The launch of a sustainable urbanization project, Citizens for the City (www.citizensforthecity.in) was announced by United Technologies Corporation in May 2015 by introducing India’s first ever Neighborhood Improvement Partnership (NIP) Challenge. The challenge received 145 registrations and 86 proposals from across Bengaluru. Out of these, 32 were shortlisted, which followed the declaration of 12 winners by a selection panel. Each of the 12 winners were put through comprehensive reviews, and the projects that required building and zoning permissions were forwarded to the BBMP for approval. The winning projects are expected to be completed within a span of six months.
One of the 12 winners includes the community of HSR Layout where Shashidhara, a cyclist and an environmentalist has been actively involved in the NIP Challenge. He talks to us about how it all began with Cycle Day and proceeds to discuss the NIP Challenge project.
1) Howard Schultz, an American businessman said – ‘When you’re surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible.’
As quoted, HSR Layout is a well known neighborhood of Bangalore which has seen more than 15 cycle days in the past two years showing intense community commitment. Such initiatives at all levels would involve many challenges in sustaining for a long time. Please tell us about it.
From our first cycle day, our biggest challenge was to get local community participate and encourage street closures. Although we were able to get permissions with full support from traffic police, some of the community businesses had concerns with this initiative. Once we proved that this will be a regular event every month, there has been good support.
Communication to wider masses is important. Often, we noticed that all seven sectors never got the message of a cycle day event, and we saw poor participation from those who lived little farther from the location. Our vision now is to spread and organize ‘Cycle Day’ in three to four sectors of HSR layout, creating more awareness.
2) The first anniversary of Cycle Day was translated into a larger event called ‘Open streets’ on September 20, 2015. It was the first of its kind in Bangalore which witnessed an entire neighborhood cooperating to block all seven sectors of the layout from traffic. Nevertheless, why does Cycle Day happen on service roads at HSR now?
Getting permissions and blocking main streets turn out to be complicated. The local cycling groups also face issues in organizing due to limited budget and marketing efforts. Open streets was centrally planned and organized by the government, which provided much bigger visibility. If we receive stronger support and funding from the government, similar to open streets, each cycle day could be organized at central locations and even on main streets.
3) The Neighborhood Improvement Partnership (NIP) is a collaborative effort by citizens, working alongside public officials, to identify key civic challenges in their neighborhoods, and voluntarily contribute time, energy and resources to tackling them. HSR Layout and Sanjay Nagar have won the NIP ‘citizens for the city’ contest and as a part of that, 23 bicycle parking facilities are expected to be provided at HSR. Could you share the idea behind it?
One of the byproducts of Cycle Day was that we have increased the number of active cycle users within our community. Now to sustain this cycling movement and encourage them to use cycle on a daily basis, we needed infrastructure support. One of the first requests from the cyclists was unavailability of cycle parking stands at prominent locations at HSR. So, we have identified 23 such locations where cyclists frequent a lot and are of importance for commercial activities and commute (bus terminals) also. We have presented this study and preliminary report to the NIP team and our project got to be selected.
4) What motives you to take the lead?
HSR layout is blessed with wide roads and an active community which cares for the environment. I noticed that first cycle day at Agara Lake had close to 1000 participants and that was the motivation for starting community driven cycle day events at HSR. We had initial discussions with active cyclists and soon formed ‘HSR Cyclists’ group which is now 400 member strong. The best part was the community support received and local businesses sponsored for the events, thereby encouraging their employees also to participate.
5) Has Cycle Day been a catalyst for the NIP contest? Could you tell us how?
Cycle Day has provided a platform to attract cyclists and families to come together and experience open streets (not as an event, but as a concept) once a month. I am sure this has helped motivate many residents to purchase cycles, and experience riding within HSR layout. Since infrastructure and cycling community growth goes hand-in-hand, NIP contest helps with this process.
6) What kind of organizations and people have been involved in the process? How much time was taken throughout?
We have a group of 20 dedicated volunteers and they come from various backgrounds. Many of them are IT employees among which some started cycling only after being continuously a part of Cycle Day. Our first group meeting was held in August 2014 and it took us almost 30 days to plan the first Cycle Day. After establishing a template and encouraging local business and hospitals to support this, it has been a smooth experience. Our local sponsors have supported all Cycle Days and one of them also bought tandem cycles for the event.
7) With a futuristic perspective, what do you think are the challenges in organizing Cycle Day? What support do you require?
I think some logistics challenges still exist, with respect to rental cycles and stage preparation. Also spreading the word more within the locality would be great other than through social media.