Nearly two-and-a-half months after Delhi started relaxing the lockdown norms put in place to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, roads of the national capital have started seeing a surge in the number of cyclists, a study has found.
The initial finding of the ongoing study by five researchers—all alumni of IIT-Delhi and IIT-Roorkee—shows that on at least 22 of the 56 stretches monitored, the number of cyclists has increased by 4% to 12%. The reason for the increase vary from limited public transport options to a preference for contactless modes of travel to keep the Covid-19 infection at bay, says the draft report.
P Shridhar, the road safety engineer heading the project, said the stretches were studied to find how commuting patterns and traffic volume have changed after the city came out of lockdown, imposed on March 25. The restrictions were eased gradually from the second week of May with public transport resuming in the capital on May 20.
“Our study is focusing on commuting patterns since May 18, when the city started unlocking its economy. While the volume of private vehicles has increased, we also observed that the volume of cycles on arterial roads has gone up,” said Shridhar, who is also a consultant for the governments of Karnataka, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu to make commuter friendly public spaces.
He said, “Apart from seeing these cyclists as just numbers, we also did a detailed survey to ascertain if they were new cyclists, and if so, why had they made the switch and what kind of infrastructure problems do they face during their commute.”
On 22 stretches, the study found that the increase in the number of cyclists was in the range of 4% to 12%. The 22 stretches included Mathura Road (between Apollo Hospital and Jangpura), India Gate roundabout, Noida Link Road, August Kranti Marg, Sri Aurobindo Marg, Panchsheel Marg, Pankha Road, Aruna Asaf Ali Marg, Dabri-Gurgaon Road in Dwarka, Vedant Desika Mandir Marg (near Ber Sarai), and GT Karnal service road (near Shahdara metro station), among others.
While most of these stretches are in the upscale parts of south and central Delhi — roads in these parts are wider and the traffic volume low, making them ideal routes for cyclists — curiously, the rise in cyclists numbers was also seen in many parts of west and north Delhi, both with predominantly working-class populations.
“Lower middle-class users are switching to cycles for economic reasons. With a restriction on public transport and given their limited income, many are seeing cycles as a long-term option to save on commuting expenses,” the study draft reads.
“For the middle and upper-class cyclists, who mostly own a private vehicle, the reasons for the switch are completely different — they are using cycles for shorter distances, recreational purposes and also as a means to keep fit amid the pandemic scare,” it said further.
Based on their findings, the research team have assessed that in the coming year, road share of cyclists could go up by as much as 20% to 25%. Delhi government estimates show, there are nearly 1.1 million regular bicycle users in the city, but this figure is from before the pandemic.
A similar analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) found the share of cyclists of total road commuters will rise from 4% to 12%. “The takeaway from this is that cities will have to be planned to be more cyclist and pedestrian friendly. This is an opportunity,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director (research and advocacy), CSE.
Mehul Srivastava, who leads a cycling group in south Delhi, said new cyclists are joining the team for health reasons and also to reduce contact with other people.
“There are those who now prefer to cycle to the local market. Many who were using cabs or auto-rickshaws for short commutes are also switching to cycling because they do not want to risk any exposure to the virus. Health has become a priority among people, but the infrastructure for cyclists is still poor,” Srivastava said.
He said most parts of the city do not have dedicated cycle tracks and even in areas where they are located. Cyclists, he said, also often become victims of road accidents and crimes such as snatching and robberies.
Delhi traffic police data echoes cyclists’ concerns. Data on road accidents over the past 10 years shows that of the total fatalities on Delhi’s roads, cyclists and pedestrians make up 70%.
A senior Delhi traffic police officer said, “In lower income areas, people don’t have a choice. The frequency of buses, which is their primary mode of transport, is low and so they prefer to cycle. Central and south Delhi areas have plenty of cycle groups with professional gear. But for the benefit of all classes, road infrastructure has to be safe. Sadly, that’s not the case now,” the officer said.
Experts say similar upward swings in cycling have been observed in cities abroad. Alejandro Schwedhelm, urban mobility associate at World Resources Institute (WRI) Ross Centre for Sustainable Cities, said the surge was seen in cities in China, Germany, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Aniket Tikoo, owner of Bikers Loft, a biking equipment store in Lajpat Nagar, said the sale of cycles has increased by 10% to 15% over the past two months, but it was too early to say if the rise would remain consistent in the coming months. “People are mostly buying multi-geared comfort hybrids and road bikes. So, business has been good,” he said.