Bicycle Safety Program in schools of Pune City

“While we cycle to school everyday, we don't feel safe even on cycle tracks, where we are told me to move out by pedestrians/motorists.”

“I have a lot of fun cycling near my place, but my parents don't allow me to cycle to school because it is very far and they think it is dangerous.”

These statements by school children in Pune are a telling comment on the situation of traffic and transportation in our cities.

Parisar Paryavaran Sanrakshan Sanstha, a Pune-based NGO has been working to promote awareness about sustainable urban mobility. Parisar believes that the first step towards sustainable mobility is the recognition that though private motorized transport offers individual convenience, it cannot be the major mode as cities grow. The situation becomes unsustainable with congestion and pollution and consequent reduction of quality of life and equity. Cycling is not just an alternative means of moving around easily but it is a fundamental means of transportation. If integrated into urban planning, cycle-based transportation can make a significant contribution to the move towards Liveable cities. Cities designed for non-motorized traffic and public transport, rather than for the car, have benefits for people and the environment.

With this in mind, Parisar initiated the Bicycle Safety Program in schools. The approach and the materials developed are easily adapted for use in other cities in the country. “The original plan”, says Ranjit Gadgil, Programme Director, Parisar, “was to run the program in about 30 schools in Pune like a campaign. As it turned out, we were able to develop a kit through trials in about 10 schools. The kit can be used to enhance awareness among children about cycling as a sustainable mode of transport in cities. It also has an element of 'civics education'. NGOs can use the kit to collect rich data about cycle routes used by school students and for further work on developing safe routes to schools.”

The programme is implemented with students of 7th to 9th standard. The kit consists of:

  1. Three types of survey sheets to collect data from students who cycle, students who don't cycle and parents, on the reasons for cycling/not cycling, and perceived solutions from the parents' as well as the students' view on the situation.
  2. A 20-minute Power point presentation on the transport situation in Pune.
  3. A 15-minute video about cycling-friendly cities
  4. A model 'Letter to the Municipal Commissioner' on behalf of the students drawing the authorities' attention to the problems of the students as cyclists.
  5. A model 'Declaration' that can be made by the schools to make the city a cycling-friendly place.
  6. Safety Tips for Cyclists' instruction card.
  7. Badges.
  8. Posters conveying various aspects of cycling through the medium of graphics and text.
 Implementing the Program Laying the Ground through the Survey

Students were given a week to fill out the survey sheets. They were asked to take the survey sheet home and fill it after discussing it with parents. Survey sheets were also given for the parents to fill out. Often parents called up to complain that cycling is not safe in Pune's traffic conditions. This became an opportunity for Parisar to say that was exactly the point, and also to clarify that Parisar wasn't telling children to cycle, but helping understand the need for and issues related to city-wide safe and sustainable mobility.

The data from the survey can be compiled and the results discussed with students. When plotted on a map, a visual representation can be made of which routes are being used to cycle to school.

While this was not a stated intention by the designers of the program, from an environment education perspective, the survey is a good way to get students to investigate the situation and arrive at their own conclusions based on facts they collect, rather than hand out platitudes like 'bicycling is good'. The survey also helped to reach out to parents and get them involved in the issue. If, at a later stage, a project is taken up to design safe routes to school, such outreach would likely provide a useful ally in the School Management Committees that includes parents.

Interactive Session to Imagine a City Safe for Cycling and Walking

After the survey, the Parisar team discussed with students the purpose of transportation including by walking and cycling and if it really makes sense to walk and cycle. They were encouraged to share their experience of walking and cycling and if they didn't do either, why?

The slide show 'Cycle for Pune' prepared by Parisar was used to present the current situation of and issues related to traffic and transportation in Pune. The show has photos from Pune's roads depicting the volume of traffic, difficulties faced by cyclists and pedestrians, as well as illustrations on how improvements in public transport, and cycling and walking facilities are the way to meet the traffic challenge.

Shweta Vernekar, who is part of the Parisar team, says that “the presentation also communicates ideas of equity and justice, with respect for all and its environment”. She also lists out some of the comments and questions the students raised that bring out key hurdles in making Pune a cycling friendly city again:
  • Cycle tracks are not maintained, even as adjoining main road is always taken care of. Why is this so?
  • Cycles are lightweight and hence very easy to steal, how can this be avoided
  • To reduce the dependence on private vehicles [two/four wheelers], there should be adequate alternative public transport available.
  • Public Transport must be clean and convenient. One should feel like opting for it.
After the slide show, students were encouraged to think and suggest how it would be to have a city where they were free to travel safely to school on cycle or by walk. Next, a film by Interface for Cycling Expertise titled 'Cycling Friendly Cities' was screened to show that there are cities in the world (such as Amsterdam and Bogota) where cycling and pedestrians are given priority on road. The response to the movie was very positive and enthusiastic. All children agreed unanimously that they would definitely cycle if they lived in such a city. The question of 'how to make cycling cool' was also discussed in some schools.

Some 'Civics Education'

An important part of the interactive session was the final question to students – what can be done? Students were asked about how the city decides about infrastructure projects and planning, and who makes these decisions.

At this stage the model letter to the Municipal Commissioner was shared which requests him on behalf of these students to look into the matter of safe and convenient cycling for them and for the city as a whole. At all the schools, students enthusiastically signed it.

After the session was done, students were handed out the badges and the safety tips cards as a token of participation. The School authorities were given posters handling different issues concerning cycling to be put up on school display boards. A charter declaring the school's support for cycling was also put up on the notice board.

The response to the program from students, parents, and teachers was very enthusiastic. Over 1200 children participated in the program, and each of the six schools mailed a copy of the Letter to the Municipal Commissioner on to the Pune Municipal Corporation, asking for safe cycle paths to allow them to ride to school.

For more information contact:
Parisar, 'Yamuna', ICS Colony, Ganeshkhind Road,
Pune 411 007; Ph.: 020-25512122

The 'Walking School Bus'

A walking school bus is a group of children walking to school with one or more adults. To set up a walking bus, usually the school sends out a letter to parents enquiring about their interest and also if they can volunteer to accompany the walking bus. Then, the route is identified based on where students live. The school and the parents check the route for safety and start the bus, making improvements as they go along.

Some things to check: Do you have room to walk? Are there footpaths? Is there too much traffic? Is it easy to cross the street? Do drivers stop for walkers? Are there loose dogs?

In England, many local governments help schools set up their walking bus. Over 3000 primary schools in UK have applied for support.
  • Read out the information on the Walking School Bus in the daily school assembly.
  • Discuss the Walking School Bus in class, or your ecoclub. Do you think your school should set up one? Your class or eco-club could suggest it at the next meeting of the Parent Teacher Association.

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