Cycles are the most preferred way of traveling to shorter distances in the urban areas. Cycling not only promote a healthy life style coupled with environmental benefits but also helps in the promotion of non-motorized vehicles. The nations around the world especially the developed countries have shown great interest in promoting the cycling culture because of the multiple benefits it offers compared to any other mode of transportation within the confines of urban centers. But in India, the issue has so far been neglected except a few isolated cases as in New Delhi. The issue is far more neglected in non-metro cities like Patna.
Patna is a city where one can find cyclist in large number. The cyclist varies from students to daily workers to many other professions. However, what is missing is dedicated cycling tracks and cycling culture. By cycling culture, it is meant the way the people perceives cycling as a mode of transportation ignoring the social hierarchies and the support that the government is supposed to provide. So far, both the factors are missing. Cycling in Patna is still viewed as a mode of transport for the poor people who could not afford motorized vehicles like bike, cars etc. The cyclists are ignored on the roads and looked upon with contempt as they manoeuver across the road during traffic jams. This may be partly true because of the complete absence of any dedicated cycling paths in the city. The ever increasing numbers of vehicles on the fixed and encroached roads in Patna has further pushed the cyclists on the edge of the roads.
The cyclists in Patna travel knowing fully the risk involved on the roads. The absence of any cycling track puts the cyclists in a vulnerable position on the road which is already occupied with big vehicles. Accidents are not uncommon and sometimes results into fatality also. The country already has the dubious distinction of high rate of mortality on the roads. Minor bruises are quite common - both on the cycles and on cyclist's body. The issue becomes quite glaring when one witnesses hundreds of students on the bicycles heading towards their schools, colleges and tuition centers in haste and fast moving vehicle bypassing then very closely. Sometimes, such narrow movement traumatizes students who afterwards prefers to use the shared autos. This further contribute to the ever increasing number of shared autos on the roads. The parent also do not want their children to venture out on the dangerous roads on bicycles. The congested roads of Ashok Rajpath, Nala road, Boring road etc. gives a vivid picture of the helplessness of the cyclists. Certainly, things were not so bad in the earlier days. The dedicated cycle stands in various colleges, which lie neglected today, bears the testimony of their hey-days. The cycle stand at Patna Science College, Patna College etc. are very old, when cycles used to be the preferred medium of students. The absence of efficient public transportation in the city has further compounded the problem. The cycle users are forced to pay higher prices in autos or use bicycles jeopardizing their lives.
The need of the hour is to create dedicated cycle tracks across the length and breadth of the city. The cycling culture should be promoted as a cheap, efficient and eco-friendly way of transport for shorter distances. The lanes once created should be well looked after so as not to discourage the cyclists. Violations like encroachment on the tracks should be promptly dealt with. Innovative approaches like fencing the cycling tracks with low height fences, creating low height cycling path overbridges when space is compact, making it pot-hole free area, proper arrangements at the traffic signals for crossing the roads, encouraging private players to rent bicycles for a nominal user fee, proper cycle parking facilities at major places, making aware citizens of their rights and importance of dedicated cycling tracks, encouraging students to use and protect the tracks etc. could be employed to give a sense of encouragement to the bicycle users in the city. These steps could go a long way in making the city as a cyclist hub in the country. The municipal corporation could levy a small user charge for using the cycling tracks so as to properly maintain them. The cost of constructing dedicated these tracks across the city will be minuscule when compared to other ambitious projects like the proposed Patna Metro Rail project. The benefits of dedicated cycling tracks would be many ranging from energy saving to the eco-friendly.
There is also need to learn from the experience of other countries where cycling culture has been implemented with much success. The name of the Netherlands stands apart in popularizing and promoting the cycling culture among its citizen. This small country has more than 35,000 km of cycling tracks and it boasts of more than 18 million (1.8 crore) bicycles in the country which is more than its total population. Cycling accounts for 27 percent of all trips (urban and rural) nationwide in the Netherlands and upto 59 percent of all trips in its cities. The Dutch government has accorded high priority to pedestrian and cyclist in road designs in the urban areas. In India, Delhi has close to 100 km of cycling tracks. The Delhi government has placed 'green' local cycle stands at various points near the metro stations where one can rent a bike at just Rs. 10 for four hours. As a consequence, more and more people are cycling.
Similar kind of approach is required in Patna also. It is said that it is never too late to start a good thing. The administration needs to take note of this crucial aspect in urban planning and the with citizen participation should start this noble initiatives to begin a new era of green transport in the city.