PEDAL PUSHING – Call to go back in time and make Pune a cycle city

Look around and you’ll see many Mark Twains. The celebrated author took to cycling to keep young when he was in his late 40s.

Over the years, leisure cycling has boomed in the city , with people bringing back the pedal-pushing trend from other places in the world.

When seniors of the city talk about cycling, however, they do it with nostalgia and vivid memories of Pune being a `cycle city’.

Sujit Patwardhan of NGO Parisar, a champion of traffic causes and a senior himself, has seen the golden times of the city . “Pune was among the top cycling cities in the country in the 1970s and 1980s, and cycling was one of the main sources of transport for everyone, of every age group and in every strata,“ he said.

Jugal Rathi, 69, is today known as an evangelist for cycling and public transport, and remembers his school and college days clearly , when there were “a good amount of cycles plying across the city .“ Rathi said, “There were barely two to three motorized vehicles seen, and that too mostly in the Camp areas. All colleges had almost 80% of people using cycles. I cycled to school, college, and even after graduation.“

After using cars and twowheelers like many others in the city , Rathi has now sold all his motorized vehicles and plies only on bicycles.

Town planning experts have noted that in the past there were a few efforts to tap the cycling crowd with support in terms of safety on roads and infrastructure. Popular and congested structures such as Sambhaji Bridge and the Wakdewadi underpass were developed only for cyclists. In fact, an official cycle plan was created in January 1981, with ef forts of the NGO Parisar, by the Traffic and Transportation Cell and Town Planning and Evaluation Department of the state government.

It was called the `The Cycle Project for Pune’, and mapped in detail the signals in the city, average travel speeds of people, accident vulnerabilities and accidents avoided due to operation of the cycle net work. The plan mentioned 35 years ago that the city saw an expansion due to industrial ac tivity. It noted that at the time, “daily commuting was prominent in a radius of 800sqkm”.Post estimation and study from the city residents’ data, an “independent cycle network“ was proposed. Even at the time, the proposal suggested streamlining traffic flow, distributing traffic load evenly and ensuring safe movement for cyclists and pedestrians.

Looking at the traffic situation and the pollution levels in the city now, it is surprising that the seeds to push for making the city cycle-friendly were sown as early as 1981 with special mention to “increasing oil prices and cycling being the most convenient mode on roads“.

In 2013, the then Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) commissioner Mahesh Pathak announced his intent to create a `comprehensive bicy cle plan’. Pathak, however, was unavailable for comment as he is posted with a different government department now.When TOI tried to contact PMC authorities looking after the current `Pune Cycle Plan,’ Srinivas Bonala, chief engineer of traffic planing, JNNURM, said that the fresh plan is underway and work is on.

The 1981 report, in essence, mentions the World Bank’s statement that failure to provide adequately for pedestrians and cyclists would increase demand for expensive motorized transport, and reduce accessibility for those who cannot afford it.

Shriniwas Kulkarni, 69, the owner of the city’s first cycle shop, Kulkarni Cycle Mart, remembers a time when he sold almost 10-15 cycles every day . “During Dussehra and Diwali, it used to rise exponentially with demand escalating to almost 100-1,200 daily . As the admission season started, the first thing students used to do was line up at the cycle shops,“ he said.

There was a time when residents depended only on cycles, and every house had at least three cycles, Kulkarni said.

Kulkarni, who has seen the city change, says he has strong reason to believe that cycling will fall off the map unless steps to increase its popularity and ease are taken.

He was one of the first Indians to have a PhD in cycling trends, with a thesis on `Impact of bicycle industry on mobility of population with reference to Pune city’.

“Now there are either only cycle hobbyists or those who cannot afford other means.There is a strong need to change the mentality and attitude of people towards cycling and there may still be a glimmer of hope that Pune can be known as a cycle city again,“ he said.

Source : TOI