Kolkata 10 December 2022: Cyclists from all fields of lives across Kolkata gathered for a peaceful meet at College Square on the 10th of December between 2-3 PM to observe the UN’s International Human Rights Day 2022 and drew attention to the archaic bicycle-ban on 70+ city streets, calling it a matter of human rights of green-commuters who directly contribute towards keeping the city’s air clean and climate change at bay.
Also, for a city like Kolkata, where a huge chunk of the daily urban commuters rely on bicycles to reach their workplaces; many of whom are part of the gig economy, it is a matter of social justice too, is what the bicycling community strongly highlighted during this activity. Citing all these reasons, the cyclists handed a letter to the Commissioner of Police urging him to take cognisance of the existing ban and how it is leading to harassment of cyclists on streets and urged him to take measures that promote bicycling in the city, rather than curbing it.
“We want the cycle ban to be revoked keeping the needs of the lives and livelihoods of the common people who cycle to work in mind. Bicycles are a tool of social justice as well, as it helps people from financially weaker sections travel at lower expenses.” exclaimed Mr. Subhajit Dutta Gupta, Secretary – We Are The Common People, who was present at the event.
On the 1st of December 2022, Kolkata was at the 8th spot among the 10 most polluted cities in the world in terms of air quality. And according to IQAir’s Global Air Quality Report 2021, Kolkata was the 2nd most polluted city in India and 60th among the 6,475 cities monitored across 117 countries that featured in the report that year. According to Greenpeace India’s Behind the Smokescreen report, NO2 levels in Kolkata jumped by 11 percent between 2020 and 2021. Also air pollution from burning fossil fuels causes one million premature deaths and costs more than 10 lakh crores to the Indian economy.
“The air pollution data clearly indicates that Kolkata immediately needs to put more focus on sustainable, green modes of transport. Bicycles help fight climate change, reduce air pollution and congestion, and provide a healthier mode of transport. Yet city mobility infrastructural plans continue to be largely car-centric. This paradigm needs to change.” said Arindam Biswas from Greenpeace India.
Thankfully, the city which is known for its progressive people, who wouldn’t shy away from appealing what is right, the cyclists of Kolkata have been actively appealing to revoke the existing cycle ban for years. And on top of that civil society organisations like the SwitchOn Foundation are actively spreading awareness for people to adopt sustainable modes of transportation and hosting regular outreach and engagement programmes for the promotion of cycling among communities.
Vinay Jaju, MD SwitchON Foundation said, “The only way Kolkata can avert a serious mobility and pollution crisis, is to prioritise cycling and walking space” He further added, “The promotion of transport like cycling is a win-win approach; it not only solves the problem of traffic, rising pollution and the effect it has on our health, concerns of climate change and ensures income for a large number of people who depend on cycling for their daily needs. ”
There is a growing cycling movement in Kolkata, and in many cities across the world citizens are taking steps towards a carbon-free future. Despite being climate-friendly, healthy, and an important mode of transport especially for the larger, low-income communities, cyclists continue to face numerous obstacles while operating on the streets. These can include a culture of holding back cyclists off-the-road perpetuated by four-wheelers and other heavy-motorised vehicles, inadequate infrastructure, policy oversight, as well as bans placed on cyclists by city authorities.
“We want immediate action on the proposed Cycle Lane Plan by KMDA in the city.” – said Mr. Raghu Jana, Convenor of the Kolkata Cycle Samaj, which has been opposing the ban since its inception.
Hence, not only do we need more space for cyclists, which is part of their basic right to travel on the mode that they prefer to and the mode that suits them best; but the government also needs to actively incentivise people to shift to cycling, walking and public transport as part of their basic rights and in order to achieve multiple UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Mr.Satanjib Gupta, Bicycle Mayor of Kolkata (BYCS) said, “For 60 percent of the total daily trips in the Kolkata Metropolitan Area covering less than 3 km distance, people prefer to walk or use bicycles for commuting. According to the 2011 Census, cycling to work is prevalent in Kolkata, being the third preferred choice of commute to work (10% of the trips), after walking (39%) and public transport (31%). Hence it is time to focus on facilitating pedestrian and bicycle movement and improvement of the mass transit systems.”