Once known as the cycle city, Pune is no more as safe and equipped for cycling as it used to be decades ago. Growing population and rise in the number of automobiles are of course at the root of the problem, and lack of infrastructure and will to improve the situation for cyclists are adding to it. Motorcycles and four-wheelers have now replaced good old eco-friendly cycles.
With the ever-increasing need for environment-friendly lifestyles, encouraging cycling seems like the way forward. Accordingly, a preliminary draft of the Pune Cycle Plan was open for public inputs until last month. Cyclists, former cyclists, and others have given suggestions for this. They indicate substantial support to the proposals, with many respondents expressing the need for a strong implementation plan.
One of the recommendations in the cycle plan is to scrap the one-way routes which don’t support cyclists. Making the central part of the city motor-free and discouraging construction of flyovers are a few other ideas. Flyovers are often expensive and short-term measures which don’t solve the problem of traffic congestion, the suggestions mention. The draft cycle plan details cycle track designs, connectivity and maintenance.
The standing committee of Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has, however, recently diverted Rs 5 crore from the cycle plan to set up sanitary napkin disposal units. In the past too, funds were diverted to carry out cleanliness drive.
Meanwhile, regular cyclists have been battling several odds, quite literally, however, hoping that funds are utilised for developing better cycling infrastructure. “Most of the cycle tracks in the city are encroached by hawkers, and used by vehicle-owners for parking,” says Samir Ganu, who cycles to work everyday. Other cyclists like Vinay Tinaikar and Saurabh Adkar agree. “Most of the cycle track on the JM Road stretch is always full of vehicles,” says Adkar, who cycles from Padmavati to Shivaji Nagar daily.
Even the bars installed at the entrance of cycling tracks are an issue. “They are purposely installed close to each other so that motorcycles do not enter these lanes, but unfortunately, the distance between two bars is so tiny that even cyclists have to get off their bicycle to squeeze in,” explains Ganu, who cycles around 3 km from Kothrud to Nal Stop thrice a week. Even the slopes at the entrance and exit are missing in most places, he adds.
Apart from these basic infrastructure loopholes, there are other related issues like the lack of traffic discipline among two-and four-wheeler drivers. With the cycle tracks encroached, cyclists often resort to the roads. But even then, “there is no lane discipline. Cyclists are scared of motorbike and car drivers since they usually tend to overlook cyclists,” says Tinaikar who cycles a good 24 km to work everyday, from Bhugaon to Aundh.
The weather is also a deterrent, given that most offices in India do not have a shower room. “It’s impossible to cycle in summer and sit in office without a shower,” says he adding, “I have been pushing for shower rooms in my office for the last three years now.” He even cycles around 3-4 km every morning to get milk.
Considering the rising pollution levels, encouraging cycling is a must, opine Ganu and Tinaikar. “While all the funds for this can keep coming, the implementation is also critical,” says Adkar, who believes that awareness is as important as infrastructure, along with safe parking spaces for cycles, and dedicated and secured tracks across the city.
The civic body, on its part, has been working on the project, says Srinivas Bonala, PMC chief engineer in-charge of the cycle plan. “The work is on at the ward office level. Twelve of fifteen ward offices have completed the consultation work and the implementation plan has been explained to all the corporators in these wards,” he says, adding that a final report on this will be submitted to the general body by the end of this month.
The reassuring bit is the increasing interest in cycling and the revival of cycling among commoners. Even corporate groups and neighbourhoods have started coming up with cycling clubs. People are willing to shift to cycling if safe cycling infrastructure is ensured. Pune thus hopes to once again become a cycle-friendly city.