The news of a campaign to make bicycles popular and fashionable again in Manipur by a group of men and women from different professions, is welcome. This should be so especially for Imphal, which is on an incremental basis getting overcrowded and over polluted with motor vehicles and the fumes they emit. The city with an average radius not exceeding 5 kilometres, if we were to give our opinion, is essentially a bicycle city. There is nowhere in it that cannot be reached with a bicycle comfortably. Life in it is also slow by any standard. There are no early morning planes or trains to catch on the dot of the hour. Long distance inter-state and inter-district passenger buses and shared taxis would even wait for the last passenger who had booked their tickets in advance before departing, even if it means an hour delay. There is nothing else to suggest urgency in the place’s work culture too, and in the government sector, it can even be described as slothful. The term strict job deadlines have no meaning here. Under the circumstance, at least half the city’s transportation problem can be solved by a reversion to bicycles as in the not so distant past.
While it is encouraging that bicycle enthusiasts are now pushing the issue, the government must also judge the merit of this move and pitch in, preferably by factoring in this thought in future policies on city transportation, pollution control, traffic control, public health, noise pollution, city planning and general upkeep of the city’s cleanliness. It is not an exaggeration that the bicycle campaign would be relevant to all of these issues. As a start, the government can begin by banning motor vehicles inside the city centre core. This would not amount to an outlandish move, for there are precedents which have done exceedingly well elsewhere. Indeed, if this were to become a reality, Imphal would wear the look of many of those neat and tidy European cities. If the government does take this suggestion seriously, it could also begin making cycle tracks alongside the pedestrian walks, again as is done in many European cities. Toward such a policy, the first thing to do would be to ensure the stretch of the NH-39 which runs along the Kangla moat, beside some of the most important institutions of the state including the Raj Bhavan, chief minister’s official bungalow, the civil secretariat etc, must discontinue to be a highway. In its stead, an Imphal bypass should be built at the soonest, and there are many possible routes for this. Clearing this stretch of heavy traffic would do wonders to the quality of not just traffic management in the Imphal city, but also to the enhancement of the beauty of the Kangla and the whole of the Imphal city as such. This area should be given the look an aura of the City Mall, where people, including whole families can come out for evening walks etc. Open spaces and public parks have disappeared from Imphal, thanks to past planners who seemed to have seen value and beauty of a city only in box-shops lined congested, commercial, streets.
Reverting back to bicycles would also take care of many other of the city’s most urgent issues. One of these is the diminishing concern for health upkeep amongst the people. Modern city professions and vocations have left little time or inclination for their practitioners to set aside time for physical exercises, something any doctor would frown upon, and probably also profoundly related to the rise in cases of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiac diseases etc. The use of bicycles would take care of a great deal of this concern. Again, if Imphal were thus to transform into a bicycle city, probably India’s first model bicycle city, in all likelihood it could also attract foreign direct investments in setting up assembly plants for some well known foreign bicycles brands, thus adding an economic and employment dimension to the project. Given governmental will, this transition should not be difficult at all too, for people in the state, men and women, old and young, grew up with a bicycle, and this vehicle was once the favoured mode of transport. It is not a coincidence that cyclists from the state are amongst the best in the country. The last but not the least reason why bicycles should be encouraged is, cycling is such fun.