Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Brief Reflection on Sharing the Road in Pune, India

I've been out of commission lately because my only net access has been through netcafes with oversubscribed connections in a city whose power supply (50% hydro) has been less than dependable in a season with very late monsoon rains: empty reservoirs results in "load shedding," which means intermittent planned power outages.

I will post some very interesting "share the road" photos when I get a chance. In India, one shares the road with quite a wide variety of vehicles, pedestrians, bikers, and animals. We could learn a thing or two about sharing the road.

Then again, traffic deaths and injuries are higher in India than in the US, which is alarming, given that (at last look) only 7 in 1000 people own a motorized vehicle, vs. 700/1000 in the US. The "risk profile" of the average pedestrian or cyclist here is considerably higher than those who bike through Newton Corner.

The Bicycle & Pedestrian Task Force and Bike Newton have a potential sister-organization here called "Pedestrians First." They've successfully gotten some press in the Sakal Times, but I haven't yet been able to track down a contact. Their principle projects involve drawing attention to reckless traffic in front of schools, and trying to get the Pune Municipal Corporation to rein in reckless bus drivers.

I've seen two cycle tracks in Pune, neither of which seem to get much use; the general consensus is that they were boondoggles engineered by politicians to profit construction cronies; given that they don't seem to link anything, the consensus makes some sense.

The unfortunate trend that I've seen over the last 15 years of visiting Pune has been increasing use of motorized vehicles. Those who used to travel by bicycle now travel by scooter. Those who used to use scooters now use motorcycles. Motorcycles have been supplanted by small cars, and small cars by SUV's. With the release in September of Tata's $2,000.00 car, the roads, barely wide enough in many places for one scooter and a motor-rikshaw, will only go downhill. The trouble is, owning a car (a "four-wheeler") is a potent status symbol. 15 years ago, about half the traffic on the streets here were bicycles. It's now down to less than 10%. (Out in the countryside, bicycles still predominate.)

What I'd like to do is find some productive way to link the growing pro-bicycle movement in the US with similar organizations in India. The message should be, "Wait, wait! Been there, done that! It's not working!"

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