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Friday , 19 April 2024

An Exclusive Cycling Track for Mumbai

Mumbai has seen an explosive growth in the number of motor vehicles. Data with the Maharashtra State Transport Department suggests that during 2009-10, Mumbaikars added an astonishing number of 57,846 two-wheelers and 30,118 cars to the city’s vehicle population. Needless to say, this has increased carbon emissions in the city considerably, and has made commuting within the city a nightmare. Non-motorised modes of transport such as cycling have emerged as the most probable solutions that deliver on fuel conservation, reduction in carbon emissions, and better health for cyclists. So it was with great delight that the city welcomed the inauguration of the city’s first cycle track this April by the Chief Minister, Prithviraj Chavan.

Says Shridhar Arlikar, Superintending Engineer, Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), “The Bandra Kurla Cycle Track was envisioned as an example of a safe cycling zone, as a dedicated corridor for cyclists. With fuel prices going up every few months and with pollution on the rise in the city, there was a need to induce people to take up non-motorised transport. Another aim was to persuade young impressionable school children, studying in the neighbouring schools, to take up cycling. Cycling will serve as a very good exercise for the children, and hopefully, wean them away from the long hours they spend glued to television and the internet. Apart from children, this will also be helpful to most of the working population in a city like Mumbai, where work involves sitting in offices, and working on computers with very less exercise.”

There are some unique characteristics of a large city such as Mumbai however, that need to be taken into account, before cycling as a mode of commuting can become popular. People commute long distances to go to work, often as much as 50-80km. This situation makes it virtually impossible for most of Mumbai commuters to use the bicycle as an exclusive means of transport. However, according to Arlikar, they can use cycles as a means of feeder transport. The commuters can cycle from their home to the railway stations or the nearest bus stations, and catch their regular trains or buses to their destination from there. At the point of disembarkation, they can again take bicycles to finally reach their workplaces. Thus, a need was felt to provide bicycle pickup points with safe and dependable parking arrangements. Another facility which will encourage cycling to work would be the availability of cycle rental services, especially near railway stations and bus stations, from where commuters could pick up cycles for a nominal rent. Arlikar says that preliminary proposals from some corporate companies for this are under consideration by the MMRDA. He feels that unless this kind of facility is provided, bicycle, as a serious and alternative means of transport, would not take off. He admits that though there is a need to provide cycle tracks in residential areas of the city, there is currently no immediate plan to do that. One of the problems the MMRDA faces in introducing more cycle tracks in the city is that the road width, allotted in development plans for most of the areas of Mumbai is only around 23m, whereas introduction of a cycle track needs a road width of about 30-40m. Thus, a change in the city’s development plans will be needed to provide infrastructure for cycling throughout the city.

Commuters must be given the facility to cycle till railway station or bus stand, and again take a cycle till the disembarkation point to reach their offices. Unless this is done, the bicycle, as a serious and alternative mode of transport, will not take off. – Shridhar Arlikar

The BKC cycle track was built with materials that enable cyclists to get a strong grip on the track. MMRDA used cold thermoplast as the surface material which has many advantages over hot thermoplast. Hot thermoplast needs to be applied thrice on a surface for it to adhere properly whereas cold thermoplast needs only a single application. Quite often, during these three applications, the different layers overlap, making a surface made of hot thermoplast slippery. Cold thermoplast is highly water absorbent. Thus, it prevents water stagnation on the cycle track. Apart from making cycling an unpleasant and difficult experience, water stagnation also gives rise to fungus formation on the surface of the track making the track slippery.

Hitesh Mehta, Managing Director, Protek Projects Pvt Ltd, which constructed the cycle track, elaborates, “After cleaning the original paver block surface of the track of dust and oil stains, a layer of heavy duty cement mortar, reinforced by polymer, was laid out. This smoothens out the many undulations on the surface. On top of the cement mortar, a bonding agent, usually an alkyl, resin based agent, is applied. Finally the green-coloured, cold thermoplast is laid out, with the bonding agent enabling it to firmly adhere to the cement mortar. Thus, the green colour of the track lasts for a long time. All the materials used in the construction, are as per the guidelines of Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and approved by it.”

The cycle track is segregated from the main road by kerb dividers, made of natural rubber and weighing 14kg each. Unlike concrete dividers, these rubber kerb dividers do not cause serious injuries to the cyclists in case they meet with accidents or fall onto the dividers. The dividers are also highly resistant to crashes from vehicles.

As MMRDA was only involved in the construction of the track, there is a proposal to hand over the maintenance of the track to corporate houses as they would ensure better upkeep of the cycle track. That would also take care of the illegal parking of vehicles on the tracks that has been happening since some time. The police have been given instructions to remove unauthorised vehicles from the cycle track.

The BKC cycle track is yet to catch on. It hasn’t yet attracted too many cyclists. It needs to be popularised and people need to be educated about the benefits of cycling. As the cycle track is located in a predominantly commercial zone, where there are not many residential areas, it is difficult for people to bring their bicycles to the cycling track. The MMRDA hopes that as the cycle track and cycling gain popularity, eventually more cycle tracks will be opened in other parts of the city, especially in residential areas. With the availability of cycle rental services, parking arrangements for cyclists and a rise in the awareness of the commuting public about the manifold advantages of cycling, cycling and cycling tracks are bound to become popular in the near future.

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