Originally Published 2013-10-30 07:09:39 Published on Oct 30, 2013
I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride it where I like . This 35-year old rock hymn from "Queen" might evolve to the protest song of those cyclists in Kolkata who were recently banned to use their own means of transport in any of the city's 174 busiest streets.
Is banning cycle traffic in Kolkata sensible?
""I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride it where I like"1. This 35-year old rock hymn from "Queen" might evolve to the protest song of those cyclists in Kolkata who were recently banned to use their own means of transport in any of the city’s 174 busiest streets. To make things worse, the ban is not only negatively affecting commuters but is also valid for cycle vans, handcarts, pull-carts and bakery vans.

To realise the true value of this transport political intervention, one has to recall the enormous significance of cycle traffic in India’s third largest metropolis as its share in the modal split significantly outperforms car traffic. Against this background, the displacement of bikes off the city centre roads has at least three severe dimensions of impact which are of relevance also in current urban policy discourses:

   (1) Urban development with regard to future transport planning: promotion of motorised traffic based urban sprawl versus multi modal transport system within the compact city.

   (2) Environmental and energy as cycling is free of fuel use and zero-emission: resource consuming traffic versus the sustainable city concept.

   (3) Social as it mainly hits the poor: exclusionary versus the inclusive city.

Actually there is much to be said for biking as a technically straightforward as well as fairly natural type of locomotion relying only on manpowered mechanical drive-train technology as WIKIPEDIA outlines:

"Cycling is widely regarded as a very effective and efficient mode of transportation optimal for short to moderate distances. Bicycles provide numerous benefits by comparison with motor vehicles, including the sustained physical exercise necessarily involved in cycling, that cycling involves a reduced consumption of fossil fuels, less air or noise pollution, much reduced traffic congestion, easier parking, greater manoeuvrability, and access to both roads and paths. The advantages also include reduced financial cost to the user as well as to society at large (negligible damage to roads, less road area required)."2

To put in a nutshell, all these various advantages together are driving municipal governments all over the world (as well as in India, e.g. Delhi and Mumbai) to proactively promote a higher share of bicycle traffic in local modal split. Let’s have a synoptic look on some of these conclusive arguments in favour of urban cycle traffic.3

First of all, the ecological footprint is an absolute and relative powerful evidence, which is rather reasonable since the environmental impact is zero (or almost zero if one abstract from bicycle production process) due to the fact that there is no (fossil) fuel-fired internal combustion engine required. Graph 1 and Graph 2 are showing simple comparisons to the competing means of traffic. As a result from the green viewpoint riding the bike seems to be optimal means of transport for urban traffic as it is

   •   absolutely emission-free, with respect to both local pollutants and to climate

   •   non energy-consuming, thus the most economic option for road user

   •   nearly free of noise pollution as it has got no engine noises and no honks

   •   space saving and thus cost saving e.g. for providing parking lots and thoroughfares (depending on the source 6 or up to 7-9 bikes would fit into one car parking space).

A rough estimation regarding to some negative ecological effects of the bicycle ban reveals that about 2.7 billion km per year have to be substituted by other means of transport (assuming only the 25 lakh daily commuter bike-rides in Kolkata city with an average mileage of 3 km are impacted). If these would be driven by car (instead of biking) more than half a million tonnes of CO2 would be emitted additionally (see Graph 3), which is about some 400,000 times the average emissions per capita in India in 2011.4 In line with this calculation an extra of more 200 million litre of petrol/diesel might be consumed, which is an additional yearly economic burden to private households of approximately 1,250-1,750 lakh crore5 (diesel and petrol respectively).6

Besides ecological issues cycling has proven to be good for health and prolongs life expectancy. Active exercise (optimally in the fresh and clean air) improves the personal fitness while simultaneously burning a lot of calories. Another study has demonstrated that cyclists are 2-3 times better off compared to car drivers inhaling less traffic-related air-pollutants (see Graph 4).

Moreover, cars are more dangerous than bikes due to the fact that the kinetic energy of a car at an impact is ten- to hundredfold higher (depending on the speed).7 Putting together various arguments with respect to mortality risk data from Europe (see Graph 5) reveal that the expansion of bicycle traffic might mitigate the death risk based on a lack of physical exercise and pollutant deaths, too. Thus promoting bike traffic might lead to accumulated welfare gains in the national health sector, too.

Last but not least, bicycle traffic brings positive effects for all traffic participants especially in congested traffic (e.g. rush hours) as it is a flexible and efficient peak load means of traffic, therefore avoiding welfare losses due to time wasted unproductively in traffic jams.

Up to a distance of 5 km (5.500 yards) cycling might be the fastest way to come around in the city centre (see Graph 68). In combination with public transport (metro, commuter trains e.g.) it might get proved as the most convenient choice, because it’s flexible, fast, cheap, healthy and environmentally advantageous.

Considering that at the all-India level the growth of motor vehicles far outpaces the growth of new roads9 - a situation certainly not too different in the central parts of Kolkata - it can be assumed that the "limits to growth" of car traffic on the newly created bike-free roads of Kolkata will be reached very soon, if they have not already done so. It is surprising to see that even though the ban decision was taken in conformity with the Kolkata City Development Plan (CDP) which aims to "(...) minimise the damaging effect of these modes on the mobility of traffic flow"10 its conflicting nature becomes visible by looking at one of the specific considerations for a proposed Metropolitan Transportation Policy in Kolkata as stated in the same CDP: "Energy conservation and protection of environment".

Last but not least, the "Kolkata bicycle ban" should be viewed in light of the recent recommendations of the Working Group on Urban Transport for the 12th Five Year Plan. It not only identifies the creation of facilities for walking and cycling in all cities with more than 2 lakhs inhabitants as one goal in line with the National Urban Transport Policy 2006, but even goes on to state that cycling should become a "fashion statement" including e.g. the launch of public bicycle sharing programs. Due to the limitation of road infrastructure and the risk of growing exhaust pollution the current lifestyle paradigm "I like to drive my car where I want to" is not only short-sighted but might also turn out to be short-lived.

(Thomas Elmar Schuppe is a CIM Integrated Expert on Energy at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

Courtesy: Energy News Monitor

1Lyrics out of "Bicycle Race", Queen, 1978.


3Please take note that the author is all too aware of the fact that all views and all data given are from an European background. Thus full applicability to Asian context may at times be somewhat restricted and refutable. However the general intention and argumentation will be unaffected from this.

4IEA, http://www.iea.org/statistics/statisticssearch/report/?country=INDIA&product=indicators&year=2011

5Equivalent to 9-12.6 million USD

6Petrol prices in Kolkata 19/10/2013, www.mypetrolprice.com

7Competence 2004, www.transportlearning.net, found in: trendy cycling, www.trendy-travel.eu, 2010.

8Source: FGM 2010, found in: "Radverkehr in Zahlen", BMVIT 2013 (Bundesministerium für Verkehr, Innovation und Technologie, Austria), p. 86.

9Due to MoRTH 2012, the growth rate of registered motor vehicles was almost three times the growth rate of the road network 2001-2011.

10Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA), 2006

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