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Women on pedals painting their cities green: Here are the changemakers appropriately conferred ‘Bicycle Mayor’

Nikita Lalwani is an instrument engineer from Baroda, Bhairavi Joshi practices dentistry in Valsad, Pooja Vijay is a lawyer in Jaipur and marketing professional Firoza Suresh is from Mumbai. These four different names pursue four different professions but they follow a common fervor.  Nikita, Bhairavi, Pooja and Firoza are cycling enthusiasts; so much so that they are driven by the belief that ‘bicycles transform cites and cities transform the world.’  

BICYCLE MAYORS

The initiative of transforming cities through bicycle is pushed forward by an Amsterdam-based social enterprise, BYCS. The enterprise that has been working internationally with breakthrough ideas around cycling, has introduced the concept of Bicycle Mayors. This global initiative brings together the public and private realms to uncover the massive economic, health and environmental benefits of cycling and visions ‘50 by 30: half of all city trips by bike by 2030.’

Bicycle Mayors are the human face and voice of cycling in a city. They identify and lead projects based on cycling in their own town or city to address pollution crisis, tackle road deaths, break down social barriers and enable people to access essential services for the first time. Though bicycles are not so popular in India, still we have got six Bicycle Mayors since 2017. Baroda, Valsad, Jaipur, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Guwahati – all have Bicycle Mayors, who are working to make cycling popular in their own city and bring a change in India as a whole.

NIKITA LALWANI- BICYCLE MAYOR OF BARODA

Nikita Lalwani

Nikita Lalwani is the first Indian to be chosen as the Bicycle Mayor. The Barodian started cycling to her office in 2014 when a flyover construction consumed much of her time while travelling by a car or an auto or even by a two wheeler. She understood that cycling, every morning, was not only a smooth ride but was also keeping her fitter and healthier. Soon after, she inspired some of her colleagues to opt for cycling and there were some more who were playing with the idea of commuting by bicycle. Nikita understood that there was a nascent cycling trend in India that needed to be nurtured. In 2015, Nikita launched an initiative – TRING, an acronym of ‘Try Cycling’- which she started in her own office. Through this, cycles with helmets were rented out to employees at a minimal rate.

“It was a descent initiative as more than 50 people, from trainee to VP, tried it out in 3-4 months and more than 5% of them got their own cycle after that.”

Nikita’s next initiative was to take cycling to those people for whom it would not be an option but a necessity.

“For two years we conducted the ‘Gift a Cycle’ project where we asked people to give away their used cycles which we refurbished and gave to underprivileged girl students and housemaids. In the meantime corporate rides, heritage rides, mango-farm rides and various other rides kept happening across the city.”

All these works helped Nikita Lalwani to get selected as the Bicycle Mayor of Baroda.

“The criterion was that you should do certain things in commute. Everyone in my city was talking about cycling for fitness, morning rides and sports. But nobody was using those costly cycles for communication. There is a general stigma attached to cycling and I was already fighting that stigma through certain events and talking to media also.”

Nikita Lalwani with Bhairavi Joshi in Australia

After becoming the Bicycle Mayor, Nikita is working on three focal areas. One is creating experiential programmes to learn, experience and start using cycling as active mobility choice for corporate and government employees who live close to their offices. The next one is providing cycling education to school children and college youth. The last one and most importantly, making the whole cycling movement visible at various platforms and among various stakeholders. Nikita Lalwani has also launched an app, Cycling Cities, along with four other cities where Bicycle Mayors are there.  https://goo.gl/fJhdXj

“If you record your cycling distance in kilometers then the app transfers those kilometers in Carbon Credit Coins which the users can redeem from different online and offline stores.”

The concept of collaborative works with other Bicycle Mayors is a great learning curve for these changemakers. Nikita has travelled with Bhairavi Joshi to Australia to participate in Australian Walking and Cycling Conference. She interacted with Firoza Suresh in Netherlands and Brazil when they both were part of Velo-City Conference. It is while travelling they came to know each other and has got a chance to share their ideas that definitely helped them to take their concepts forward.

FIROZA SURESH- BICYCLE MAYOR OF MUMBAI

Firoza Suresh

For Firoza Suresh, cycling was a necessity. As a girl child, born in a conservative middle-class family, Firoza had to carry her household duties which she did on her two-wheels. It became her routine; she continued her cycling throughout her school and college days and later when she became a marketing professional. There was family pressure, social stigma; but Firoza fought against all odds just to keep her passion alight. But situation changed once she entered into her family life. First, it was an inter-caste marriage, against the wishes of her family; and then it was her son who took her time away from cycling. But once a cyclist, is always a cyclist. Her passion reignited in 2010 when she heard of ‘Being Human Mumbai Cyclothon’. She did not have a cycle then but wanted to make the most of that event. She even went on to buy a professional cycle way beyond her budget. But that was just the beginning as Firoza did not look back after that event. She kept on participating in events, winning accolades in most of them and making herself known in the cyclist community of India.

In 2012, Firoza Suresh launched the Smart Commute Foundation to popularize non-motorised transportation by encouraging people to ‘cycle to work’.

“I have ignited a movement for adopting cycling as smart choice for commuting in Mumbai. To support my cause I have collaborated with like-minded professionals and been guided by a knowledgeable Advisory Committee to spread the culture of smart commuting in India.”

In big cities like Mumbai, it is a real challenge to make people believe in non-motorised communication. But Firoza’s appointment as the Bicycle Mayor of Mumbai is an apt one. In February, 2019, Smart Commute Foundation partnered with Mumbai Traffic Police and Hero Cycles to celebrate Road Safety Week with a novel idea of emulating cars. Firoza along with her team presented a ‘Car Cut Out Fixed on a Bicycle’ and rode along the city to create awareness and connect with the masses.

BHAIRAVI JOSHI- BICYCLE MAYOR OF VALSAD

Likewise, when Bhairavi Joshi was appointed the Bicycle Mayor, she promised to transform Valsad into an environmental-friendly bicycle town in India. Bhairavi started cycling just for recreation and to keep herself fit. But she got hooked onto it and cycling turned to be her daily dose of smile.

“When I started cycling, I came to know that a programme called ‘Bike to Work’ prevails in Valsad but it happens on Saturdays and that too only for men. A female communicating by bicycle is quite unconventional in smaller towns.”

Bhairavi Joshi with Nikita Lalwani addressing a conference

Bhairavi Joshi turned the tables. In May 2018, she travelled to Ooty on her cycling wheels. That gave her confidence in bringing a cycling revolution in her hometown. She approached institutes, offices, organizations, associations to persuade people to take up cycling; not just for fun but as a mean of communication. Being a doctor she met people from different spheres of life and to them she communicated her idea. At this juncture, the title of Bicycle Mayor came as an added advantage.

“An international honour is always praise-worthy in our country. The things that I told before becoming a Bicycle Mayor became more valuable once I was conferred the title.”

The cycle rally on 15th August

Bhairavi Joshi’s main aim is to increase cycling among women and kids. On 15th August, 2018 she conducted a bicycle rally where 80-90 kids cycled on the streets of Valsad. She also wants to start a bike-sharing system among college goers who can share bicycles and ride to their institutions.

“Global warming and climate change are the two most important concerns of the hour in India, so this triggered me even more to promote cycling to the general public.”

POOJA VIJAY- BICYCLE MAYOR OF JAIPUR

“No more traffic jams and congestion! The pollution levels will also come down, and the health benefits would be icing on the cake.”

Pooja Vijay

This was the focus of Pooja Vijay when she placed her candidature for Bicycle Mayor. By that time, Pooja had already launched a cycle-rental agency named Pink Pedals to perfectly pay tribute to the Pink City of Jaipur. Pink Pedals not only rents out cycles but also organizes rides to create awareness about the acceptance of cycle as a healthy lifestyle choice. Pooja wants cycles to be accepted across all age groups and all strata of people. In June 2018, Pink Pedals hosted Juniors Cyclothon which was Jaipur’s first cycling event for kids. Its success was followed by another Cyclothon in December. Another interesting programme that Pooja’s organization conducts is Heritage on Pedals. There are specially crafted and hand-painted vintage cycles that are given to tourists to roam and explore the city of Jaipur. The Rajasthan Tourism has recognized Pink Pedals as one of the leading organizations to promote tourism in the state.

The title of Bicycle Mayor has opened many doors for Pooja Vijay. She is now concentrating on introducing more cycle tracks in Jaipur. But she knows that only infrastructure cannot change a city, it is the mindset of the people that needs to be changed too. For that she is targeting the female population. If she can convince the female members of the family then it will be easier for her to achieve her goal.

Junior Cyclothon

“The changes I can bring through the bicycle in my city being a Bicycle Mayor will give fresh air to breathe, healthy people to accelerate my country’s growth, systematic traffic which will create benchmark for other cities to inherit.”   

About Poulomi Kundu

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