Ahead of India’s 75th Independence Day, cyclists from all walks of life came together advocating for Freedom to ride a cycle on Kolkata roads, followed by a Press Conference.
Urging authorities to remove cycle restrictions, which have impacted their daily movement on Kolkata roads, the event was joined by livelihood cyclists- who use a cycle for their daily commutes like those delivering essentials like newspaper, milk, ration, and other goods as well as cycling enthusiasts, cycling groups, IT professionals, sportsperson, doctors and business heads among others.
The objective of the meeting was to collectively advocate for the removal of current restrictions on cycling across 62 major roads in Kolkata. Cycle restrictions are a hindrance to the lives and livelihoods of people who use cycling as their sole mode of transportation in the city.
“We earn a livelihood by selling newspapers. It is also a very important service we have been offering for ages to Kolkattans. It has become really difficult for us to freely cycle and sell newspapers, which is our only source of income” said Hanuman Singh, who sells newspapers for a living
Vinay Jaju of SwitchON Foundation mentioned at the event “The cycle restrictions must be immediately lifted from Kolkata Roads. We are ready to work closely with the Kolkata Police to ensure all traffic rules are strictly followed in making Kolkata a sustainable and liveable city.”
Saturday’s event was organized to demonstrate the need for transforming Kolkata into a cycle-friendly city by incorporating cycle promotive infrastructures. It was inspired by an Open Letter addressed to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, which received an overwhelming response from several eminent personalities like authors Amitav Ghosh and Ruskin Bond, iconic singer Usha Uttup, photojournalist Raghu Rai, actor and film-maker Aparna Sen, among others, whose images are reverentially celebrated across Bengal and beyond. In parallel with that, an online signature campaign drive through an online petition started on change.org and jhatka have received over 15,000+ signatures. The overwhelming response gives us hope to collect more signatures in the coming few months appealing an immediate removal of cycle restrictions.
Starting early in the morning, cyclists started coming in small groups holding banners and placards that had messages addressed to the Chief Minister. All people who congregated at the event stood together for photographs collectively requesting all authorities to immediately lift all cycle restrictions from the city and transform certain sections within the city into cycle-friendly corridors. The event also displayed an open message board collecting signatures of citizens actively supporting the need for cycling in the city for congestion-free roads, clean air, and securing livelihoods dependent on cycle mobility.
This was followed by a press conference organized at the Press Club Hall with prominent stakeholders like secretaries of newspaper and milk associations, daily cycle commuters, etc voicing their concerns on how the present cycle restrictions have been affecting their livelihoods.
“The Police charges us about Rs.100 fine for cycling on roads and selling newspapers. We are hardly making a living in recent times and such a fine falls heavy on us.” mentioned Vinod Kumar Gupta, who delivers packages to households for a living on cycles.
Time and again, several commuters who commute daily on cycles within the city have to bear the brunt of violating the cycle restrictions which have been imposed by the Kolkata Police. These restrictions continue to exist on Kolkata roads for over 13 years now. Earlier media reports have uncovered that the Kolkata police is concerned about the city’s lack of road space and the limited space being already occupied by car parking, bus stops, etc. as primary reasons behind embargoing the installation of cycle promotive infrastructure in the city. Additionally, the Police are also concerned that allowing cycles to freely ply on the roads may cause more road fatalities and slow down the traffic, being a slow-moving vehicle itself.
SwitchON Foundation has conducted some studies that uncovered that cyclists have not created safety risks on the roads and can easily match up Kolkata’s average traffic speed (14 km/hr), which has already been reduced as a result of an increasing number of private motor vehicles on the roads. Cyclists’ deaths form less than 5% of total deaths to road traffic accidents in Kolkata. Additionally, data from official records revealed that only 5 thousand bicycles have been booked as against 88.2 lakhs of cars for violating traffic rules.
Several city-based cycle groups such as Kolkata Cycle Samaj, 2 wheels Kolkata, Cycos, NTFN, CNG, KCAJRAJ, Parsec, Argo, 100 miles participated in the event. One of the participants from the cycle groups mentioned “ Global cities like London or Paris are prioritising cycling over motorised transport in an effort to decongest busy roads. It is an example Kolkata can learn from.”
At present, cycle restrictions are a hindrance to free mobility and for certain livelihoods, cyclists at the event, therefore also collectively voiced the need for road safety campaigns along with a better cycling infrastructure to improve the mobility experiences in the city.
During the media conference, several cyclists also urged the Kolkata Police to give them a hearing so that they can discuss the immediate removal of cycling restrictions from all roads of Kolkata and consider a cycle-promotive infrastructure for a sustainable Kolkata. Cycling is a sustainable transport mode and in the backdrop of degrading air quality in the city, it can be a great alternative to environmentally pollutive motor vehicles and to decongest the city.
“ It is absolutely impractical that cycles are restricted on Kolkata roads. Cycles help in earning a livelihood and saving down on petrol costs in the backdrop of a crumbling economy and with lakhs of Kolkata’s residents still belonging to economically challenged classes” said Raghunath Bhattacharya – Kolkata Cycle Arohi Adhikar -o- Jibika Raksha Committee.
“India is a democratic country and people from all rungs of the society should have the same freedom to access road space. The bicycle is the most owned vehicle in Bengal and hence any restrictions should be lifted” said Swarojit Roy, avid cyclist, 100 miles