“Even though India is the second largest manufacturer of bicycles in the world, Mumbai is still ranked 97th when it comes to cycling,” said Firoza Suresh, a cycling enthusiast and director of the Smart Commute Foundation (SCF). She was speaking at an event organised by Moneylife Foundation on making utilising Mumbai’s open spaces and making it more cycling friendly.
We all know about the health benefits of taking a bicycle to work or for covering short distances. It also an economical and eco-friendly option compared to the traditional 2 or 4 wheeler. But as Firoza explained in her talk, the biggest deterrent for people in adapting to a bicycle for transportation, “unlike running or walking, where you just wear your shoes and travel, for a bicycle you have to purchase or already own the vehicle.”
Firoza, through SCF, has pledged to promote a healthier, greener and happier city by encouraging people to adopt cycling as a means of daily commute. She shared that since it’s inception in 2012, SCF has taken part in various cycling initiatives in the city such as #cycle2work, #mecyclerider and Get Cycloned - The Smart Commute Way. One of their many goals is to convert 50% of a Mumbai’s population to bicycle users by 2030.
Using herself as an example, Firoza explained that “A bicycle as a vehicle is very unique, it acts as a fitness machine - people who just want to go to nearby locations can ride the bicycle and come back; people use it to commute - cycle to work, I even take it to meetings and conferences.” In fact, she had also come to the event riding her bicycle from Juhu.
Firoza is also the bicycle Mayor of Mumbai and there are a total of 41 such mayors in India thus far. This idea of a bicycle mayor comes from a social enterprise from Amsterdam called BYCS, that works to transform cities to make them more environmentally friendly. Using Amsterdam as an example, Firoza explained how the city had completely transformed over a period of 30 years from a car centric model to a bicycling and pedestrian friendly city. She noted, “the change did not happen overnight and in fact involved long term efforts from both the public and the government.”
To achieve the same in Mumbai will require similar sustained efforts from the public. Firoza hopes to increase ridership in Mumbai to 1 lakh by 2023 and in turn force authorities to “build better facilities - cycle stands, tracks, pothole free roads and better urban infrastructure”.
“Mumbai is blessed to be a very linear city and the task of converting the population to cycling should not be difficult. Since the last 50-60 years Mumbai has always had the ‘invisible’ cyclists - dabbawalas, istriwalas etc. They have already created an invisible cycling track for us” Firoza explained.
Answering the concerns of many on whether cyclists would be safe travelling on Mumbai’s pothole ridden or traffic congested roads, Firoza said “ I feel cushioned on the road. I don’t feel threatened by a bus driver or a car driver. Morever, there is a certain amount of respect when other drivers see you cycling with a helmet on.”
SCF is currently working with government bodies and cycling communities to establish cycling tracks under existing Metro lines. The idea is to utilise the existing space in the median under a metro as a dedicated bicycle track. Firoza believes this to be a positive step towards making Mumbai more bicycle friendly.