Complete Streets for Ward 85

Nihar Thakkar
6 min readMay 31, 2022

A community working to make our streets safer, healthier and happier places.

Visualisation of a proposed Dutch-style junction redesign (credit — @bengawalk)

In September 2020, the Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) in Bengaluru, India, initiated a programme called the Sustainable Mobility Accords (SuMA). Under this programme, 10 neighbourhoods across the city would get funding to implement various sustainable mobility-related interventions.

As someone who started cycling often during the first wave of the pandemic, I was really looking forward to applying for this programme on behalf of our community. Over the course of summer, I’d excitedly read about steps cities across the world were taking to give their streets back to people. From Paris’ pop-up cycle lanes to New York’s Open Streets — tactical interventions that quickly & cheaply reallocated space from cars to active mobility were a great inspiration. Additionally, as a recent report by the National Family Health Survey indicates, only 7.5% of India’s households own a car. Over 50% own a bicycle. The priorities of our urban spaces clearly need to be reevaluated.

Our initial proposal for Ward 85

After studying more about cycling & walking infrastructure, getting inputs from the community, and keeping in mind our budget, I came up with an initial proposal for Ward 85. We would take up three stretches and implement short and long-term interventions that would improve walkability, make it safer to cycle, and create pleasant community spaces. I also proposed safer at-grade crossings and secure bicycle parking. This was an exciting proposal since it connected transit hubs, recreational spaces, commercial areas, schools and residential communities.

A few weeks after applying for the programme and presenting our proposal to a panel of mobility experts, we heard that mine had been selected for implementation.

Over the last two-and-a-half years, we’ve come a long way. From engaging with the community, identifying challenges they faced, finding solutions based on a data-driven approach, preparing detailed designs & plans, pushing for it to be approved, to finally, beginning implementation.

Our first team meeting
Interviewing cyclists to understand the challenges they face

Over the first few months, we spent mornings talking to cyclists and public transport users on the streets. These were people who cycled or walked to work everyday, regardless of the horrendous traffic & pollution, lack of dedicated infrastructure, and little to no respect from motorists. They recalled incidents of theft due to poor street lighting, being hit by speeding vehicles, skidding or falling due to bad road conditions, and more. Yet they pedalled on. Some because they chose to, but mostly because they had no choice.

We knew we had our work cut out.

People walking to work as a cyclist rides by
Engaging with the community

It was incredible to see the diversity of perspectives. Drivers who vehemently opposed reducing travel lanes, pedestrians desperate for wider, more usable footpaths, children who wanted safer routes to school, among others. It was going to be an uphill task to make sure our project was inclusive and accessible to all these people.

My sketch depicting conflict zones, traffic flows and unsafe areas at an intersection

During brainstorming sessions with urban planners and designers, we explored options for varying types of cycling infrastructure and interventions. This included comparing design choices from different parts of the world and finding the right solution for our local context. A context where law-enforcement can be poor, funding is limited and people view public spaces & infrastructure from highly diverse backgrounds.

Visualisation of protected cycle lane & raised crossing
Site visit with city officials to recommend prioritising wider footpaths

Over the course of the project, we’ve worked with many city officials to push for our goal of sustainable mobility. With some streets in our neighbourhood being taken up by the city for redevelopment, the timing couldn’t be better. Reaching out to the zone’s executive engineer, we were pleasantly surprised with his willingness to consider our inputs and work with us. Even though initially there was resistance towards reducing the widths of mixed-traffic carriageways, we managed to influence the design.

Monitoring the construction of a segregated cycle path

After months of planning, budgeting and negotiating, we moved into the implementation phase. So far, we’ve completed work on tactical interventions to free up footpaths, spruced up community spaces, painted street art, installed two bicycle counters, and completed three protected cycle lanes. We’ve ensured footpath & cycle lane interventions under this project follow standard guidelines for a clear right-of-way, along with ramps and crossings that are comfortable, safe and accessible.

India’s first Live Bicycle Counter

While ideating ways of making cyclists feel noticed, and highlighting their presence to other road users, the team felt bicycle counters were a good option. We had seen bicycle counters installed in cities abroad, but they had never been installed in Indian cities before.

My excitement and passion for urban mobility & tech led me to take this on — over eight months, with assistance from my dad, I built an AI-powered live bicycle counter. It is designed for local conditions and can differentiate between bicycles and all other types of vehicles. With 4G data connectivity, it automatically uploads various stats & metrics to the cloud. Two units have already been installed along cycle lanes in Ward 85 and one more will be installed soon. There has been significant excitement and media attention around the bicycle counters from citizens across the city & country.

A protected cycle lane connecting two schools and an urban village
This cycle lane connects busy commercial hubs with stations on the new Purple line extension of the metro

Since I first wrote this blog post, we’ve completed the installation of two new protected cycle lanes in Ward 85. These lanes form a critical part of the “complete streets” network and connect schools, transit hubs, residential areas and offices.

A key challenge while deploying barriers to protect cycle lanes in India, is finding the right design for the local context. Continuous concrete blocks may impact the ability of rainwater to flow into drainage systems, while flexible “wands” or soft bollards tend to get damaged easily.

As part of their “bicycle separator challenge”, DULT is trialing three different types of unique cycle lane separators to observe how cyclists & motorists interact and respond to them. Based on the results of these trials, upcoming cycle lanes across the city & state will use separators that have been tested to work well on our streets.

Street art

At a popular local park in the neighbourhood, we collaborated with a group of street artists who engaged with children and residents of the area to paint vibrant artwork. For the art, we chose themes that would promote environmental consciousness, waste segregation and sustainable mobility.

Me! :)

There’s certainly a lot more to be done, and we continue to work towards completing this project. Apart from cycling and walking infrastructure, it includes traffic-calming measures, way-finding signage, tactical interventions at public spaces, street art and more. We hope this will eventually make streets and public spaces in our neighbourhood safer, happier and more pleasant to be in. One step at a time.

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Nihar Thakkar

I like making stuff. And sometimes end up writing about it too.