Kolkata Faces Mounting Scrutiny over Biking Ban


walkersKolkata’s expansion of its cycling ban from a few dozen to nearly 200 streets in the central downtown core is drawing scrutiny from bikers, environmentalists, urban planners and the media. The latest to weigh in is The Atlantic Cities, which warns that “the city’s leaders are crushing one of Kolkata’s greatest resources for improving the quality of life – a strong cycling culture.”

The Washington Post reports that critics of the ban consider it an assault on working class people who rely on bikes and rickshaws for their livelihoods.

For those familiar with this teeming city where the poorest still live and die in the streets, it’s easy to understand why the ban is troubling. The level of pollution is so extreme that traffic cops cover their faces gangster-style with bandanas in a futile effort to escape the exhaust.

Many taxis or other vehicles operate with windows down and no air conditioning, exposing riders to the toxic stew of fumes and particulates that lingers in the streets.

While some parts of Kolkata are pleasantly walkable, and a few areas are actually traffic-free, much of the city is a congestion nightmare with roads too narrow to accommodate the heavy volume. Sidewalks can abruptly end and some major arteries are ‘uncrossable’ (without significant risk) due to lack of proper signals and crosswalks.

Kolkata shouldn’t just lift the ban. It needs to go further by actively promoting safe cycling throughout the city. Officials can start by taking cues from Groningen, the bike capital of the world where cyclists rule the roads, and Curitiba, the birthplace of rapid bus transit, which will invest $40 million to implement an ambitious 12-point strategy designed to promote citywide cycling. They also should look to Denmark, where cyclists enjoy their own “superhighway.”

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