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Is Chennai friendly to women cyclists?

Road safety and personal security are two significant concerns for women who consider switching to cycling

This accident was just two days removed from a night cyclothon organised by the Greater Chennai Corporation and Chennai Smart City Limited — on September 25 — to highlight another aspect of safety — to show how safe the city was for women. It was also aimed at getting more women to take up cycling.

Aradana, as usual, was riding solo around 5 a.m. on Rajiv Gandhi Salai at around 27 kph when the front wheel of her cycle got entangled in a cable that was part of cable-laying work, throwing her rudely off the saddle.

“My Scott Addict 20 toppled and I landed on my head,” says Aradana, and identifies the site of accident: A poorly-lit stretch near Satyabama University.

The infrastructure work had not been barricaded and poor lighting on the stretch contributed to the accident.

“I have a cat-eye light on my cycle that is pretty good,” she says, adding that her helmet was a life saver.

Later, Aradana dragged herself to the side of the road and sought help from the person laying the cable to transport her bicycle home before she left in an ambulance.

“I injured my lower back and elbow but I could gather enough strength to remove the cable obstructing the road as I did not want anybody else meeting with the same fate,” says Aradana, a resident of Perungudi.

The state of roads is a major deterrent for people, particularly women, who want to taking up cycling. Many cyclists hitting OMR and ECR say cattle on the road is a major safety hazard. “A senior cyclist who was hit by a herd of cow on ECR has not yet recovered,” says Aradana.

ALSO READ: How cities are turning cycle-friendly

On road issues

The challenges cyclists face on city road are hard to miss: Overflowing dustbins on the road make the area around them slippery; potholes; lack of street lights and dug-up roads. For women on long rides, there is also the lack of accessible and clean public toilets; and threat of harassment and discrimination. And, lack of a dedicated cycling lane is on top of all the woes.

Due to these challenges, a majority of the women cyclists go only on group rides.

“It is safer when you are in a group,” says Sujatha Dube, a member of Mongrels. But there are unexpected hurdles on the way even in a group ride.

“For most of our rides, we map the route to double check if it is safe but on some stretches, there is the issue of phone-snatching to deal with,” says Sujatha.

In 2019, the cycling group made a representation to the Police department about this issue they encountered on OMR.

For Nithya Srivatsan, last week’s night ride was her first ever and she felt safe as all through the 20-km route, either volunteers or police personnel were stationed. The event has given me the confidence to explore the city in the night but I cannot expect such a reception every time, says Nithya, a member of WCCG.

Grievance cell

Bicycle Mayor of Chennai Felix John says the cycling infrastructure in the city is evolving and cyclists including women must not be feel discouraged by such incidents and should continue cycling.

“We need more people to pedal to push for change,” says Felix. He says the recent night cyclothon was a great initiative to show that if various stakeholders come together then safety on the road can be enhanced.

The lack of dedicated cycling lanes despite many promises has been disheartening but that is not the ultimate aim, says Felix.

He has been mooting an idea to set up a grievance redressal system that could handle complaints by cyclists relating to problems faced on the road. It must have a representation from various departments.

Felix states that last week’s event should be leveraged to work towards policies that would create an active mobility system, and addressing the question of safety would be a part of it.

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