs, but security guards, domestic workers and cooks. The whole service workforce benefits from this cheap transport option within the city, and they are the ones who will benefit the most from dedicated cycling infrastructure.
Over the years, cycle lanes have come up on a few isolated stretches in the city. Now, these lanes have been coming up on the ORR (KR Puram to Silk board) and the CBD (Central Business District). On ORR, cycle lanes are reasonably safe to use where they exist, but the problem is, the majority of the work is still pending.
What the ORR cycle lanes are like now
Work on the ORR cycle lane started last year during the COVID lockdowns. As per a report in The News Minute in October 2020, officials had committed to complete the work that November. But work is still incomplete in most stretches. But as per a report in The Times of India this January, of the 17 km pop-up cycle lane proposed on ORR, only 4 km had been completed.
While the BBMP is setting up the lanes, ongoing works by other agencies like the BWSSB (Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board) is said to be causing delays in implementation. However, signages demarcating cycle lanes exist at some points, and cyclists are already using the lane.
Following are the key issues with the lane currently:
- Cycle lane exists in broken stretches between Silk Board and KR Puram, each usually 100 to 500 m long. In many areas cycle lanes have not come up, or are in unfinished or unusable condition.
- At traffic junctions, there are no bollards or markings for the lane. For example, crossing the junctions at Devarabisanahalli and Agara lake-27th main stretch is a challenge.
- Where the cycle lane does exist, many bollards have gone missing or are damaged, probably hit by speeding vehicles.
- Many two-wheeler riders misuse the cycle lanes by driving the wrong way. Many of them have the misconception that the lane is meant for them! Often they pick fights with cyclists who are using the lane. Many newbie cyclists are scared to use the lanes because of this.
- In Marathahalli, the newly-barricaded cycle lanes on the service road are being used for motorbike parking. Service roads are not meant for vehicle parking anyway. But the shop/property owners along ORR seem to think of cycle lanes as a loss of parking space on the service road.
- Proper signage to indicate that the lane is for ‘cycles only’, is lacking. Signage exists in some places but is not clearly visible. Many blue collar workers on cycles are not even aware that the lane is meant for cyclists.
- The cycle lane is not swept, cleaned or maintained. It has the same fate as Bengaluru’s road infrastructure – zero maintenance.
- There is a lack of awareness among the public about the cycle lane. Currently the traffic police does not fine other motorists entering the lane. There needs to be a concerted awareness campaign by BBMP to make these lanes popular among the public.
Cycle lanes perceived as waste of funds
There is a general perception that cycle lanes are a ‘waste of money’. Contrary to this, the ORR cycle lanes are being used well, mainly by blue collar workers. It’s worth pondering why many of us observe nothing outside our four walls – we drive our cars or sit inside cabs or buses, absorbed in our calls and podcasts.
During the pandemic, when the roads were empty, many people started cycling for the first time as well. This is proof that if space is made for cyclists, they will use it.
Cycle is probably the cheapest and most ubiquitous mode of transport both in urban and rural India. Until a few decades ago, Bengalureans could easily commute by cycle. But sometime during the last few years, in the garb of development, more and more public money is being poured into expensive solutions like overbridges, underpasses and road widening, which do not scale for a city like Bengaluru that’s growing at an enormous pace.
We need public transport options such as buses, Metro and suburban rail, but these will be incomplete without non-motorised transport – walking and cycling – to connect neighborhoods to transport hubs.
What’s the way forward?
First, we should recognise that cyclists exist in this city. Second, we have to think practically. Is it possible for the public transport network – bus or rail – to reach every street? Or would it be practical instead for people to reach bus stops and train stations through a short walk or public bicycle sharing?
Many old residential areas in Bengaluru have shaded but narrow streets. These areas can be made safer for pedestrians and cyclists only if less private vehicles use these roads. The saying goes, if we die crossing the road, who will pay the taxes?
All around the world, cities are making space for cyclists for sustainable transport, and if we want to build a city with world class infrastructure, we should too. Such sustainable options will discourage private vehicle ownership and usage during peak traffic hours, and reduce congestion.
Read more: Guess why women avoid cycling in our city
Consider the benefits of cycling. Even during heavy traffic, I could always walk with my cycle, carry it and cross to the other side of the road, or find some alternative paths that motor vehicles, even motorised two-wheelers, could not take. There were times I met acquaintances and ex-colleagues while cycling, smelt the flowering Akasha Mallige on ORR, passed by parks, saw children playing, passed along lakes and saw cormorants drying their wings in the sun, or stopped to buy roasted peanuts in Marathahalli. I could never do these things when I was driving a car to work or when taking the bus. It was the absolute freedom of feeling the elements, being outdoors and the joy of being actively mobile, with complete control of one’s schedule and getting some light exercise at the same time.
But most people feel that cycling in the city is difficult. Arterial roads with heavy and fast traffic like the ORR should make space for dedicated cycle lanes and ensure continuity across junctions. In residential areas and major junctions, accessible cycle parking and public bicycle sharing facilities should be set up so as to address connectivity issues.
Any policy on sustainable mobility must be aimed at transitioning private vehicle owners into using public transport, walking and cycling. It’s an investment for the city’s future, to break the perception that cycling is a luxury or daredevil task, reduce the number of private vehicles and to make our roads safer and less polluted.
With Metro construction starting on ORR, road space has reduced further, and it’s expected to continue that way for a few years. It is crucial that along with bus lanes, pedestrians and cyclists are given a secure and dedicated space. With that, the number of private vehicles can be reduced and end-to-end and fast connectivity for ORR commuters can be guaranteed despite Metro construction.