Back to basics: Why every student and professor should ride a bicycle on a University Campus?

M. Jagadesh Kumar, Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, Hauz Khas, New Delhi-110016

If you happen to visit Paris next time, try cycling across the Paris city using the bicycles offered by Velib, an initiative run by Paris Town Hall since 2007. This is a big bicycle sharing facility in the world with 20,000 bicycles at your service 24/7. You can move around the entire Paris city with bicycles available in 1800 bicycle stations at every 300 meter distance [1]. With growing vehicular congestion, rising fuel costs and choking pollution, the homo sapiens are now increasingly drawn to the good wheels. There are many cities in the world which are bicycle friendly such as Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen, Paris in Europe and Boulder, Chicago, Davis, Ottawa, Portland, San Francisco in North America, Beijing in Asia, Cape Town, Bogota and Perth in Australia [2].

London city in the United Kingdom has implemented a bicycle sharing scheme known as Barclays Cycle Hire or BCH in 2010. In 2012, BCH had about 8000 bicycles with 570 docking stations [3].  Barcelona’s new transport system, known as Bicing has more than 400 bike stations placed strategically near bus stops and metro stations [4].  Many North American cities are actively promoting increased use of bicycles as an alternative mode of transportation through large public campaigns and by investing in bicycle infrastructure and bicycle sharing programs [5]. In Munster, a German town with a population of 273,000, people use bicycles more often (37.8%) than cars (36.4%) as the main mode of transportation [6].

Despite the fact that the world is rediscovering the wheels without fuel, India seems to be going the other way – the automobile style.  The economic survey of Delhi (2012-2013) tells us a disturbing trend – the number of households in Delhi owning a bicycle has come down from 37.6 % in 2001 to 30.6 % in 2011 [7].  This is either because India is advancing economically letting more people to own motorized vehicles or Indian roads are becoming notoriously the least safe places to ride any vehicle, leave alone bicycles.   Safety of bicyclists is of no concern to the road planners in India anyway [8,9] and that perhaps acts as the biggest deterrent to the people to “hit” the road on their bicycles.

Not hearsay – It is scientific:

While you do not have to be a rocket scientist to realize that using bicycles for transport in place of fuel based vehicles has vast benefits in terms of health and environment, there are indeed systematic scientific studies to quantify such paybacks.  A contemporary scrutiny in New Zealand using the data available in the urban settings shows that a mere shift of 5% of the distance travelled by vehicles to bicycling would lead to a reduction of approximately 223 million kilometers travelled by vehicles each year. This can result in a saving of about 22 million liters of fuel and therefore a reduction in the transport-related greenhouse emissions [10].

A number of investigations also confirm the individual and population-level health benefits of using bicycles.  A recent analysis of Swedish children, conducted over a period of 6 years, has shown that those who used bicycles to commute to the school have improved their cardiorespiratory fitness more than those using passive modes of commuting including walking [11]. Bicycling has also been shown to reduce the cardiometabolic risk factors leading to a potential prevention of type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease (CVD) [12]. Bicycling leads to less weight gain particularly among overweight and obese women [13].

But where are the safe roads for bicycle riders?

A study of bicyclists in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area has shown that well-connected neighbourhood streets and bicycle specific infrastructure has encouraged more adults to bicycling for utilitarian purposes [14]. Safe roads are, therefore, an essential pre-requisite for popularizing bicycle usage. Changing the Indian road landscape to make them bicycle friendly is not in our hands as individual citizens. The best we could do is to create awareness and bring pressure on the policy makers to act. Like many other peaceful public campaigns or agitations, we never know how long it would take for public pressure to succeed in bringing such changes to make the Indian road bicycle friendly. We, however, cannot keep waiting eternally. But, as individuals and small communities consisting of students, staff and faculty in Universities and higher educational institutes, can we do something to bring the bicycling back into our lives?

If you leave out the treacherous Indian roads and highways, are there any safe roads in India where we can use bicycles for short distance transport? Luckily, the answer is yes. The best places to start such initiatives could be the campuses of Indian universities and higher educational institutes where a large population of students, staff and faculty live and commute on campus. Why not make a beginning on these campuses and showcase it as a model to emulate by the rest of the society? There are many North American universities which have successfully implemented campus bicycle sharing programs [15] and they compete with each other in promoting such programs.

What about accidents even on campus roads?

Road users in India excel in disregarding the traffic rules.  Even bicycle riders need to respect the road rules! Cyclists are frequently prone to accidents, particularly if they are seen as a minority on the roads jostling for space. Most accidents involving bicyclists occur at the road intersections. However, there is now strong empirical evidence to show that the chances of a bicyclist involving in a collision with a motor vehicle are inversely proportional to the number of people bicycling on the roads – a pattern that has been shown to be consistent across the cities and countries around the world [16]. Motorists adjust their behaviour and reduce their vehicle’s speed when they see a large number of people bicycling on the roads [17].  This is another reason why more people should be using the bicycles on their campuses.

Are there any Indian initiatives?

Unlike in the American universities, which are rated for their pro-active bicycle sharing programs by the League of American Bicyclists [15], campus bicycle initiatives are not yet popular in Indian educational institutes.  An interesting initiative in Bangalore city called “Namma Cycle” is worth to take notice of by all the educational institutes with large populations on their campuses [18]. The objective of the Namma Cycle concept is to raise public awareness about environmental friendly transport options for easy connectivity.  In Kannada language, “namma” means ours.  In the place of “my bicycle” or “your bicycle”, the “our bicycle” concept is expected to encourage the idea of community sharing and community ownership of bicycles. Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore is the first top Indian educational institute which has adopted the Namma Cycle model with a modest beginning of 150 bicycles and four bicycle stations. IISc plans to soon scale up this experiment by adding additional bicycles and bicycle stations. We need more such examples. Student-led bicycle initiatives are bound to succeed since they are in a majority on any campus.

We have no road space in our campus. What can we do?

Existing campuses may not have enough road space to create dedicated bicycle specific tracks and it is easy to brush away any suggestions for introducing bicycle initiatives claiming it is too difficult to implement. In such cases, there are other options available such as “sharrows” or shared lane markings to provide guidance to both the bicyclist and motorist by means of signage painted on the road.  The sharrows are often colored, like in the Stanford University, to alert the motorists that they are expected to share the road with the bicyclists. Sharrows will also minimize the wrong-way of bicycling by encouraging the bicyclists to confine themselves to the shared part of the road. Creation of a combination of (i) sharrows on narrow roads, (ii) contiguous bicycle specific tracks on wider roads, (iii) safe intersections or round-abouts to minimize conflicts between bicyclists and motorists, (iv) secure bicycle parking spaces to minimize thefts, (v) appropriate road safety signage  and (vi) 24/7 bicycle repair stands should still be a possibility in old campuses. Remember that Amsterdam did not have a bicycle initiative program before 1970’s and commuters used only motorized vehicles. However, a sustained effort by the policy makers and the commuters has now resulted in making the city a bicyclist’s paradise in the world.

When we build new educational campuses, the regulatory authorities should make it mandatory for the Universities to create the best bicycle infrastructure including dedicated bicycle paths and vehicle free zones where only bicycling or walking is permitted. Appropriate laws and policies should be in place to prevent any new higher educational institute from building their campus without such a commitment.

Pro-active measures are the key:

The perceived opinion of others about you using a bicycle does not really affect your decision to use a bicycle.  The factors that influence the use of a bicycle depend on awareness, direct trip-based benefits and safety factors [19]. To create public awareness on the usefulness of bicycle usage, electronic media and newspapers should encourage such efforts by giving a wide publicity. Bicycle manufacturers, bicycling communities and administrators of the University campuses should join hands in bringing the bicycles back to the center-stage by creating bicycle friendly campus transport infrastructure.

Proactive support from the administrators of educational institutes would play an important role in encouraging bicycling. They need to work out policies which support and sustain bicycle infrastructure, road usage planning and restrictions on motorized vehicle usage. They need to study fresh ideas, examine alternate options suitable for the specific needs of their campuses and implement them to increase the bicycle usage. Many studies have shown a close link between proactive interventions by the administrators and increased usage of bicycles [20]. The bicycle is no longer only for the poor who cannot afford to have an automobile. It is a must possession for everyone in a futuristic 21st century which will see a sizeable proportion of the world population living in congested cities.

What are you waiting for?

If you are a campus living lucky person, stash away your car keys in the cupboard or avoid using the campus bus transport and leap onto your bicycle. Ride your bicycle with the conviction that you are bettering yourself and the planet that sustains you. Get started. Do it today. There is no time to hold your fire for tomorrow.


  5. J. Strauss, L. M.-Moreno, D. Crouse, M. S. Goldberg, N. A. Ross and M. Hatzopoulou, “Investigating the link between cyclist volumes and air pollution along bicycle facilities in a dense urban core,” Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, Vol.17, pp.619-625, December 2012.
  6. C. Juhra, B. Wieskotter, K. Chu, L. Trost, U. Weiss, M. Messerschmidt, A. Malczyk, M. Heckwolf and M. Raschke, “Bicycle accidents – Do we only see the tip of the iceberg? A prospective multi-centre study in a large German city combining medical and police data,” Injury-International Journal of the Care of the Injured, Vol.43, pp.2026-2034, December 2012.
  7. The economic survey of Delhi (2012-2013), Chapter 12: Transport- available at
  8. G. Gururaj, “Road Safety in India: A Framework for Action,” National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences, Publication no 83, Bangalore, 2011.
  9. G. Gururaj, “Road traffic and disabilities in India: Current scenario,” The National Medical Journal of India, Vol.21, pp.14-20, 2008.
  10. G. Lindsay, A. Macmillan and A. Woodward, “Moving urban trips from cars to bicycles: impact on health and emissions,” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, Vol.35, pp.54-60, February 2011.
  11. P. Chillon, F. B. Ortega, J. R. Ruiz, K. R. Evenson, I. Labayen, V. Martinez-Vizcaino, A. Hurtig-Wennlof, T. Veidebaum and M. Sjostrom, “Bicycling to school is associated with improvements in physical fitness over a 6-year follow-up period in Swedish children,” Preventive Medicine, Vol. 55, pp.108-112, 2012.
  12. L. Ostergaard, L. A. B.  Borrestad, J. Tarp and L. B. Andersen, “Bicycling to school improves the cardiometabolic risk factor profile: a randomised controlled trial,” BMJ Open, Vol.2, Article Number: e001307, 2012.
  13. A. C. Lusk, R. A. Mekary, D. Feskanich and W.C. Willett, “Bicycle Riding, Walking, and Weight Gain in Premenopausal Women,” Archives of Internal Medicine, Vol.170, pp.1050-1056, 2010.
  14. J. Dill, “Bicycling for Transportation and Health: The Role of Infrastructure,” Journal of Public Health Policy, Vol.30, pp.S95-S110, 2009.
  16. P. L. Jacobsen, “Safety in numbers: more walkers and bicyclists, safer walking and bicycling,” Injury Prevention, Vol.9, pp.205-209, 2003.
  17. L. Chen, C. Chen, R. Srinivasan, C. E.  McKnight, R. Ewing and M. Roe, “Evaluating the Safety Effects of Bicycle Lanes in New York City”, American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 102, pp.1120-1127, 2012.
  19. E. Heinen, K. Maat and B. van Wee, “The role of attitudes toward characteristics of bicycle commuting on the choice to cycle to work over various distances,” Transportation Research Part D – Transport and Environment, Vol.16, pp.102-109, 2011.
  20. J. Pucher, J. Dill and S. Handy, “Infrastructure, programs, and policies to increase bicycling: An international review,” Preventive Medicine, Vol.50, pp.S106-S125, 2010.


How to cite this article:

M. J. Kumar, “Back to Basics: Why Every Student and Professor Should Ride a Bicycle on a University Campus?, IETE Technical Review,  Vol.30, pp.165-7, May-June 2013.

This article is also posted at the following website:,-2013


This entry was posted in Education and Research and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Back to basics: Why every student and professor should ride a bicycle on a University Campus?

  1. kashidas says:

    Agreed fully. But Indian weather conditions, especially during summer may not be quite suitable for cycling.

    • Govind says:

      Yes, the weather conditions are extreme. But, who is responsible for this. We are solely responsible for this situation. We are actually heating the atmosphere and then making elaborate arrangements for cooling it (AC) which is further heating the atmosphere. And the cycle goes on…… There are ugly dark tar roads and fly overs all over the city heating the atmosphere. There is a long list of how we are digging our own graves. But we have to make the best use of the bad bargain of modern advancement. First of all we have to stop copying from the wild west which is ultimately taking shelter of Indian culture and heritage. We have to take some initiative like this, otherwise, the situation will be further worse and beyond repair. This article is a good initiative in this line and it means that there are responsible people thinking about the society. But, this should not just be an intellectual exercise and we have to bring it to ground reality.

      • kashidas says:

        Sorry, but you seem to have missed my point. At the height of summer, there is a big chance of someone suffering from sunstroke while exerting the body by cycling or by some exercise. There is a definite risk in that. Otherwise, it is a good mode of exercise and a decent way of traveling in a campus environment. Outside the campus, well one is at a risk due to Indian road conditions and very callous attitude of drivers and cyclists.

  2. Vamsi Komarala says:

    I completely agree the thought provoking views on campus bicycling;
    I want to share some of my practical experiences about bicycling in the campus in totally different way instead of talking about burning calories of energy, inspiring younger generation, apart from campus becoming eco-friendly.
    For me it is like doing meditation while cycling, if your mind is wondering around, the cycle will become slow down; if you divert all your mental energy towards the legs the bicycle moves fast. In particular I can experience when there is up, I will realize that I need to divert more and more mental energy towards the legs for pedaling it, in that way one can become more and more attentive. This we can put into practice in our real life for developing self, most of us live on the head (thinking about something) by forgetting or not thinking about the body. I felt that being in the body always is very difficult, at least some of the time thinking about the body (diverting your mental energy towards body) one needs to develop.
    Cycling can give training for meditative thinking instead of calculative thinking (which is IIT providing)!

  3. Radhakrishnan S says:

    Nice article sir…I completely agree with u… at least for my kind of physique :P

  4. Manas says:

    Nice points made sir. But I don’t think apart from IIT campus other places around Delhi are practical for cycling.

    Many students use cycle to move around campus. Sadly, the same is not true for the professors who use their car even to cover the small distance from their home to the Institute.

    More awareness is needed in this regard.

  5. ————————————————————————
    Responses received by email:
    Thanks for sharing this. A very good article! I completely agree with you on this.
    Warm regards,
    Dr. Jayan Jose Thomas,
    Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
    Indian Institute of Technology Delhi


    I fully agree with you. It is my heart’s desire to use bicycle on campus.

    Dr. Arjun Ghosh
    Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
    Indian Institute of Technology Delhi

    ……I went through your article and it is very thought provoking. It gives me great pride to tell you that our campus has a healthy usage of cycles. A large population of the students uses cycles, primarily because walking to the departments is not an easy job. Apart from that, I very much like when professors also come to the departments on cycles……

    S R V Vishwanath,
    Department of Electrical Engineering,
    IIT Madras

    Thanks for sharing the article. IIT Gandhinagar has planned its campus for walking/cycling.

    Sudhir Jain
    IIT Gandhinagar
    Can we all contribute to start up a bicycle hub in the campus; we may need 4 stations, and a dedicated committee to oversee the maintenance of the bicycles. It can start with the community donating bicycles, and some space to set up stations. Europe does have a dedicated bicycle service in most of its cities, and we need something similar for the campus. It will be good for us as well as reduce the parking space needed. In our campus, bicycle riding is as safe as walking on the roads. We can experiment that.

    Dr. Anima Nagar
    Department of Mathematics, IIT Delhi

  6. rajesh prasad says:

    Thanks for a a very well-written, well-researched and thought-provoking article. The case for cycling in a small campus like IITD (where no trip can be longer than 2 km) is very strong. I hope more and more faculty members and students should read it and get inspired to take up cycling. I would like to see IITD as a top cycling campus in the world. As the NSS coordinator I have asked my students to read this blog and think of ways to increase cycling in our campus. Any concrete suggestions are most welcome.

  7. Kiran Seth says:

    Very nice article. We must try and implement most of the ideas expressed.

  8. Sarbeswar Sahoo says:

    Thanks for the post!! This is great. Riding a bicycle on IITD campus is beautiful and fun.

  9. Pingback: Back to basics: Why every student and professor should ride a bicycle on a University Campus? | NSS IIT Delhi

  10. thirumurugan says:

    I am waiting for NAMMA CYCLE in my campus (IIT Mandi )

  11. V V Hemanth says:

    Reblogged this on Its me speaking and commented:
    True that !!

  12. Arpit Narechania says:

    Indeed Sir, traveling on bikes is both environment friendly and improves body fitness. I do not understand why traveling on bicycles is not promoted on Indian roads.
    As you rightly mentioned, road safety for cyclists is a concern but we (government) are only responsible for it.
    Sharing your outlook, we are a team of students from IIT Mandi (BTech 2nd Year) working on making a fold-able Campus Bike as part of our prototype development course. Even in some of the IITs we have Campus bikes but none of them offers facility of institute map ( travel guide through the huge campuses). Along with having real time tracking via GPS, we also plan to make it fold-able such that it reduces to something really sleek which has not been in production till date (in short, beyond imagination). At IIT Mandi, situated in the beautiful Himalayas, it is difficult to negotiate complex terrain, so it will always be a plus point for a person owning a bicycle. Walking is not always considered bad, but cycling definitely wins due to saving of time and relatively more physical exercise. Cycling also gives mental peace as a person uses his brain to ride and not doing calculations!
    We are trying our little bit to promote Going Green by trying to develop a campus bike which can not only be implemented in IIT Mandi but anywhere where automobile use can be avoided.
    Looking forward to a “Green India” in a near future!

  13. Suryanarayan Mondal says:

    India is a developing country. So, Indian Government is making various policies for industries, and of course, car industries are the favorite ones. That is why all the roads in India are designed to discourage the use of bicycle.

    Even if you go to Kolkata, you will find some roads with ‘No Cycle’ caution. If you overlook it, you have to pay fine more than the price of the cycle.

  14. thirumurugan says:

    fine arpit, i should be the first user of your’s FOLD-ABLE CAMPUS BIKE

  15. KALIMUTHU Pandian says:

    Great thoughts!

  16. Ramakrishnan S says:

    I’m a Research Scholar from IIT Madras and all hostel students of IITM (>5000) are using Bicycle (usage of powered vehicles by Hostel students is barred) as the means of transport within IITM and to nearby places. This is the case right from 2003 or 2004 on wards and will continue. Proud to be part of the system, in which everyone thrives to reduce the carbon footprint in one way or other, in beautiful campuses like us. – Ramakrishnan

  17. CK Raju says:

    I just overheard a US senator saying that “riding a bicycle causes an increase in heartbeat…an increase in heartbeat suggests increased rate of breathing – conversion of oxygen into carbon dioxide.. therefore cycling is not strictly a greenhouse activity”.

I value your feedback. Please feel free to comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s