On the one hand, the whole world is grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, and on the other, people are appreciating the fact that Mother Earth is rejuvenating and getting a break from all the noise, smoke and environmental destruction. Urbanites can see the change. Trees have fresh blooms and the isolated city roads are strewn with flowers, and the honks of vehicles and the screeching of tyres have fallen silent. Instead the chirping of birds and the singing of crickets now greet urbanites every single day.
But what happens when the lockdown is lifted? Do we go back to the old normal? It may not be a great idea, feel many. Which is why, Dr Arvind Bhateja, cyclist and neurosurgeon, and Sathya Sankara, cyclist and Bicyle Mayor of Bengaluru, have come up with a campaign, #ResetWithCycling. Through this platform, they are trying to bring together interested groups of cyclists, citizens, doctors, environmentalists and urban planners to take a relook at urban life. They are also seeking government support. The motto is: Let’s use the bicycle to reduce traffic and stress, and improve health and air quality, and renew our cities to build a better future for the next generation.
Dr Bhateja started cycling back in 2009. An interest, which slowly turned into a passion and then he became a strong advocate for the humble two-wheeler. Sharing the health benefits of cycling, he says, “It keeps you fit and increases your endurance. And anyone can do cycling, no matter the gender, age or social status. It maintains good blood circulation and muscle movements.” However, he emphasises on taking care of the posture while riding.
Talking about the inspiration behind starting a thoughtful campaign like #ResetWithCycling, the cyclists point out that they were inspired by the benefit that nature has reaped during the lockdown and felt the need to start the campaign. “Our changed behaviour during the lockdown has benefited the environment, in terms of air quality, noise pollution and more. We launched this campaign to see a sustained change and so that things don’t go back to the way they were,” says the doctor.
Helps maintain distance
Start with small steps. “No one is asking you to do laps as soon as you get your hands on a cycle. Start small, take it to the grocery store or just around the corner and then aim big,” says Sankara.
Dr Bhateja adds that once you get the hang of it you can start taking your cycle anywhere you wish to go. Moreover, this mode of transport allows you to maintain all norms of social distancing. “You are not cramped up in a car with other people with the air conditioner on. That said, when riding a bicycle, you are alone but you still need to maintain distance from others around you,” says the neurosurgeon.
World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended cycling as the best mode of transport during corona crisis all over the world. WHO volunteers have used cycle as a transport to help others. According to WHO, better bicycle accessibility can support economic recovery after COVID-19. Cycling can improve public health and quality of life. Cycling infrastructure can help cities become more resilient to future shocks.
Build the infrastructure
Sankara, who is the first Bicycle Mayor of Bengaluru, points out that along with health benefits for individuals, cycling also improves environmental health, which is the need of the hour.
However, with more people taking up cycling as an effective mode of transport the infrastructure needs to improve. “In India when we talk about building roads we only think of the number of lanes the road will have and many a time, we miss out on planning safe cycle paths and footpaths,” says Sankara, adding that major cities in the country like Pune, Chandigarh and so on were successful in launching cycle paths but these were treated as projects instead of solid plans. “More thought needs to be put into this and maybe the officials can also appoint commissioners who would solely look after the growth and development of cycle paths. This calls for a collective approach,” adds Sankara.
The avid cyclist further mentions that these days one does not even have to own a bicycle to ride one. Cycles are easily available on rent, and for those who are looking for comfort, the market has a lot to offer – cycles with gears, e-cycles and many more variants.
#ResetWithCycling campaign demands the following from the government:
- Declare that people on bicycles don’t need a pass to move around during lockdown periods of any intensity.
- Declare bicycle sale / repair shops as essential service, and allow them to stay open at all times during lockdown or otherwise.
- Dedicate neighbourhood shopping streets as walking/ cycling only to provide adequate space for physical distancing.
- Dedicate motor vehicle lanes on major roads for bicycle movement in such emergencies and afterwards.
It also requests people to:
- Not get back into that car or motor vehicle, instead try the bicycle now and post lockdown.
- Talk to a friend who doesn’t ride a bicycle and assist him/ her to buy one and ride around.