A push to make Visakhapatnam cycling friendly


As the city gears up to participate in India Cycles4Change challenge, here is what the cyclists suggest to bring about an eco-friendly change for commuting

The road behind the Waltair Club sports a wide and nicely painted cycling lane. But the path ends abruptly at the junction near Gujarada Kalashetram. Ahead of that junction, cyclists either have to make their way through the heavy traffic or get off the bike and walk it home.

But this might change soon as the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC) has registered for the India Cycles4Change Challenge, an initiative by the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs which aims to support Indian cities to quickly implement cycling-friendly initiatives in response to COVID-19. The government is trying to promote cycling as an eco-friendly way of commuting to reduce people’s dependency on public transport and help them in maintaining social distance. Visakhapatnam along with 94 other cities have registered for this initiative.

Through their social media handles, GVMC is reaching out to people seeking their opinions to make the city cycling-friendly. “We have put out surveys and poll campaigns on our Twitter and Facebook page, inviting people to make suggestions about their preferred cycling trails, barriers on these routes, city’s cycling habits and their opinion about renting cycles.We are hoping that Visakhapatnam gets listed among the 11 cities to implement changes, following which cycling lanes will be developed and awareness campaigns will be undertaken to promote safety of the cyclists. Currently, we are considering to develop cycle lanes on the Beach Road. More areas will be added according to the suggestions submitted by the people,” says M Vinay Kumar, Superintendent Engineer (Smart City Projects).

What is India Cycles4Change Challenge?

  • Launched in June 2020, the initiative aims to set up extensive cycling-networks using methods like pop-up cycle lanes, non-motorised zones and set up community-led cycle rental schemes.
  • Of the registered cities, the Centre will pick 11 who will be given an award of ₹1 crore.
  • Development in these cities will happen in two stages. Under stage one, the local authorities will have to conduct promotional activities to encourage cycling and develop a wide-scale strategy for making the city cycling-friendly.
  • Under stage two the cities will implement the scale-up plans under the guidance of national and international experts.

Homesh Cetty, an entrepreneur and a seasoned cyclist believes that the city will have to undergo major redesigning to make it cycling-friendly. “There are barely any cycle lanes in the city and the ones that exist lead to nowhere. A cycling-friendly city like Copenhagen or Amsterdam has been successful because they have ensured that all parts of the cities are accessible on a bike. The cycling lanes are smooth and without speed breakers. If the authorities plan on promoting cycling as a part of daily commute, then all the areas need to be well connected, developing just a few areas will be no good,” says Homesh.

He is also the founder of Vizag Bay Cycling, one of the oldest cycling groups in the city. “ In the current state, cycling in the city is dangerous as there is heavy traffic and people are not educated about taking cyclist into consideration while driving. The authorities will have to educate the citizens about driving responsibly alongside cycling lanes,” he says.

Dr Suman Das, who picked up cycling during the lockdown, believes that pop-up cycle renting services will help in creating a buzz among the citizens. “Even if one is not a cycling enthusiast, these hop-on hop-off kind of initiatives can encourage a person to pick up rental cycles. For that to work, the authorities will have to ensure that here are ample of renting stations in every area,” he says.

Members of Vizag Bay Cycling group

Currently, the rental cycle service on the Beach Road is a hit among the city dwellers, but the heavy traffic and crowd are a major hindrance.

But 28-year-old Nidhi Chawla who moved to the city a year ago believes that maintaining the cycle lanes is as important as creating one. “The job of the government is not done just by making the lanes. They have to ensure that people are educated about making use of these lanes while driving a car or a motorbike. A lot of people use these lanes to park their vehicles so authorities will have to look into that,” she says.

Homesh believes that cycling trails in and around the city would attract cyclists from across the world and give a major boost to the tourism industry. “We are blessed with the hills and a serene coastline, Visakhapatnam would make for a great cycling destination if developed carefully. The authorities can have specific trails around Araku Valley, Bheemli, Meghadrigedda and areas near Madhurawada. These tours can be included in the travel guides of the city,”he says.

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