Not too long ago Kiran visited Pune from Bangalore. He spent his day in Pune and ended it in Koregaon Park. Instead of taking a cab to the airport he decided to walk. The 1+ hour-long route for sure took him through pedestrian-friendly & unfriendly spots, but that didn’t matter at all to him. He made it and tweeted out his accomplishment to his many followers.
The prevalent assessment of living in a city like Pune or Bangalore are that they are pedestrian and cyclist-unfriendly. Some of the replies to Kiran’s tweets echo this sentiment. Sure, these cities are far from the idea of Blue Zones that encourage denizens to walk, cycle to work and getting around differently. Picture your self coasting on LA’s Venice Beach, or in Amsterdam with dedicated cyclist lanes, safely segregated from the surrounding traffic. We’re a long way from that.
In Pune’s commuting history there have been attempts to improve the cycling infrastructure and ridership. At one point segregated cycling lanes were built. Some still exist today with intact road skirts but neglected riding surfaces. Last year several bike-leasing startups such as Yulu have deployed several thousand bicycles across the city. Students continue to prefer to cycle to school. What I think deters ridership are the increasing distances, the growing population of 4-wheelers and large vehicles. Pune’s hot summers and monsoons push commuters to give up on two-wheels and take cars to work thus increasing traffic snarls and parking unavailability.
Having cycled to work and for errands over the last 3 weeks, I humbly submit that it’s fun to get around Pune on a bicycle and a tad tricky. The dangers include aggressive drivers that’ll cut across your riding lane, gravel on the street, inclined crossovers that your tires won’t grip, two-wheelers taking shallow rights, four-wheeler occupants who’ll flip doors open at you, bus drivers, impatient auto-wallahs and so on. Once I can get over the psychological hump of riding with them, learn to navigate them, I’ll be more open to the pure satisfaction emerging from long and short rides. Soon, I imagine I won’t think twice before getting on my saddle.
It goes without saying that if you haven’t already figured it out, err on the side of safety. Wear a helmet and maybe even protection for elbows, knees. If you’re riding early mornings or after dark, purchase an inexpensive high-visibility vest, add reflectors, or spend a little more on a USB-charged light that straps to your bicycle. Sundays and National Holidays the traffic is way more forgiving and long rides more enjoyable.
I guess it’s alright to want more. Mehuls’ bike ride to work is over 10 km. If city riding is not your thing you can head out or find trails inside the city. Bicycles are incredibly fun and should be the future of inner-city transport. If you’re not convinced, that’s ok too – just be cool with the riders on pedal-powered machines you’ll meet at your next traffic light.
PS. if you’re part of Pune’s growing cycling enthusiast groups and are open to riding together, tweet me.