A wonderful experience – a citizen led – citizen participation movement @ Rajkot city: Cyclofun 29th Jan 2017: On way to Low carbon mobility !

In the first ever cycling event held by Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC), Rotary Mid town Rajkot Cycling Club (RCC) and others, January 29 2017 would be etched in memory for Rajkot citizens who observed and participated in good numbers.  This is a personal account of the cyclothon event participation and its connections to broader climate change, pollution and civic sense issues.

cyclothon image

The event got flagged off at around 6.10 am in august presence of our Commissioner Mr Banchinidi Pani , city mayor – Dr Jaimin Upadhyay, Our beloved Mr Vijay bhai’s better half – Mrs Anjali Rupani, Dpty Mayor Mrs Darshita Shah and the likes. The beginning of the ride itself gave us pride as it was for the first time there was support of more than 615 cyclists who had volunteered to participate in a first ever cycling event to promote low mobility transportation and fitness.

By 6.15 am while we just begin our tour all the gods are being awaken and we hear the aarti (Prayers) as we cross many temples along our route and a serene feeling sinks in along with cool winter morning breeze..Over all the arrangement with police to control the traffic even early morning is good along the 132 ft ring road. The fag end of point 1 where we had to get labelled was placed in the darkness of the street end. Volunteers were hovering over to put the coloured labels on completion of route 1. Small temporary lighting arrangement there could have helped not making it a dark spot. It was a good 1 minute stop to stretch, to sip the beverage to re-hydrate and continue to the next leg.

The next leg took us from Nana Mava Chokdi to Speedwell Party plot which are the newer developed peri-urban areas of the city – a city where the agricultural fields’ skyline is being usurped by the high rises. Not sure if they now fall under the RMC boundary or not and whether the solid waste and water supply arrangements have reached that area or not. If not how do they treat the waste water and how do they take care of their daily water needs given the fact that Rajkot city is semi-arid, water scarce with rocky sub-strata. Whether have they thought of treating their waste water and re-using the same and whether they have constructed Rain water harvesting structures for their own water security – the high risers! As these thoughts were blooming in my head, dusk was giving way to the day light. Fresh morning air breezes accompanied by the birds chirping now as we jostle to the point 2 for our stamping which is a joint connecting us to the new ring road. The road newly constructed and the road less travelled literally. Again with the customary pause for stamping we rejuvenate ourselves with the beverages or water and stretch a minute or two for the next leg. As I finish my water, I gently ask the volunteer whether they would not leave the litter in the place when we all leave! He replied No! I hand over my Plastic bottle and leave for the next leg. We have now left behind the city traffic.

All the while in lesser commotion road, it makes me think the litter which our fellow participants would do of the plastic bottles beyond the stamping points while they take shorter breaks in between for re-hydration and stretching. Voice in my head was thinking – would someone go and collect the litter even beyond the stamping points?? I hope they do.. and if not I wish someone looks into it from RMC and for the next event the organisers do look into this point.

As sun is rising and giving nice orange hues we cross agricultural fields just few years away from being concretised as our city population grows. Wonder where our food will come from? Fresh air – pollution free.. yet at one point over a small culvert which must have been a small rivulet at one point in time has now turned sewage gives us stinky smell, white foams over the flowing sewage water does remind of the untreated water. Right next to it on both the sides are agricultural fields on rivulet cum sewage’s path. Untreated water on leaching the agricultural fields’ does leave questions on the quality of food we city dwellers would have on our plates! We have far got disconnected from the problem to relate the health problems by the chemical leaching of water streams, rivers , dams which in-turn leach our ground water resources and soil eventually used to grow our food we intake! There are easy not to heavy on pocket waste water treatment plant technologies like Phytorid (more information here) already available which housing colonies can take responsibility and install before releasing the treated water to water streams while there are equally easy technologies for industries too. More over at two different points on this stretch of road there were leakages at the water sumps. Wish that RMC looks into the same and resolves those leakages. Every drop of water wasted which is already travelling from Narmada dam or our water reservoirs is coming to us at a high cost apart from losing our precious natural resource. Swatch and Green Bharat will never happen until we take the onus for change, change in our habits and change in our behaviour will lead to change in our actions!

However it was a nice way to connect to the city’s peri-urban landscape. The point 3 stamping point seems far but the fun and enthusiasm for novel experience is still intact! Point 3 is at Shiv Shakti hotel on Rajkot-Jamnagar Highway. Police and the volunteers were doing immensely good job. When you see the traffic being stopped for the cyclist, and cyclist being given right of way was an amazing feeling. I have been cycling in city for over 25 years and never did I feel so elated to see this scene where we cyclists were given right of way. I wish our Municipality which is ever so active comes up with right of way to cyclists under its low carbon mobility transport plans along with dedicated cycling lanes such that more and more people opt for cycling as a mode of transport even every day to work, to school etc. We could set this trend for the entire nation and I am sure our municipality has strength and a leveraging position to implement this small change! It’s about behaviour change plus action. And I have no doubt in my mind that if 615 people who participated in 50 km for the 1st ever cyclothon in the city out of which 415 people had the stamina to complete the entire race within the stipulated 3 hours time frame along with over 715 children who had participated in 5 km round, no wonder then there are cycling enthusiasts who could take this challenge of cycling further to their neighbourhoods for small errands to start with to cycling to work, school for longer distances! Because it is not just about keeping fit – the cycling… what happens to health if there is no clean air to breathe! So it has to be fitness plus pollution free mode while we promote this mode of transportation. Let’s have a cycle day once a week, once a month and see if we can adopt this change faster!

Traffic at point 3 was there since it was a highway point, however the labelling procedure kept immediately at the turn from highway to the hotel was on a rough patch of land and while we were in speed taking a u-turn suddenly we have this rough patch of land and the commotion of volunteers wanting to stamp at the earliest directing participants and the participants also in hurry of wanting to get stamped. Sudden break over rough road made a possibility to skid. Which I did at that point! However if the point was kept a little inward farther from the critical turn point we would have already slowed down and would have figured the volunteer who was free to get us stamped. Also if there were lines arranged for queuing participant would have created ease of operations is what I felt at that point in time. This point could be taken up for future such arrangements!

The highway now had the sudden increase in elevation and the fourth leg suddenly started to feel long and tiring as we had to put in more effort to cross small distance. 8 km to city… 7 km to city … 6 km to city we are now counting each passing kilometre to our finish point.. Not sure if this stretch 4 was changed to stretch 2 instead, would it have been any better!

Finally the Madhapar chokdi sight gives relief that ‘Delhi dur nahi’ (i.e. Destination is not far) .  I love the attention that I as a cyclist got when we were given right of way while other traffic stopped for time being. However, in the hind sight, if all the vehicles were halted, had their engines on till the long line of cyclists passed through in the entire route, would also have led to immense carbon emissions. Do we plan to measure our emissions of the event?

By the time we are now in the last leg, it is already around 8.30 am and the morning traffic of vehicles in the city has started hitting us. Now in the city the traffic at certain points was not considerate of the tired cyclists in their last leg. More caution could have been taken at the BRTS route especially at all the junction points.

Its 2 hours and 55 minutes when I reach the end point! I am the finisher as elated as the other 415 co-participants! Sense of achievement prevails and there is no scope of pain and tiredness. We had passed our endurance tests and I am sure most of them would have gained confidence that other such events would be accomplishable with equal ease! Lucky draw winners were doubly lucky. However I am happy with my experience.

Kudos and Thanks once again to the organisers especially RMC and Rotary cycling club for giving us this chance to experience our city in a different light . I hope more people join in this mission of low carbon mobility alternative over just the fitness perspective and hope our active municipality create more provisions as mentioned which makes cycling to be adopted easily as a daily commute within city irrespective of such events being organised to inspire people to take action!.

I sincerely thank all the organizers, volunteers, municipality, police, ambulance team and others who made this event a grand success. It has been a wonderful experience which I could equate to our country’s first cyclothon experience in Mumbai in 2010 which I was fortunate to participate! Kudos to the team.! This is an account of few of my thoughts and experiences through this write up. Some of them may come as critical feedback with the intention to make such events better and better such that we take cycling as a preferred mode of transport and also for other such events to be organised in future. The intention is not to demean anyone’s efforts for this event but to highlights goods and bads to make future event better if taken in right frame of mind! It may read long but I chose detailing over brevity!

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