- Cyclists are 40 times more prone to fatalities than cars in Delhi, finds a study by IIT-Delhi.
- However, cycling can provide environmental and health co-benefits, notes another study from Japan-based Kyushu University which found that Delhi can avoid of 121.5 kilotons of carbon dioxide emission and 138.9 tons of Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5 if the city shifts to a non-motorised transport regime.
- Cycling is a clean mode of transport and avid cyclists note that the government should incentivise and make tailor-made policies for cyclists.
In November 2022, a 50-year-old cyclist, was crossing the Mahipalpur flyover in Delhi when a car hit him from behind. The cyclist, businessman Subhendu Banerjee, was wearing a helmet when the fatal accident happened. This is not an isolated case where a motor vehicle hits a cyclist. Records say that 249 cyclists in Delhi have lost their lives on Delhi roads in five years, between 2017-2021.
For many of Delhi’s cyclists though, cycling is not just a hobby or a fitness choice. It is a mode of transport selected for its low cost. Sunil Mandal is one among such people. The 46-year-old Mandal is a driver employed by a transport company in Lajpat Nagar in the southern part of Delhi. Based in Tughlakabad, Mandal cycles eight kilometres every day to reach his office early in the morning via Guru Ravidas Marg, a route that sees many cyclists headed to work. “If I take the bus, I will likely spend around Rs. 3,000 per month, which is around 30 percent of my salary. I know the risk of cycling on busy roads. Many times, I have got injuries too. I have seen a few fatal accidents too. But I do not have an option,” Mandal told Mongabay-India, last Sunday, on his way to the office.
Tughlakabad is one of 72 locations that a recent study by IIT-Delhi has selected to examine the risk cyclists face in Delhi. Other locations include Guru Ravidas Marg, Mathura Road, Outer Ring Road, Lodhi Road, and Mahatma Gandhi Road, among others. The study found that cyclists. along these routes in Delhi, are 40 times more prone to fatal accidents, compared to car occupants, and twice more prone than motorcyclists for the same distance.
The study analysed the traffic volumes and different modes of transportation used by commuters in these sites between 8 am to 2 pm. This was to estimate the volume of motorcycles, cars, and cycles on the road at different times and the average distance travelled. The study estimates that every year, in Delhi cyclists travel an average of 2.5 billion kilometers (bkm) while the total distance covered by all cars is 48.8 bkm and for motorcycles it is 41.39 bkm.
The study then computed the fatality risk (a measure of a person’s probability of dying in an accident) per billion kilometres for cyclists, motorcyclists and car occupants and found that cyclists were at the highest risk. For each bkm, the average fatality risk was 20.8 for cyclists, 9.5 for motorcyclists, and 0.53 for car occupants. This is in contrast to cities in other parts of the world such as London where, for each bkm, the fatality risk is nine for cyclists, which is the lowest, 12.3 for car occupants, and 28.7 for motorcyclists.
The study noted that, on average, 52 cyclists died every year between 2017-2019, on Delhi roads. For motorcyclists, this number was 541, and for car occupants, it was 52.6. Based on these numbers, the fatality risk was calculated by dividing them with the annual person kilometres travelled (PKT) for each vehicle type.
Rahul Goel, Assistant Professor at Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Centre (TRIP Centre) IIT-Delhi, who conducted the study, told Mongabay-India that a significant challenge when planning cities for cycling, is the dearth of data. Most planning for facilities for cyclists is likely to be ad-hoc and not backed by required data.
“In Delhi, there are thousands of cyclists cycling daily on Mathura Road and other peripheries of Delhi and near industrial areas. But you will see many cycling tracks in areas with less cycling demand. If we want to understand where we want new interventions, increase safety, or even assess the success of our interventions in this sector, we need data. The data is needed to either frame policies accordingly or to validate that the solutions given by the government are working or not,” Goel said.
Goel cited how some cycle-friendly cities and countries around the world utilise automatic sensors on roads, use CCTV footage, and use manual counting to collect data relating to cycling. This includes the total number of cycles passing through a stretch of road and the distance travelled, etc.
“In different states, different designs of cycling tracks have been made. If we even want to know which tracks are in heavy demand and which are seeing the least interest by cyclists, we need data to validate this,” Goel added.
Read more: Is India ready for a cycling revolution?
Why cycling needs space in polluted Delhi
With the severity of air pollution in India, particularly in Delhi, it is estimated that the increased use of cycles can reduce carbon emissions and Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5 exposure.
Vehicular pollution is one of the primary reasons of air pollution in Delhi which is hazardous to human health. Studies have hinted that reduced exposure to PM2.5, emanating from vehicular emissions, could significantly reduce the fatalities from air pollution in Delhi. According to data from a study by Kyushu University in Japan, in the last three decades, while the population of Delhi has increased four times, the number of vehicles in the region has increased 28 times. The transport sector in the region contributes 45 percent of the total air pollution.
Researchers Tavoos Bhat and Hooman Farzaneh, who have co-authored the study with Nishat Tasnim Toosty, talked about the co-benefits of using cycles as a mode of transport, from the environment and health point of view. “We did a quantitative assessment to know the anticipated expected environmental, health, and economic co-benefits if we replace personal motorised transport with non-motorised transport in Delhi, including cycling and walking. We also conducted ground surveys in areas like Dilshad Garden, Jhilmil, Ashok Vihar, Nand Nagri, and Seema Puri,” Bhat told Mongabay-India.
The study included ground surveys in 11 districts of Delhi and an analysis of other available data, to assess the improved air quality and its influence on public health by using non-motorised and active transport such as walking and cycling. It claimed that in the case of a non-motorised regime, where cycling or walking replace or are prioritised over personal motorised transport, Delhi could avoid carbon dioxide emissions of 1,21,500 tonnes and PM2.5 exposure of 138.9 tons every year. It is also estimated that with reduced exposure to PM2.5 and increased physical activity, Delhi could avoid 17,529 cases of mortality with associated savings of about $4870 million in Delhi.
He said that around 55% of Delhi, which lives within 500 metres of any major road, is exposed to hazardous vehicular emissions. Districts like northeast and central ones in Delhi, where more population lives close to the roads, are likely to get more health benefits from shifting to non-motorised transport means.
According to available data, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee has already spent around Rs. 47 million between 2015 and November 2021 to improve the air quality in the national capital. The state, meanwhile, has also planned to invest around $600 million to improve the air quality by adding more electric buses on the Delhi roads.
Dalip Singh Sabarwal is an avid bicycle user who works with the Delhi Commission of Women and often cycles to the office. He often uses his social media to speak for the rights of cyclists in Delhi. While talking to Mongabay-India, he said that in the last year alone he had personally come across around six cases of fatal cycle accidents. He opined that if the government wanted to promote the cleanest mode of transport, it should incentivise and make tailor-made policies for cyclists and not for the few percentages of Indians who own cars.
“In many places, there are no cycling tracks. In many places where cycling tracks exist, people have encroached on them. In malls and offices, there is no space for parking cycles. Strangely, polluting vehicles have all facilities like parking, space, and infrastructure. But cyclists are left to struggle for themselves,” Sabarwal told Mongabay-India.
Banner image: A cyclist cycles on the busy roads of New Delhi. Photo by Sumit Roy Dutta/Wikimedia Commons.