Science, Tech & Environment

Bicyclists in crowded Indian city fight to take back the streets


Taxis, buses and other cars stuck in the honking traffic in Kolkata, India



Bicycle sharing programs are pretty popular around the globe. Amsterdam, New York, Paris, Copenhagen, and Montreal all have them.

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The city we want you to name is going in the opposite direction. This major city in India has banned bicycles from major roads. Authorities there say the bikes slow down motorized traffic, contributing to gridlock.

But many of those bikes are used for commerce, and local organiser Ekta Kothari says the ban could have unintended consequences.

"You're talking about people who deliver milk who deliver newspapers delivering goods so its like the entire city's going to come to a standstill."

So which city in India are we talking about?

Several Geo Quiz text game players came up with the answer:

Kolkata, India

Leann Canty in Boston, MA; Cal Crawford in Highland Park, CA; and Charles Poltras in Carl Fisher, FL all sent in correct answers.

Kolkata - unlike many international cities that are promoting bicycles as urban tranportation options -- has barred bicycles from 174 city streets. The ban includes bicycles, cycle vans, handcarts, and pull-carts. The authorities say the ban is designed to ease gridlock and make way for cars, trucks, busses and taxis.

But critics of the ban say it unfairly keeps people who rely on the bicycles as their only transportation from carrying out their jobs: delivering newspapers, milk and other goods to local markets.  

One cyclist Raju Sapui told the BBC that "this is making my life very difficult. Every time I get on my bicycle I am scared that I will be fined as I have to break the law and go on some of the banned roads to get to work."

One group called Chakra Satyagraha is urging the Kolkata government to revoke the ban on non-motorized transport and to promote sustainable transportation.  

Ekta Kothari, a bicyclist and filmmaker living in Kolkata, is helping to organize a online petition against the ban.  Kothari blogs that  the bicycle ban threatens and undermines the commerce that goes on everyday as bicycle couriers deliver goods, newspapers and milk for example, to local markets.

Kothari says the city-wide ban on bicycles is "socially non-inclusive, inequitable and environmentally hazardous and is a suicide note for our beautiful city of joy. Hundreds will be forced to convert to motorized transport and push to the brink the over stretched infrastructure."