Cities, climate and behaviour change

I spent a couple of minutes on NDTV last evening in a two hour telethon on cycling sponsored by a major bicycle manufacturer from the north of the country. While I appreciate their intention and initiative, the choice of some of the panelists really was questionable. Their ability to see the future of an important topic like health, environment and economic impact of transportation choices in the cities was poor. Sadhguru who was one of the speakers tried to brush off motor vehicle congestion and pollution in the cities as a simple civic issue not worthy of consideration for global climate change. While I agree there are bigger problems of disappearing forests and dirty rivers to be concerned about, these are a result of attitudes from the cities. Half of India’s population lives in the economic engines called cities. They influence our direction as a country in thoughts, ideas and the environment. It starts with our everyday consumption and usage choices in these cities. Choices which show up in our forests and rivers. So we cant brush off cities as insignificant to the climate change efforts.

Cycling is the future. Motor vehicles in congested cities lead to increased levels of stress hormones and poor air quality. These make you more vulnerable to infection. It’s reductionist to bracket it as just a civic issue. 40% of air pollution in cities are caused by tailpipe emissions. We need to reduce the twin negative externalities of congestion and pollution in cities for productivity and economic vitality of people in these cities.

Cycling is the future. In the current crisis, it can improve health of the people, keeps COVID away and improves the productivity of the employees so the economy can kickstart. This is what this country needs and we have a solution in cycling. Getting people on bicycles is public change making. Unlike corporate change management this requires persistence, awareness, behavioural nudges and using policy windows, like the one we have now, to achieve results. The #ResetWithCycling campaign does this.

Cycling is the future, yet, another speaker Kiran Shaw thought getting people to choose it isn’t possible. I would chalk such thoughts down to lazy, old school misconceptions. It might not get any easier if many employers like her in the cities are being too conservative to capitalise on such opportunities and participating in making this change. They would appear wiser if they stood behind efforts like #ResetWithCycling rather than trying to be reductionist and dismiss such efforts.

Cycling is the future and the Bengaluru City Police have shown the way this week by allowing cycling during the lockdown. It’s probably the first in the country which has given cyclists respect in these times. The culture of cycling in Bengaluru for commute and recreation is one of the best in India. The global #CycleToWork initiative launched out of Bengaluru has employees from more than 270 Companies saving more than 150 tonnes of carbon emissions from getting into our lungs. Its a testament to the grit and determination of the people in cities. #ReliefRiders in Bengaluru are the first such group of cyclists in the country who have over the past month conducted over 200 sorties to ferry essentials to senior citizens and kept them safe. Its again the bicycle which has prevented more than 400Kgs of Carbon emissions from getting into the atmosphere.

Cycling is the future. The Ministry of Home Affairs should include cycling in the guidelines they issue from time to time so people can take a cue and replicate it across the country. Its an important tool in emergencies at zero cost and fuel dependencies. The following is the nation wide call to authorities that #ResetWithCycling campaign is making for emergencies like COVID-19

  1. Declare that people on bicycle don't need a pass to move around during lockdown periods of any intensity.
  2. Declare bicycle sale/repair shops essential service and allow them to stay open at all times during lockdowns or otherwise.
  3. Dedicate neighbourhood shopping streets as walking/cycling only so as to provide adequate space for physical distancing.
  4. Dedicate motor vehicle lanes on major roads for bicycle movement in such emergencies and afterwards.

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Sathya Sankaran

Sathya Sankaran

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A tactical urbanist with background in public policy & technology. Founder of Urban Morph & Bicycle Mayor of Bengaluru.