Cycling daily to the workplace makes the commute interesting, healthy, and non-polluting.
As with most people, my vehicle got bigger as I grew professionally. I started my career with a moped, and then graduated in stages to a scooter, a small car, a bigger car, etc. However, 10 years ago, it struck me that this was a stupid way to go and I started cycling for three reasons - all equally important.
- First, I felt guilty about adding to the pollution and congestion on Bangalore’s roads, and did not want to contribute to it any more.
- Second, I wanted to make exercise a part of my daily life, instead of doing it as a separate activity just to stay healthy.
- Third, I wanted to make the daily commute to my office interesting instead of something that I was beginning to dread every day.
It’s been 10 years now since I have been mostly cycling to my office, which is 15 km. from my home. On days that I do not cycle, I take the bus. I restrict the use of my car to a maximum of 3 days in a month.
A common question that people ask me is “Don’t you waste a lot of time cycling?” My answer is “No, I in fact save a lot of time”. Commuting to my office by car takes me about one and a half hours both ways. Going to a gym would take me another one and a half hours (Including the time in the gym, changing and going up and down.) My exercise plus the commute time in a car would therefore be 3 hours every day. Instead, on my bicycle, I combine my exercise and commute, and it takes me just 2 hours and in the bargain, I stay fit - I actually save an hour every day.
Before I began cycling, I used to go to a gym every day, but never enjoyed the repetitive working-out indoors, and always found excuses to skip gym on many occasions. Now that I have been cycling, I never feel like skipping my daily exercise – I actually look forward to getting onto my bicycle in the mornings.
Another question that often comes up is “How do you breathe in all that polluted air?” This of course from people who travel in air-conditioned cars with the windows rolled up. My reply to this is that there are many scientific studies that show that the air inside a car is more polluted than that outside. There is an accumulation of Carbon Monoxide, Carbon Dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the plastics, flame-retardants and fabric softeners inside the car. VOCs are actually carcinogenic. Therefore, it is relatively safer to breathe the apparently polluted air outside the car than the deceptively clean air inside it.
Bicycling is taken quite seriously abroad, especially in the European countries:
Known as the bicycle capital of the world, Amsterdam can give any country a run for its money with the number of people using the bicycle as their primary means of commuting.
Barcelona’s massive bicycling program, ‘Bicing’, is quickly becoming world renowned for its success. An annual Bike Week is held in late May too, showcasing Spain’s dedication to encouraging bicycling.
Home to the Tour de France, and to Vélib’– the world’s largest public bicycle rental program, France’s bicycling credentials are widely recognized.
In Copenhagen alone, it is estimated that about a third of the workforce commutes via bicycle.
In India, bicycles continue to be an important and necessary means of transportation, but mostly in the rural areas. Perhaps it is time to emulate this practice in our congested polluted urban spaces as well!
Making a movement
From practicing sustainable transport, I graduated to talking about it. I was keen to spread the message that sustainable transport is the only solution to Bangalore’s transport problem. I wanted to get people to shed their addiction to their automobiles and cycle, walk or take the bus instead. It seemed like an impossible task to spread the message citywide, but Al Gore’s presentation on climate change inspired me. I reasoned that if a single presentation of his could educate people worldwide about the intricacies of climate change, maybe it was not impossible to educate just one city about sustainable transport.
I first educated myself on the issue and researched on Bangalore’s problems. Transportation is mostly about machines and I happen to be a mechanical engineer, so this was not too difficult. Explaining transportation, unfortunately, involves many numbers. Therefore, the bigger challenge was to convert these numbers into a form that people could easily understand and visualize.
I started a sustainable transport movement called CyBaNa, which stands for ‘Cycle + Bus + Nadiyodu’ - Nadiyodu means ‘walking’ in Kannada. I prepared a presentation that conveys the message that CyBaNa is the only solution to Bangalore’s traffic mess. The presentation is easy to understand – it has numbers, but conveys them graphically. I have been using the presentation to give talks in companies and residents’ associations. I email it to people I know, and to people in government who are responsible for transportation planning and management. It is also available for downloading from sites like Slideshare where about 4000 people have so far viewed it.
Of late, people have slowly begun taking to cycling. It has potential to become the key mode of transport, especially as the ‘prestige’ issues associated with it are disappearing.
The tragic thing about traffic is that the people least responsible for the destruction caused by it are the biggest victims. A pedestrian, cyclist or a bus passenger occupies one-twentieth of the road space occupied by a person in a car. Per person, a bus emits one-fifth the pollution as a person in a car. Pedestrians and cyclists are of course zero polluters. The current strategy to solve the traffic problem is to increase road space to keep pace with increase in traffic. This involves widening roads, cutting trees, reducing widths of footpaths and removing pedestrian crossings. Pollution increases, pedestrians and cyclists lose their walking and cycling space, and lose the shade that they need.
As a group, one of the biggest victims of the traffic are children. You have to be 18 years of age to get an automobile license, so every child is forced to be a CyBaNa user. I am hoping that someone will take the CyBaNa movement to schools and colleges. The anti-cracker movement in Delhi started in schools, and was spearheaded by children. Today Deepawali in Delhi is a quieter festival with dramatically lower pollution levels, because of children. My dream is that we can start a CyBaNa movement in schools in Bangalore, and that children will force their parents to increasingly move away from their private automobiles to which they are so addicted today.
As a cycling addict, I fervently hope that one day we will have the sense to realize that cycling is not just entertainment for children, but a key form of transport for children and adults. I dream of seeing Bangalore with cycling lanes, cycle parking, traffic lights with priority for cyclists and shady roads that could encourage many more to take to these non-polluting wheels.
Dasarathi is a Mechanical Engineer by profession and the Founder-Director of a company that makes products for Computer - Aided Manufacture. He does whatever is possible to reduce his impact on Gaia.