If you thought only the milkman in Mumbai rides to work on a bicycle, it's time to do a rethink.
Clogged city streets, despicable levels of honking and unimaginable amounts of exhaust are making many a Mumbaikar ditch their cars and motorcycles for the humble bicycle. Their tribe may be small currently, but the idea is catching. Some of the pedal pushers are not mere enthusiasts, they even make time on weekends to spread the word.
cyclists are getting on streets to create awareness by commuting cycle to work.
Meet 40 year old Firoza Suresh, a Mumbaikar who eats, drinks and talks cycling. She is a pro and sways the roads with her cycling swag. Born and bought up in Mulund, Firoza was eight when she started cycling to help her mother with household errands. But this became her passion and then there was no looking back. Once a little older, she started giving tuitions to support herself, and of course, used her cycle to commute to her students' homes. Soon, she became popular as ‘Mulund ki cyclewali’ as she was the only one seen pedaling away furiously to work on Mulund streets.
However, Firoza feels that more and more people should adopt cycling. “Cycling is indeed catching on as a trend. More and more people are giving it a try. We are seeing a growing number cyclists on the road. People are using cycles to ride around the city, go on leisure rides, get some exercise in the early morning. But the number of people that is taking to cycling is still small. And even within this population, the number of cyclists who use cycles as a daily mode of travel is not very high. Through our initiatives, we have been successful in encouraging a large number of people who already cycle or own cycles to start using them to work. Still, the number of cyclists on the road is very low compared to other vehicle users. This imbalance in proportion isn't good for existing cyclists and also acts as a deterrent for people who are planning to start. So yes, to turn cycling into a common mode of transportation we need more awareness,” says Firoza.
Cyclists don't get respect on the roads, she adds. “Cyclists haven't gotten the needed respect due to lack of awareness. And this is because cycling is still in its early stages, the number of commuters who cycle to work is low and there haven't been any organised movements behind cycling until our Foundation took the initiative to create a platform and incentivise the effort,” she adds. Firoza would like the state government or BMC to bring in a cycling culture in not just the city workplaces, but also in the cities they govern.
Firoza has launched her own Cycle2Work project after she was done using public transportation. “I used to commute to my office in Dadar by train. But I just could not handle the frustration of travelling in jam-packed trains. That is where the idea of commuting on a cycle came about. I was already into cycling since a young age and I carried out most of my house errands on a cycle. So I thought, why not cycle to work. After I gave it a try, I realised that it was really easy, fast and practical. Gradually as I began seeing the potential, I decided to turn this idea into a vision which was Project Cycle2Work. It has been running successfully in Mumbai for past four years,” says a happy Firoza.
One cannot fault the civic administration for not trying. Some years ago, it built the city's only cycling track, marked out in green, at the swank Bandra Kurla Complex. After the initial warm response however, the track fell, literally, by the wayside. Today, parts of the track have disappeared, some are encroached upon by parked taxis and autorickshaws, and the dedicated BEST bus track rubs shoulders uncomfortably with some parts.
This is where an initiative like Cycle Katta helps. The two year old initiative is doing its bit to inculcate the need and importance of cycling in others. It was formed when like minded cycling enthusiasts came together and began the 'cycle katta'. “We had our first 'katta' in March 2015. All of us were into various forms of cycling - as a recreation/leisure/commuting etc, but felt the need to have a platform devoted to cycling. A platform where we can discuss our issues, learn more from fellow cyclists and also voice our concerns. From inception, this has been a not-for-profit activity - we depend on help from social bodies/existing institutions for the venue, do not pay speakers. No one is charged to attend the Katta either,” says Ashish Agashe,member, Cycle Katta.
He adds that the Katta had done a project to assess bicycle parking capabilities at railway stations on the Mumbai rail network and found them woefully bad for cyclists. Still, they want more people on cycles. “Roads are a major concern but what is more important is the respect. A cyclist does not get respect and hence it becomes a bit difficult to ride on roads,” says Agashe. Cycle Katta conducts meet ups once in three months where like minded cyclists mark their presence. Ashish adds that so far, every Cycle Katta had the attendance of 70-100 cycling enthusiasts.
Firoza wants Mumbai city to be the cycling capital of India and she wants to take this vision to different cities of our country and turn it into a national movement. Cycle Katta has been born with a similar vision.
The green brigade is growing. It's time you joined forces with them?