Making Bhubaneswar Work, Cycling the Answer to Moving Millions Inhabitants Beyond Pandemic COVID19, an EarthDay Voice

As April 22nd Marks the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, Globally cities are facing an unprecedented crisis, while the priority is to stem the spread of COVID19 in order to protect life. COVID19 is seriously impacting Cities and everyone’s daily life. Ongoing nationwide lockdown to school shutdowns, Government at various level are creating a patchwork of measures to stop or slow down the spread of Coronavirus. Whatever the stage of measure, it translates in all cases into a recommendation to minimise all type of trips, to respect social distancing and avoid all unnecessary contacts.

These measures impact entire way of life in cities and alternatives solutions are being found to allow each of us to provide to our essential needs, go to work when necessary and to still perform some physical activity, while taking some fresh air. Respecting social distance and staying home in lockdown as much as possible is quite literally vital. But among all these measures and restriction, is there still a place for bicycle? Could it even contribute to implement these measures? Could it create opportunities and offers solutions?

The answer is yes cycling can play an important part during this crisis because cycling is an ideal form of transport for many key workers and for essential journeys, because of its convenience, health benefits, and ease of social distancing. Sometime it may sound odd to a society more or less use to automobiles but during this Pandemic most of the workers involved in garbage disposal are commuting to Bhubaneswar by Bicycle every day. So do cycling enables such journeys to happen over longer distances, such as for commuting to key works in Bhubaneswar or in other cities.

  • Cycling, walking and jogging are good for human being, and easy to do while maintaining safe distance from others. Many people who struggle to walk or jog for exercise also find it easy to cycle.
  • Cycling allows supply of essential products , such as for essential deliveries or volunteer efforts, without adding to pollution or road danger.
  • Integration of cycling and walking should therefore be part of public health strategy at all times, but particularly right now.
  • Government need to learn from global cities who are supporting active travel during this crisis, keeping people moving while enabling social distancing and safe journeys. The approaches taken by many Dutch cities, as well as Bogota, Mexico City, Berlin and New York are good. They are not just enabling people to keep cycling where possible and necessary, but are increasing safe provision for cycling and walking during the crisis with temporary physically protected cycle lanes and other motor traffic restrictions.
  • Restricting people from cycling may push them to less suitable alternatives — onto crowded public transport, into cars and/or into smaller, more crowded public spaces.
  • Instead of shutting down roads for Mobility, government should work to mitigate those risks of Cycling.

Allowing Cycling as a “special option” as well as considering bicycle repairing shops be exempted from retail closures imposed to halt the spread of novel Coronavirus, or COVID19, because it is believed Cycling is an important part of City Mobility that forms part of community resilience against the Coronavirus. Cycling enables travel without using public transport, personnel car and is mostly relative isolation. It also allows people to keep exercising without using gyms or going to classes.

It is well known that physical activity greatly contributes to maintaining a strong immune system. Jumping on a bicycle, getting your heartbeat going and breathing deeply clear throat and lungs of bacteria, wards off chronic illness and boosts white blood cells numbers. Cycling also gets one into the fresh air, as the Bicycle faternity reminds us. Similarly walking and cycling, particularly in green space, is good for mental as well as physical health.

Walking and cycling can be compatible with social distancing, if people are responsible by adding emergency infrastructure to make cycling and walking safer for travel to work and shops. As a means of boosting bicycle use during the COVID19 crisis officials in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, have carved out temporary new bicycle lanes with traffic bollards because role of bicycles can play in maintaining transport resilience, as well as fitness and wellbeing.

Well public transport is an essential part of everyday life in cities but everyone who can, should get out on their bicycles for short trips and for commuting. Cycling allows individual to respect social distancing by avoiding overcrowded public transport, lowering the risk of getting virus, and/or of spreading it. This means, avoiding crowded bicycle lane and cycling alone or with someone living under the same roof, to respect social distance.

This means as well, cycling safely with extra cautious not to risk any accident in these times of overloaded hospitals. Many advocated Cycling is a low-risk form of transport as regards virus infection, and can provide essential mobility, including for last-mile deliveries. Therefore authorities in light of the important role played by bicycle repairing shops in keeping cycles on the road, the Government should also consider exempting them from any blanket shop closures.

German Government has encouraged cycling as a key transport mode to use during the Coronavirus crisis. The result many used their bicycle instead of buses and trains during this phase. As people realised including Government that bicycle is be the most important form of transport next to the car in the phase of crisis, as it is infection-proof and can be used by everyone.

The current situation cities are getting used to, can be source of anxiety and depression for many. Cycling contributes to improving mental health and reducing stress. Various studies show that those who commute by bicycle are happier and less prone to depression than those who use any other form of transport. Which means Government should encourage Let’s cycle against the COVID19, not towards it. Thus, its important people should take care themselves and of bicycle by respecting strict hygiene rules, before and after going on a ride. Similarly shared bicycles will always be a great alternatives and option for people without a bicycle of their own.

However, in these uncertain times, it is important to respect strict hygiene rules otherwise bicycle sharing should remain stopped until situations gets normalcy. Remember to wash or sanitise hands and after using a shared bicycle; don’t touch face on the way and check your itinerary beforehand.

Short-term action during the crisis

There is the opportunity to do more over the coming weeks, as the crisis plays out. Authorities in Bhubaneswar should have short to medium term plan for Cycling:

  • Make temporary cycle lanes on main roads. Like other cities, Bhubaneswar should be rapidly scale up emergency provision of safe cycling routes, using cones or other temporary measures. Routes that provide access to hospitals for medical staff should be priorities. It has also been shown that narrowing traffic lanes reduces driving speeds, which would help address the dangerous driving we are currently seeing in Bhubaneswar, particularly since police enforcement is limited. Similarly, where pavements are too narrow, coned-off lanes could be for walking, or walking and cycling.
  • Remove through traffic from as many residential streets as possible, using temporary barriers. Many pavements are too narrow for proper social distancing when walking for exercise or essential journeys. Temporary ‘low traffic neighbourhoods’ would enable the largest number of people to maintain social distancing without risk of road danger, by using the whole width of the street. It would also enable people to get peaceful, healthy time outdoors without crowding into parks.
  • Reduce the speed limit for motor traffic to 20kph for all roads across the entire city as an emergency measure a necessity including enforcement, to eliminate such behaviour is urgently needed to reduce pressure on the medical infrastructure and other emergency services through increased road collisions.
  • Use cycling to help communities and key workers. It’s a socially distanced, healthy and efficient mode of transport. The cycle community can help here with the Corona Wariers volunteering programme, with vital freight supplies via cargo bicycle couriers and even with transporting people who can’t cycle. Government can work with stakeholders, along with cycling community volunteers, to find ways to safely and rapidly enable key workers to get access to cycles and support them in cycling safely, as well as to move goods safely and efficiently during the crisis.

Whats next Post COVID19 Regime?

Post COVID19 Bhubaneswar could set a target to make Capital Region zero carbon. Which would see a massive shift away from motor vehicles and towards cycling (and walking and public transport) to decarbonise Bhubaneswar’s transport sector. The question are Do Bhubaneswar want to return to pre-crisis, or possibly even higher, levels of motor traffic? Or create a new baseline for walking, cycling and traffic levels as we emerge from the crisis?

Right now, roads are quiet enough for many new people to cycle for essential journeys or exercise. Air pollution has dropped and people can hear birdsong on streets. More children and families cycling on neighbourhood residential roads than ever before. Perhaps Bhubaneswar need the benefits of a city with far, far fewer cars, not because people are in lockdown, but because walking, cycling and public transport dominate city streets as part of a thriving society.

The sudden changes to city lives have made many more of aware of the toxic air Bhubaneswar usually breathe when roads are choked with motor traffic, and how unsafe most people feel to travel actively. And this should be a catalyst for action, Bhubaneswar cannot allow a return to a car-sick city when the COVID19 health crisis is over. Perhaps streets of Bhubaneswar need to return to the sounds of people chatting, but not the sound of Automobiles.

To achieve that, Bhubaneswar must have to treat climate change as a crisis. It is heartening to see the incredible response to a global crisis currently across local governments and communities. But since most people inlcuding state Govt. have in past shown commitment towards climate emergency, surely a similar urgency and scale of response is warranted once this pandemic is over?

Bhubaneswar have long needed a coherent, cross sector, cross boundaries approach on climate in Capital Region. And rather than treating electric cars or bus as an alternate solutions, city need decisive action to reduce and restrict all motor traffic to make active and sustainable travel the main modes of transport.

As the crisis does recede, Bhubaneswar will need to consider a number of issues as soon as possible: Is there a risk of motor traffic levels being higher than before, as residents continue to steer clear of public transport? Will those newly returned to cycling carry on as motor traffic levels rise? Will parents continue to ride with their children? Or, will more people work at home more often, and how will that impact transport? Will shopping patterns change, with more home deliveries?

Bhubaneswar Must Act with Actions as quick as the crisis ends

The Odisha government, the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation , Capital Region Urban Transport should:

  • Ensure there is a reduction in levels of private motor traffic, pollution and carbon emissions. Urgently put into place public plans and targets for motor traffic reduction, using data available from before and during the crisis, to identify priority opportunities to change streets permanently for the better. Include smart road-user charging, axe major roadbuilding schemes, roll out employee parking levies, and enable more flexible and home working arrangements.
  • Return space and priority to active and sustainable travel modes, rather than private motor traffic. Where possible, turn temporary motor traffic restrictions into trial and then permanent schemes, such as coned-off cycle lanes and low traffic neighbourhoods.

Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation specifically should instruct Smart City Ltd, CRUT to:

  • Introduce restriction measures and other mechanisms to restrict and reduce motor traffic as soon as lockdown is lifted. Bhubaneswar citizens who may have shifted to cycling during the crisis should not be deterred by increased motor traffic and road danger to (or even above) pre-crisis levels.

Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation, Smart City Ltd and CRUT should:

  • Ensure lower car use than pre-crisis levels at keyworker sites, hospitals and major employment centres such as council offices. Reverse free car parking at hospitals as soon as possible, and instead reduce the availability of car parking, add safe cycle routes, change distribution methods, consolidate deliveries and improve opportunities for greater flexible and home working to avoid traffic levels rising.

Cycling often rises from Crises, is this the turn of Bhubaneswar

The Netherlands is one of the world’s most pro cycling friendlier society home to more than 23,000 miles of protected bicycle lanes and more bicycles than people. A quarter of all trips are made by bicycle. But Dutch people didn't got this reputation naturally rather, it was the result of a decades-long process that began in response to a pair of converging crises in the early 1970s, leading to a more systematic approach to street design.

In 1972, the Stop de Kindermoord (“Stop Child Murder”) movement formed in reaction to a road safety crisis that was killing 3,000 people per year, including 450 children because this country chooses one kilometer of motorway over 100 kilometers of safe cycle paths. One year later, the Netherlands was the target of an OPEC oil embargo, resulting in an abrupt gasoline shortage, and compelling its three million motorists to reevaluate their relationship with their cars.

A dramatic spike in fuel prices forced many to reacquaint themselves with their bicycles. This shift was reinforced by the national government’s ‘Car-Free Sunday’ policy. Suddenly, Dutch cities went completely quiet as their normally unsafe avenues were returned to the public realm. It was an eye-opening moment in their history, when residents realized they could not take safe cycling for granted, unless their cities’ car-centric design was dramatically transformed.

Similarly cycling proved to be a resilient and reliable mode of transportation during the 2017 Mexico City earthquake. After the devastation of thousands of buildings left many roads inaccessible to motor vehicles, the city depended heavily on personal bikes and its bicycle share system for first responders and volunteers bringing first aid and supplies. Mexico City proposed plans for 80 miles of temporary bicycle infrastructure to alleviate the risks of public transportation use and facilitate mobility in the megalopolis of more than 21 million people.

Even in the 76 days lockdown Wuhan, China, ground zero of the COVID19 outbreak, volunteers used bicycles to deliver necessities to residents stuck at home. Some bicycle share companies amped up sanitising efforts and made their services free of charge to allow access to medical workers and those with urgent needs. A total of 286,000 people used the service, with a total cycling distance of more than 2 million miles, equivalent to 81 laps around the equator.

Similar trends are evident in other cities around the world. New York City’s public bicycle share system, Citi Bike, saw a 67% surge in demand in early March compared with the same period last year. New York City committed to adding close to 1mile of temporary protected bicycle lanes to segments of Manhattan and Brooklyn, and testing road closure to cars. Even Chicago and Philadelphia saw ridership in their bicycle share programs nearly double during March. Philadelphia responded to a public petition to create more space for cyclists and pedestrians to operate safely by closing a large 4.4mile road segment to motor vehicles.

London issued special guidance for new riders and, before lockdowns shut down all non-essential shops and traffic, bicycle shops in Dublin were seeing more business than ever. So do Berlin recently implemented a 1-mile tmporary bicycle lane along a major road and has plans to expand the pop-up infrastructure, along with 133 other German Cities.

Let on this 50th earth day Bhubaneswar choose a path Making Cities Work by triggering Cycling friendlier city during as well as post pandemic. COVID19 be another crisis that challenges Bhubaneswar as well as cities everywhere to think about how city mobility might operate differently. It’s a time for cities to experiment cycling as disruptive mechanism by using their streets as testing grounds for change a mode for accessing essential services like hospitals and grocery stores by providing expanded networks of temporary bicycle lanes.

Today’s COVID-19 lockdowns could reveal solutions that have far-reaching benefits for cities long into the future, pointing the way to more resilient, accessible and safe city mobility. A city with more cycling is a city with healthier people, safer streets, cleaner air and better connectivity is all what every citizens realises in lockdown, so do the message of earth day, let it be the Bhubaneswar's Climate Action Build Better Together Moment.