Is cycling safe in Gurgaon

More bike paths for socio-ecological change

Overcrowded streets, unsafe bike paths, air pollution - what used to be a problem in some of the world's big cities has now grown into an immense burden in countless countries. For some time now and fueled by the corona pandemic, however, it seems that an awareness of the importance of sustainable mobility for socio-ecological change is developing in Germany and around the world. Recently identified Infratest Dimap in a survey before the local elections in North Rhine-Westphalia that this employs a particularly large number of people.

In this country, the question of the future of mobility has literally mobilized hundreds of thousands of people in recent years. More than 500,000 citizens have voted in municipal petitions, so-called bike decisions, to make bike and footpaths safe. There are a total of 38 cycling decisions in Germany, and they all have one thing in common: the necessary signatures for the paradigm shift in matters of urban mobility were gathered in a very short time. The Radentscheid Aachen shows how popular there is for sustainable and socially acceptable mobility: here every fifth local voter voted for the city to invest in safe cycling infrastructure as a priority. In Aachen, this decision was explicitly linked to the desire to make the city more livable.

A look at India makes it clear that decisions about the direction are to be made there too. But the perspective is different. In many Indian cities, up to 60 percent of all trips are currently made on foot or by bike. The fact that many Indian cities are still drowning in traffic shows how important such decisions are now. Because only a small part of the population has access to a car or a motorcycle. That is why it is important to provide sufficient space for cycling, walking and local public transport in the growing cities from the outset.

COVID-19 has shown people once again how important a liveable urban space is. And above all, it has shown that change is possible, says Anumita Rowchodhury. The MISEREOR partner is the program coordinator of the Centers for Science and Environment (CSE), a think tank in India's capital Delhi. In her work, she analyzed, among other things, why particularly poor population groups, who have to spend up to 50 percent of their income on getting to work, benefit from sufficient space for cycling and walking and specifically promoted local public transport. On the occasion of the European Mobility Week - the world's largest campaign for sustainable mobility - we spoke to Anumita Rowchodhury.

Anumita, how is the traffic situation in Delhi - and what do you think needs to change?

Anumita Rowchodhury: Delhi is about to come to a standstill. Already 23 percent of the area is used for roads and traffic routes - a record in India - but the city is still congested. Private cars have displaced local public transport, pedestrians and cyclists, and no other city has as many vehicles registered as here. Of course, these require a lot of space for parking. That makes up another 10 percent of valuable urban space. Now the question of fairness comes into play in this development: You have to imagine that every parking space outside the city takes up 26 square meters, but a very poor family in an informal settlement only has 18 to 20 square meters of land available. So who are we planning for? According to a survey by the city of Delhi, just 4.34 percent own a car and around seven percent own a car and a motorized two-wheeler. Nonetheless, the roads will continue to be designed for car drivers.

The mobility needs of the majority are ignored, so people are exposed to pollutant emissions and an enormous volume of traffic. Those who suffer from this practice are the poor in the city. According to a study, they make up 85 percent of the population and are still marginalized and excluded from any decision-making processes. It would be so urgent to modernize mobility. Everyone would benefit from the fact that emissions, air pollution and related secondary diseases decrease.

What has changed recently, including as a result of the corona pandemic? What kind of opportunities for change do you see in the area of ​​mobility as well?

Anumita Rowchodhury: The COVID-19 pandemic has so far been a large, unplanned experiment that has taught us a lot. We can no longer return to our old "normal state". Instead, we should see this crisis as an opportunity. What has changed? For one thing, many people are afraid of getting infected in public, for example in local traffic. It will be hard work to restore that confidence after the pandemic.

At the moment, many prefer to go by bike and avoid unnecessary trips and want to continue doing this in the long term. It is now important to invest in appropriate structures, to further expand pop-up cycle paths and sidewalks and thus also to improve the climate in the city. Home work should also be institutionalized much more as a possibility. Local public transport, on the other hand, needs to be expanded more and more people should have access to it. This is one of the biggest problems: in many areas of Delhi there is simply no direct access to the transport network, so some are switching to the car. It is a challenge to change that.

What motivates you to continue to work for a change in the area of ​​mobility?

Anumita Rowchodhury: I am immensely encouraged that so many Indians are still walking, cycling or using local public transport instead of their private vehicle. We should emphasize this large number more and get politicians to stand up for this majority. Unlike in some Western countries, our agenda is not for the population to switch from cars to bicycles or public transport, but to stay where they are by modernizing the existing infrastructure. I have confidence that we will succeed in this change.

In India we have seen progressive developments in national transport policy over the past few decades. The pandemic has now created a new understanding of what livable neighborhoods look like and has increased the appreciation for a city with little traffic. Green spaces, sidewalks, cycle paths and community networks are important to people. It now depends on a well-planned renewal of a densely populated, urban area like Delhi. There is room for everyone there. We need a strategy on how to revive the system after the crisis so that it is green, resilient and inclusive. We can't miss this bus.

The interview was conducted by Jana Echterhoff and Almuth Schauber.

Jana Echterhoff works in the communication department, Almuth Schauber is a specialist in urban development at MISEREOR.

additional Information

The European mobility week takes place every year from September 16-22. Information from the Federal Environment Agency.

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Guest authors on the MISEREOR blog.