BICYCLE MAYOR NAGPUR – DEEPANTI PAL

Ayush Kundu BOTS News, Featured Rider

The Bicycle Mayor program is part of a global initiative by Amsterdam based NGO, BYCS to promote bicycle-friendly policy initiatives in the hopes of achieving 50% of a city’s transport through bicycle by the year 2030.

Read up about the Bicycle Mayor Program in India

Bicycle Mayors are the human face and voice of cycling advocacy in a city. The global program connects these change-makers across a worldwide network to create greater visibility and facilitate the sharing of knowledge, ideas, challenges, and solutions to create a truly radical shift.

Say Hello to Deepanti Pal, the Bicycle Mayor of Nagpur. Nagpur is a metro city with relatively wide roads, good infrastructure and still in the developing mode. That is primarily the reason why Deepanti believes that Nagpur is the town to push for more bicycle-friendly agenda as there are fewer physical constraints as compared to Tier 1 Metros.

Deepanti Pal, Bicycle Mayor of Nagpur

BACKGROUND

Deepanti is one of the known woman ultra-cyclists of the country and was the only woman in India to be a Double Super Randonneur (a cyclist who has done 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km of distance twice in one calendar year) in 2018. She is a National Champion in speed skating as well as cycling, and holds a strong background in competitive sports.

Her career began as a corporate trainer at the young age of 19 and gradually climbed the ladder by becoming one of the educationists in the top management of various institutions she served. As a sportsperson throughout her life, she felt the void when she started to gain too much weight (93kgs then) due to her work schedules, which later on she went on to lose 33 kgs in just 6 months with no diets at all.

That is when she just came across a local level cycle race and decided to participate in it just to see if she still had it in her. Coincidently, she did! She had a podium finish in a 50km race with decent timing and since then, there has been no looking back.

She bought her Road Bike in December 2017 and immediately appeared for a 200 km brevet. That was the time she realised that is meant for ultra-cycling and started commuting for work as well. She rode 50kms every day for work and did her training rides separately.

One of India’s Fastest Female Ultra-Cyclists

THE NAGPUR CYCLING COMMUNITY

Deepanti has always been an advocate for more cycle-friendly initiatives and is a strong pillar of Central India’s largest cycling community; ‘Saddle Up Guys’, which has more than 2000 cyclists in it.

Through some luck, and possibly her destiny, Deepanti stumbled across the Bicycle Mayor Program online. Given her rich network in the cycling community, she was the perfect candidate to voice the needs of the cycling community in Nagpur.

Since she was appointed Bicycle Mayor in June of 2019, Deepanti has been working dedicatedly to bring awareness in people by conducting workshops in various places in Nagpur including schools, colleges, offices and many associations.

Deepanti Interacting with Nagpur’s Traffic Police

She has been a part of all the official meetings with agencies like Urban mass Transit Company (UMTC), National Insitute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), NITI AAYOG, Agence Française de Développement (AFD), Nagpur Metro Rail, MobiliseYourCity, to name a few, and has been very vocal about the urban planning being done and how cycling will affect the future.

She currently has been appointed as the goodwill ambassador and strategic planner for Nagpur Smart City and has been designing interventions in Nagpur for India Cycles 4 Change Challenge exclusively.

Her interventions have successfully pushed to test out a pilot program for an 18km stretch of bicycle track in the heart of the city. She is rigorously stepping out and meeting as many people as she can have diverse backgrounds and have been conducting surveys in her city to have a holistic approach towards the needs of the cyclists.

Deepanti on a Survey Ride

Her other transforming intervention is to make Nagpur’s busiest market called Sitabuldi into a vehicle-free zone, where only pedestrians, cyclists and e-rickshaws for old people would be allowed. The work is already under progress & this would be a big step in the history of non-motorable transport in the city of Nagpur.

Sitabudli Bazaar, Nagpur

In Nagpur, like most of India, there exists a stigma against cycling, which is considered a lowly form of transport, but due to COVID-19 things have changed drastically. Now people are asking for safety on roads, rule and regulations and provision for cyclists such as parking and changing rooms at various junctions.

Initially, Deepanti faced significant hurdles trying to get the civic authorities to take the needs of cyclists on road into consideration. Hope is not lost though, as Deepanti has noticed that since the introduction of the ‘India Cycles for Change’ program – a pro-cycling initiative by the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA). This has gotten more local authorities to take more of an interest in furthering cycle-friendly activities.

The recent initiative of MoHUA has helped Deepanti a lot to get directly involved in the decision-making process, and she calls herself blessed that the higher authorities have now started to listen to her inputs.

THE ROAD AHEAD

Nagpur has the potential to be a model for India in terms of cycling infrastructure. The surge in bicycle sales during the lockdown has seen a shift in the perception of cycling from an inferior mode of transport to a positive and more accepted form.

The abundance of wide roads, crowded streets and lack of awareness about safety on the roads in Nagpur, make it conducive for better cycling infrastructure, as locals are now slowly realising the value of a car-free environment.

However, the scope of the Bicycle Mayor position purely being a voluntary position outside of Government as proved to be a challenge. As in Deepanti’s experience, unless the Central Government, takes a stand on the initiative taken by BYCS and BYCS India, it would be a difficult task ahead as this work requires full-time attention and a lot of policymaking.

Deepanti Interacting with Students at ICICI Academy

Therefore, the setting up of an official position through the Central Government to deal with non-motorized forms of transport is essential to furthering the future of bicycling in India in general. The only way to achieve this is through the cultivation of increased civic awareness among the general public, through Educational initiatives and Public Service Announcements.


We wish Deepanti the very best at her stint as the Bicycle Mayor of Nagpur. Like most up and coming cities, Nagpur can definitely benefit a lot from its citizens taking to cycling as a means of transport, fitness, and sport.

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