Council on Energy, Environment and Water Integrated | International | Independent

Share the Lane: Making Delhi Safer for Cycles and Pedestrians

Harsimran Kaur, Himani Jain
03 June 2020

As the lockdown is lifted gradually, public transport (PT) and intermediate para transit (IPT) have just begun plying with restrictions in Delhi. Such restrictions are likely to continue as long as the pandemic lasts. For bus riders, the social distancing norm is resulting in many missing the bus! And there isn’t a sufficient bus fleet for them to catch the next one on time. Now, more than ever, we need to make way for walking and cycling as a means to travel the last mile.

Of the total commuters using buses, IPT and metro-rail, 25 per cent of them have short commutes (less than 5 km)1 in Delhi. They are the prime candidates for the shift.

Bicycles hold great value for the common citizen, especially those struggling to make a living. Vittorio De Sica’s masterpiece, the Bicycle Thieves, couldn’t have portrayed it any better. In Delhi, approximately one-third of everyday commutes happen on foot or by cycle2. But with the upswing in motorised vehicle use and inadequate NMT infrastructure, Delhi roads will become more dangerous for these commuters.

Lack of safety, not heat, is the barrier

One of the oft-cited reasons behind not promoting cycling is that India is too hot to cycle in. There is little research to prove this. A mapping of the temperature ranges of cities with their cycling modal share (Figure 1) shows that temperature has little to do with the reason why people do not cycle.


Surveys of existing and potential cyclists in India have found that ‘risk of road accidents’ and ‘lack of infrastructure’ are consistently ranked as the top two concerns while ‘discomfort due to weather’ is ranked the last (Jain and Tiwari 2010; TERI 2014). Half the fatal road accident victims in Delhi were pedestrians and cyclists in 2018 (Delhi Traffic Police 2019). And while there has been a dip in the absolute number of road crash fatalities during the lockdown, the rate of deaths in road crashes has remained unchanged - the common causal factor being speeding (Dash 2020).

What is needed is a high degree of safety from motorised vehicles in key arterial roads and connecters that will make people want to cycle.

Lessons for Delhi to promote cycle commutes

Post lockdown, cities around the world have begun promoting NMT swiftly with tactical interventions like creating temporary pop-up walking and cycle lanes to ensure safe travel. Almost overnight, the cycling infrastructure that people campaigned for years appeared at next to no cost. Some of these cities have decided to make the changes more permanent.

In Delhi, the first attempt to develop bicycle tracks was made in the Bicycle Master Plan 1998, followed by a revised plan in 2008 drafted by TRIPP, IIT Delhi. However, city authorities have adopted none of these plans. UTTIPEC3 street design guidelines (2010) aim at ‘inclusive streets’, and yet millions of rupees are spent on constructing, expanding and maintaining roads and parking lots for motorised traffic. Given the social distancing-based low capacity of public transport and the resultant surge in motorised private trips, it is essential to champion NMT now.

What to do and where to implement?

Pop-up bicycle lanes and safe crossings are needed on roads with a 30-50 kmph traffic speed having high-volume motorised transport (sub-arterial and collector roads). Painted curb-side NMT lane segregated by bollards can highlight NMT users and ensure their safety from motorised vehicle users. These are low-cost interventions ranging between INR 6-15 lakh/km (based on the quality of infrastructure) that can be turned around under a week (ITDP 2020). These should be implemented on ring roads, radial roads connecting the central part of Delhi, and arterial and sub-arterial roads with a 36 m right of way and above on priority.

Pop-up bicycle lanes in Berlin, Germany

Image credit: Peter Broytman

High footfall areas such as bazaars, business districts, religious centres, must be declared NMT, for at least a 50-100 meter radius. Moreover, private vehicle users could be discouraged through a steep parking fee within 200-250 meters of areas such as Karol Bagh, Kamla Nagar and Connaught Place.

Travel demand management measures such as congestion pricing, staggered work hours and low-emission zones – which were being considered for Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru before the lockdown — must be implemented in areas with high private vehicle traffic.

Medium-term measures

Given that walking and cycling contributes to 70-80 per cent of the education trips, it will be critical to ensure safer travel to schools as they reopen (Tiwari and Jain 2008). An area of about two sq. km. around the schools, covering nearby urban villages and low-income colonies should be declared safe NMT zones. The infrastructure must be a combination of the shortest and safest routes with NMT track, limited junctions and crossings with traffic-calming measures to reduce speeds.

Complete streets – the long-term vision

The interventions on strengthening NMT during the pandemic should not be a one-off temporary measure. The long-term vision is to have a street that caters to all users and uses, through equitable allocation of road space. Well designed, shaded, and safe streets will attract more pedestrians and cyclists as well as address urban air pollution and the heat island effect.

Complete streets in Pune

Image credit: ITDP

There is a strong connection between regular exercise and a healthy immune system. Walking and cycling will not only ensure safe distancing to keep the contagion at bay but also help make the blue skies permanent. Delhi must learn from other Indian and European cities to leverage the Covid-19 crisis to adopt sustainable mobility solutions for a more sustainable recovery.

Harsimran Kaur is a Research Analyst and Himani Jain is a Senior Programme Lead at The Council. Send your comments to [email protected] and [email protected]

1The figures are from the Census 2011 data for ‘Other workers’ in Delhi.

2The figure is from the Census 2011 data for ‘Other workers’ in Delhi.

3UTTIPEC stands for Unified traffic and transportation infrastructure (planning and engineering) centre.


Dash, Dipak K. 2020. “One-third Killed in Road Crashes were Migrants Returning Home during Lockdown, NGO Claims.” The Times of India, May 7. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/auto/news/one-third-killed-in-road-crashes-were-migrants-returning-home-during-lockdown-ngo-claims/articleshow/75574479.cms.

Delhi Traffic Police. 2019. “Road Accidents in Delhi 2018.” New Delhi. https://delhitrafficpolice.nic.in/sites/default/files/uploads/2019/08/Chapter-3%20Victims%20of%20road%20accidents.pdf.

ITDP. 2020. Instant Street Interventions to Expand Space for Walking and Cycling. Urbanlogue. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dse54W8y0tQ&feature=youtu.be.

Jain, Himani, and Geetam Tiwari. 2010. “Road Safety and Security Issues among Urban Cyclists and Non-Cyclists.” In Injury Prevention. Vol. 16. https://trid.trb.org/view/1089685.

OECD/International Transport Forum. 2013. “Cycling, Health and Safety.” OECD Publishing/ITF. doi:10.1787/9789282105955-en.

TERI. 2014. “Pedalling Towards a Greener India: A Report on Promoting Cycling in the Country.” New Delhi: TERI.https://www.teriin.org/eventdocs/files/Cycling_Report_LR.pdf .

Tiwari, Geetam, and Himani Jain. 2008. “Bicycle in Delhi: Its Use and Barriers to Use.” TRIPP-RP06-02. New Delhi: Transport Research and Injury Prevention Programme, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi.

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