Cycling to Work | Daily News

Cycling to Work

A proposal by Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera to encourage cycling to offices and workplaces in the City as a means of preventing environmental pollution as well as arresting the increasing trend of Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) should be given serious thought by the Government, with a large-scale energy crisis looming on the horizon.

According to our front page report yesterday quoting the Minister, a Cabinet Paper is to be submitted soon aiming to promote the use of bicycles as a popular mode of transport, especially in the cities. The Minister said the use of push cycles will be promoted with the objective of reducing air pollution and saving fuel.

The Minister also proposes setting up special cycle lanes, as seen in other countries, when new roads are constructed. He has also decided to grant incentives to employees of institutions coming under the Environment Ministry who use bicycles to come to work.

In fact in a different era, cycling to workplaces was a common feature. There were popular cycle brands such as Raleigh and Humber well equipped with a dynamo toolkit including an ‘inflator’ in case of a flat tyre. Once mounted, it was plain sailing for the rider to his/her destination. Accidents involving cycles were very rare, with only a few motor vehicles on the roads and no speeding private buses to mow down the riders.

Fathers also used to take their children to schools in the cities by bicycle before going to their workplaces. In fact, bicycles easily outnumbered other vehicles on the roads, adding to the safety factor. With Minister Amaraweera promising to set up special cycle lanes, riders could be doubly assured of safety from marauding private buses and other vehicles. Bicyclers also played a part in no small measure towards generating self-employment including “winkles” for cycle repairs.

Old timers would also recall the ubiquitous bath karayas (lunch wallahs) who rode on bicycles in groups to workplaces in the City to deliver lunches to office workers after doing the rounds taking delivery of the lunches from homes.

This was also the time that the medical profession had the least instances where they had to deal with NCDs. Therefore, when Minister Amaraweera cited combating NCDs as one of the reasons for introducing cycling to workplaces, he was not far off the mark. The lack of physical activity is increasingly being cited by medical professionals as the chief reason for the prevalence of NCDs.

There are also cases of respiratory diseases associated with Carbon Dioxide emissions from the mass of vehicles on our roads that could be combated with more motorists taking to cycling. Therefore, with little time on one’s hands to engage in physical exercises given the present day rat-race, cycling to workplaces could well be the best remedy for a majority of office workers.

Of course riding to offices in the mornings could be a pleasant experience but not so the return journey - cycling all the way for 10 to 15 Km after a hard day’s work. The exhaustion could well discourage some. But with time, one may well get used to the practice like they did in the past. In fact, countries such as China, Netherlands, Denmark and Japan have successfully promoted cycling to workplaces and their roads are full of cyclists at any given time of the day. In the West, Prime Ministers, no less, have been pictured arriving on bicycles to do their shopping at supermarkets not just as a demonstration of their simplicity but perhaps also as a means of promoting cycling among the citizenry.

Of course, how will Lankan citizens respond to the proposal one would have to wait and see. Owning a motor vehicle today is not just a means of convenience to some, but also a symbol of prestige. It is hard to see how someone who is used to travel to his or her workplace in a luxury SUV would deign to give up the practice, by substituting it with a push bicycle.

What is needed, therefore, is a collective decision by all - rich and poor - to take to cycling to workplaces (and other places) for the well-being of all concerned. In fact, very soon we may have no option other than resorting to cycling to workplaces by force of circumstances, particularly if the energy crisis does not resolve itself soon.

The Minister’s decision to provide incentives to staff in his Environment Ministry who cycle to work should be extended to cover a wider area in the public sector. The Government certainly will not lose in the long run if the success of the whole project would mean a lesser fuel bill to contend with. A special loan scheme should also be contemplated for public servants to purchase bicycles as they did in the past. A good bicycle can be expensive.

The bicycle was known as the poor man’s vehicle in the days gone by, as eminently depicted in the popular song by Vincent De Paul Peiris “Bisikale Bisikale Duppath Apage Bisikale”. It may well soon be the vehicle of the rich man as well.

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