BICYCLE MAYOR KOLKATA – SATANJIB GUPTA

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.

Know more 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 Satanjib Gupta, the Bicycle Mayor of Kolkata. Kolkata has a unique history with cycling, as it was the first city in India to establish a Cycling Club back in 1897. This rich history has meant that cycling has always held a special place in Kolkata’s culture.

Satanjib Gupta, Bicycle Mayor of Kolkata

SATANJIB’S BACKGROUND

Satanjib has been working in the space of bicycle activism for a few years now as an active member of the Kolkata Cycle Samaj. This association advocates sustainable development and green infrastructure to promote walking and cycling in Kolkata.

They organise all-day cycle rallies and roadside campaigning to promote cycling and to establish the “Right of Road”, as cycling is banned on most of Kolkata’s Main Roads.

Kolkata Cycle Samaj Rally

Satanjib discovered the Bicycle Mayor program in 2018 when he was a member of the Kolkata Cycle Samaj, and quickly took note of the similarities in the objectives and goals between the two organisations.

Given his active involvement in the cycling community in Kolkata, he thought it would be an excellent platform to gain more traction around bicycle-friendly policies and initiatives.

SATANJIB’S CONTRIBUTION TO KOLKATA’S CYCLING COMMUNITY

Unlike any other city in the country, Kolkata is unique as it has a ban on cycles on key arterial roads. This move was condemned nationally and internationally as most cities across the globe are trying hard to promote cycling, not restrict it. This forces cyclists to ride on back alley streets or face a hefty fine if they disobey.

Satanjib over the few months has been working closely with the Kolkata Municipal Development Authority (KMDA) on the planning and instituting of bicycle lanes throughout Kolkata. This Comprehensive Bicycle Plan is currently in its initial stages, and the local authorities are conducting surveys to determine ideal routes and number of expected riders.

Cycles are Prohibited from Plying on Main Roads

However, the Kolkata Traffic Police have hindered the implementation of this plan. According to a Kolkata Police Officer with over three decades of experience in traffic management said allowing cycles on the city’s thoroughfares was almost impossible given the unique problems Calcutta faces.

“No other city suffers from encroachment problems like Kolkata. All pavements have been taken over by hawkers, forcing pedestrians to walk on the road. Moreover, there are auto stands and parking zones along the kerbs of most roads. All these take up a portion of the road width. If more road space is taken away for cycles, only half the carriageway will remain free for buses, motorbikes, autos and cars. Traffic would come to a crawl,” the officer said. (via The Telegraph India).

A cyclist on Central Avenue, Kolkata

Satanjib believes the evidence is already out there and that cycling can alleviate most of these problems. A 2008 survey had already shown that Kolkata had the highest number of commuter cyclists in the country.

This was further corroborated by a 2011 survey which showed that 10% of Kolkata’s Transport modal share was cycling. Despite the ban!

Kolkata is geographically one of the best-suited cities to have cycles be a legitimate form of transport as the city’s dimensions are tiny compared to other Tier 1 cities like Mumbai and Delhi. The city has a width of 8km from East to West, and 15km from North to South, making the average trip length in Kolkata between 5-6 km. These kind of distances are perfect for cyclists as they are not too far and almost anybody can cycle such distances.

THE ROAD AHEAD

The biggest hurdle which Satanjib faces is the deep-rooted ‘Car Culture’ which has arisen in the last two and a half decades. The priority being given to polluting vehicles in an already cramped city is immoral and unjust. Barring cycles from arterial roads is also denying an entire socio-economic stratum from using public space.

He has therefore been urging the KMDA and Kolkata Police to enforce policies that dissuade motorists, instead of enabling unsustainable behaviours.

Satanjib believes the way forward is through civic awareness, rallies as well as educational initiatives which will teach children early on the value and benefit of cycling to both their health and society at large.

Surge in Cycling Amid Lockdown

Lockdown has brought about a massive wave of change for cycling in Kolkata, with sales up 3-4 times than it was pre-covid. Now the media and local authorities are paying attention to the positive benefits of cycling after the Central Government launched the India Cycles 4 Change program, which is a pro-cycling initiative for Smart Cities by the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA).


We wish Satanjib the very best at his stint as the Bicycle Mayor of Kolkata. Like most sprawling and crowded cities, Kolkata, with its rich cycling history and ride share can definitely benefit a lot from its citizens taking to cycling as a means of commuter transport, fitness, and sport.

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