Thursday, February 20, 2014

Some Obvious Points

Everyday, I meet n number of my foreign-returned Indian friends who endlessly lament about how bad and unsafe the Indian roads are and how they have no other go but to use a car to go out on them. And here we have an American post-doc scholar at IIITB named Ryan, an MIT PhD, who cycles down everyday about 13-14 km to Electronics City from HSR Layout where he is put up. On being asked about how it is, he says very nonchalantly: 'It just takes 30-40 minutes. That's about the time I used to bike to work everyday in US. So, it's OK.'

I'm conscious that I am using the power that the white skin and names like MIT have on us Indians to drive home some points which should have been rather obvious: 
  • that 'we' are the reason for our bad roads, 
  • that cycling is good for everything -- your health, your wallet, and the environment, 
  • that the reason we can't dump our car is not because of bad roads, it's because of our false sense of status  and/or pure laziness.


DhruvTaara said...

Are you saying we are the reason for bad roads because we don't pay our taxes? ;)
Jokes apart, I differ from your viewpoint. Cycling despite its health related merits is unsafe if there isn't a dedicated lane for it.
Broken infrastructure anywhere (India or America) is frustrating and not fair to an honest tax payer.

Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti said...

Hi DhruvTaara,
I agree that broken infrastructure is bad. I don't agree with you that cycling is unsafe. At least not any more unsafe than other modes of transport. On the other hand, I do feel that we don't have enough space for every individual to use cars for personal transportation. Our cities are built that way, and I don't think it's mere bad planning and engineering. We are far too many in number. So many cars clutter the roads, pollute the air, frustrate drivers, encourage road rage, and make it unsafe for everyone, including cyclists. For travelling long distances, we should consider public transport. They are safe, scalable, and if used by many many car users, would free up so much space on our roads, leading to smaller travelling times and possibility of an arbitrary scaling up of services to meet any demand.

Shipra Agrawal said...

I don't agree with some reasons you mentioned -- we are not the reason for bad roads, even small narrow roads can be made to be of good quality, if our tax money is used honestly but yes, we are the reason for the traffic on the road and the reason why cycling (or walking) may be unsafe. Also, there are more reasons than status or laziness for using cars. First of all I never get this point of status, I never feel like my car is worth any showing off, it is a pure object of utility to me, and to many of my friends. And, secondly, though I haven't cycled much, I have walked around many times on main roads, and it is a very unpleasant experience, lot of stink, dust, smoke. Having said that, still for health reasons, I would like to cycle more, especially if I find a route to my work that is reasonably pleasant.

Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti said...

Dear Shipra,

Let me exempt you from the blame to get you on my side. ;)

Jokes apart, I don't mean that cars are evil. If the distance is large, it's not always feasible to cycle. And there may be health problems, time problems. Sometimes the simple fact that you mayn't have a shower room in office could be hurdle in taking to cycling. If each person just does this little exercise of asking himself/herself if his/her use of car is justified (as you have done), millions of cars will go off road. I am confident that though the charges I make sound rude, they have an element of truth in them, at least to a large majority of people of our country.

I also agree that in my post I failed to make the distinction between roads and traffic conditions.

Regarding taxes, I don't take taxes too seriously. If we go out on the road, there are so many people who neither pay taxes, nor benefit from anything related to taxes. Roads and bridges would probably come after they deal with healthcare, education and social security -- none of which is in place here. All this will take its time to happen. But like many of the issues in our lives which can't wait for the government to solve them for us, I consider that the condition of our roads (and traffic) has to be dealt with by individuals in their own way. We think that it's reasonable to place our kids in expensive schools and colleges when government doesn't provide enough support. We go to expensive doctors. Buy health policies etc. These are things the government should have done for us. In the same way, our environment, our fitness, our roads, and our traffic -- they are partly for the government to take care of. But whether they do so or not, we must do it ourselves.

I don't propose it as a fact, but more as my stand, may be unverifiable/unfalsifiable.