Mumbai has the makings of a great cycling city – but it needs to set the wheels in motion

Though lacking in infrastructure, India’s financial capital, shares many characteristics that are at the heart of cycling-friendly Dutch cities.

On September 2, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis approved the civic body’s proposal to develop a cycling track in Mumbai. The 39-km and 10-m wide track, called “Green Wheels Along Blue Lines”, will be built on open space created by removing 15,000 encroachments along the Tansa pipeline, which stretches from the eastern suburb of Mulund to Wadala in Mumbai city.

Expected to cost Rs 300 crore, this would be the largest infrastructure project for non-motorised transportation the city has ever seen – but it won’t be the first. The track comes on the heels of several experiments to build dedicated pathways for cyclists in Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru and other Indian cities. Most of these have not found many takers and have done little to encourage cycling.

The success of Green Wheels depends on learning from the mistakes made in implementing these projects.

Cycling culture

Cycling in India is taking two paths simultaneously. On one hand, tremendous grassroots enthusiasm is finally making authorities see the road from a cyclist’s perspective. In the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, groups, organisations and shops like Buddy Riders (Andheri), the Kalyan Cyclist Club, Cycle Katta, The Smart Commute, and Pro9 Bicycle Studio are encouraging people to navigate the city on two wheels through group rides, seminars and workshops.

For some, recreational cycling has paved the way for them to use the cycle for their daily commute. As a result, they have become unwitting cycling advocates: working under the radar they are convincing recalcitrant building managers to allow bicycle parking, getting the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to re-align storm drains to make them safe for cyclists and campaigning for bicycle parking facilities to be installed near prominent local train stations.

On the other hand, the big picture of cycling in India is troubling. Reports such as TERI’s Pedaling Toward a Greener India highlight the precipitous decline of bicycle commuting in cities like New Delhi and Pune, the lack of planning coordination among government agencies, street design that privileges the tiny minority that owns cars and motorbikes and poor enforcement of traffic rules.

Amit Bhatt, Director of Transport at World Resources Institute, said, “In terms of modal mix, cycling has a phenomenally large share in India.” According to the 2011 census, 9% of all commutes are done by bicycle – an impressively large percentage compared to most other countries. “The problem is that this share is going down.” This decline has been occuring since the arrival of cheap scooters on the market in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Tracking progress

In light of the declining overall number of bicycle commuters, the solution seems to be simple: build cycle tracks. In 2011 the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, the city’s nodal infrastructure development agency, attempted this by creating a 13-km network of tracks looping around the Bandra Kurla Complex, a business district in the centre of the city. But the tracks, built at a cost of Rs 6.5 crore, were barely used. Within months, the paint faded, signs rusted and the space was taken over for parking In 2014, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority washed its hands of the project and declared it a failure.

Why did this happen and what lessons does it provide?

Firoza Suresh, founder of The Smart Commute, a cycling advocacy group in the city said that the track never stood a chance of working because of problems of design and last-mile connectivity. “Green paint doesn’t qualify as a cycle track,” she said, referring to the colour commonly used to designate bicycle-friendly places. What matters are the details. Firstly, instead of integrating the track with the city’s transportation system, so that people could ostensibly ride to work, “the MMRDA saw cycle tracks as a leisure thing – expecting people to come with their own cycles and do a few loops for exercise”, she said.

Secondly, the Bandra Kurla Complex tracks had design flaws that matter to a person on a bicycle. For instance, separating the track from the road were dangerous concrete barriers, rather than tall, flexible plastic bollards, bumpy cobblestone-like paver blocks that made the surface uneven, and no provision for bicycle parking. These flaws made the track unappealing even to those few who cycle regularly in the area, let alone to anyone who might come there looking for a cycling destination.

The lessons to learn from this project’s fate is that the success of cycling infrastructure depends on details that often do not make it to marketing images or glossy architectural renderings. What’s crucial is also how authorities and designers look at cycling: is it primarily a recreational activity or a mode of transportation?

Restricting cycling tracks to a business hub that is a world unto itself, cut off from the city and with a homogenous streetscape, sent the message that cycling is a recreational activity best done when separated from the hustle and bustle of Mumbai. But ironically, the qualities that made the Bandra Kuirla Complex seem like an easy and attractive place for a cycling track in the first place – the wide streets and broad encroachment-free sidewalks – were what doomed the project to be a failure.

Is this the future for the upcoming Green Wheels... project as well? The fact that it is being built on land opened up by clearing encroachments – the same land that the Bombay High Court ordered the BMC, in 2009, to clear of slums – suggests that a similar logic may be informing this project as well. “It [the Green Wheels cycle track] looks not so much as a traffic solution than a public space creation solution,” said Divya Tate, a veteran cycling enthusiast and director of Audax India, a popular endurance cycling organisation. “On paper, the plan looks nice – a track on unused land— but, it is not exactly unused land. They’ve displaced people. Unless there is some rehousing, which I doubt will be the case, then it is definitely going to be an elite kind of thing.”

What makes a city cycling friendly?

While in the small city of Nijmegen, Netherlands, attending the annual conference of cycling planners, designers and advocates called Velo-City, I saw a remarkable sight: streets teeming with elderly men and women, teenage girls and boys, middle aged men with babies, children and disabled people – all on cycles. They navigated through an extensive web of smooth paths with parking facilities capable of handling thousands of bicycles, roundabouts with signals that privilege cycling and pedestrian movement, cycling-only bridges, tunnels and even inter-city “highways” dedicated to people on two or three wheels.

This vast and dedicated cycling infrastructure is what planning professionals in India often point to in cities while ruing the poor infrastructure here, or as inspiration to overcome the transportation failures at home (just as their counterparts in the US point to this infrastructure as alternatives to the American obsession with the automobile). That’s where specific infrastructural interventions like bicycle paths come in, because they show the tremendous benefits of transportation design that privileges non-motorised movement.

What is less known is that Dutch cities were not always this way – and therefore, big infrastructure projects are not the only way to promote the use of non-motorised transport. In the 1970s, many city centres looked like what we see in parts of Mumbai or urban spaces across the world: roads choked with traffic, parked cars and devoid of space for people on foot or on a bicycle. The transformation into a cycling paradise required a shift not just in physical infrastructure but the perception of transportation itself: namely, a shift from seeing streets as spaces to move cars to viewing them as spaces for people, a revaluation of cycling from a mode of transportation to a swifter alternative to walking and a rethinking of the bicycle as a vehicle for exercise or fitness to one that is a mobility device.

Urban fabric

Quiet Dutch streetscapes might seem like a far cry from the scene in bustling and chaotic metropolises like Mumbai (or Boston and London). But in this cycling paradise there is, surprisingly, hope for the future of non-motorized transportation in Mumbai.This is because what makes certain forms of transportation possible, convenient, safe or enjoyable is not only the planned infrastructure but also the organic urban form that has evolved over the centuries: the physical arrangement of homes, markets, and institutions, the way people interact as a crowd and unspoken expectations regarding how streets are used.

Architect and Professor of Urban Design Rahul Mehrotra calls this sphere of urban life the “kinetic city.” Paying attention to this unofficial and spontaneous realm of the city shows that, surprisingly, some of the central elements of Dutch cycling-friendly cities are, in fact, commonplace in Mumbai. In fact, the city already has thousands of utility cyclists – such as laundry, egg and milk delivery men and dabbawallahs – who are out on the road everyday.

  1. No-frills cycles: Most bicycles in Amsterdam are heavy, have large upright handlebars, thick saddles, wide tires and squeaky chains. In other words, they are not so different from ghoda cycles, or the indestructible bicycles used by the thousands of delivery men in Mumbai. This shows that you don’t need expensive equipment to move through the city on two wheels. It also reflects an understanding of cycling as a quicker, more convenient alternative to walking rather than a lifestyle choice, sport or political statement.
  2. Density: “Infrastructure is not necessarily the answer,” said professor Ruth Oldenziel in her Velo-City lecture. For a city to be cycling-friendly, it also needs density, mixed land use and a variety of mobility choices. People cycle in places like Amsterdam and Nijmegen because they don’t need to go further than 5 km to access schools, shops, restaurants or train stations. Mumbai’s incredible density is similarly its greatest asset, at least for those who live in the city. There is always a paan stall, kirana shop, vegetable vendor, restaurant or bicycle repair stand within easy walking distance. But Mumbai is a city of contrasts and so, half its population continues to travel numerous kilometres from the far-flung suburbs to the city for work. But for those who have to travel less than 10 km for work, the city lends itself to cycling as commute.
  3. The ballet of the street: Crossing an intersection in Nijmegen or Amsterdam is like joining a giant unchoreographed performance, as the documentary film Why We Cycle, screened at the Velo-City conference, beautifully pointed out. You merge and then disengage from a swarm of people on bicycles without ever touching, talking or often even making eye-contact. While in motion, you read other people’s nonverbal cues to navigate – a gesture, head tilt or reduction in speed – rather than street signs.Urbanist Jane Jacobs famously called this organised chaos the ballet of the street. Most cities have it but perhaps there is none so grand, complex and spontaneous as in Mumbai. For better or worse, navigating Mumbai’s streets is rarely a passive, solitary act and more often means manoeuvring amidst a collective, constantly shifting formation.
  4. Blurred boundaries: One of the more well-known Dutch design innovations is the concept of shared space. In essence, this is traffic calming by minimising the physical separation between sidewalk and road. This counter-intuitive design intervention is premised on the idea that blurred boundaries empower crowds of pedestrians and cyclists to take up more space (of course, this does not apply to highways, where a separation between walking and motorable spaces is necessary).It means designing streets that account for their multiple, overlapping uses – something that in large swathes of suburban Mumbai is the norm by accident.
  5. Cars are one vehicle among many. In the 1970s, cars dominated city centers in Amsterdam and Nijmegen. Changing this required a shift in attitude more than infrastructure. This shift entailed seeing cars as the guests, rather than the kings of the road. Compared to the United States, where empty, wide open roads lull drivers into a state of complacency, Dutch streets compel drivers to be more attentive to their surroundings. In Mumbai, the 5% of the population that commute by car might feel entitled to the entirety of the street but in reality, they need to navigate around a swarm of deliverymen, cart-pullers, auto-rickshaws, pedestrians and hawkers.

Building from existing streetscape

The challenges faced by people who walk or cycle in Mumbai are indisputable and well documented. However, cycle tracks – which are often proposed as the first solution to cyclists’ woes – fail when their design and implementation do not take into account the already existing urban fabric.

Topography, geography and attitude, the idiosyncracies in housing, social interaction and ideas of leisure and the mundane acts of millions matter as much as what is created in concrete, steel and stone. Though lacking in physical infrastructure, Mumbai shares many characteristics that are at the heart of cycling-friendly Dutch cities. Better to build off them than deny they exist at all.

Jonathan Shapiro Anjaria teaches at Brandeis University.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Also those looking to upgrade their TV to a smart one can get Rs. 20,000 off by exchanging it for the Sony Bravia 108cm Android TV.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and the super compact JBL Go Portable Speaker at 56% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of and not by the Scroll editorial team.