After a lockdown lasting about two and a half months, Kolkata is witnessing bicycles in large numbers and hearing that almost-forgotten rings of their bells in a scenario where Local and metro trains have not restarted yet and buses, auto-rickshaws and taxis are few and far between. The fear of contracting the coronavirus disease (COVID) is, of course, the greatest factor driving the return of the good old, humble bicycle.
Our local correspondent reports that many people are now relying on bicycles to get to work. The number of bicycles on the city’s streets has multiplied in the first week of Unlock 1.0.
Mamata green-flags bicycles
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has instructed all the commissionerates, including Kolkata Police, to issue new notices marking roads that are less prone to accidents where people can ride bicycles.
At a press conference in Nabanna on 8 June, the chief minister said, “Passenger trains are not running now, the metro is not running either. We have allowed 5,000 buses to ply. Private buses are plying too. Even then, people are having difficulty commuting.”
“So,” Banerjee said, “the police have been asked to look into all the small or medium roads, which can be connected to the main roads and different places, where people can go by cycles once the police issue a notification.”
That very day, Kolkata Police Commissioner Anuj Sharma issued the notification naming the stretches where citizens of the capital of West Bengal could cycle.
No bicycles on these roads
In a statement, Mayor of Kolkata Firhad Hakim said cycling would not be allowed on the city’s main roads and flyovers. However, bicycles can be used on all small and medium roads. This rule will be in force till 30 July.
It is clear from this directive of Kolkata Police that the authority deems important roads like AGC Bose Road, EM Bypass, Rasbihari Avenue, Central Avenue, Jawaharlal Nehru Road, Rabindra Sarani, MG Road, Taratla Road, Diamond Harbor Road and Syed Amir Ali Avenue as important, main roads of the city. People cannot ride bicycles on these roads.
Cycling is still banned on about 70 roads in Kolkata. After the lockdown, as many have started looking for alternative vehicles instead of buses and trains, bicycles have hit the roads in thousands.
Unlike in Delhi, Mumbai and some other metropolitan cities of the country that banned the entry of bicycles long ago, cycling was not prohibited in any street of West Bengal, not even in Calcutta, till the 1990s, where this was the favourite mode of private transport for citizens of modest means while brats from affluent families rode motorcycles and cars were a rarity that only the super-rich possessed.
Clubs of cyclists elated
“Bicycles cost much less and cause no pollution,” said Raghu Jana, convener of the Kolkata Bicycle Society.
Shatanjeeb Gupta, a Kolkata representative for Bikes, an international organisation of cyclists, said sales of bicycles had doubled or trebled due to the lockdown. “However, the big challenge for the police is to reduce the risk of traffic jams and accidents as a result of getting so many bicycles on the road.”
Keeping in mind the current situation, even though bicycles have entered all the roads, the police are going soft on traffic rule violations, most often letting offenders go after warning them of fines for rule violations in the future.
The chief minister has, meanwhile, asked people to be careful about accidents. She said, “I can’t guarantee against accidents. Those who ride recklessly have to pay, every offender has to pay. We do not allow cycling on highways, as there is a risk of accidents there.”
“Mahabharot ashuddho hobena (all hell will not break loose),” Banerjee said, “if are a little late to office. Haste may cost your life. May that never happen. Life is precious.”
Bicycle-loving organisations have repeatedly said that the city needs to have a separate bicycle bays. The chief minister says too that there are separate cycling roads in big cities abroad, a model that her state could emulate, but the police think it is difficult to have separate bicycle bays in Kolkata as the roads don’t spare that much of a room.
However, in the current situation, even though it is not possible to cycle, the police are temporarily opening roads that have less traffic for cycling, the Kolkata police commissioner said.