Najifa Farhat, a Dhaka-based young journalist, has been cycling on a daily basis for more than five years. She rides her bike to work every day, but she is growing increasingly nervous about being involved in an accident.
“I’m fearful of cycling on the busy roads. The residents of this city do not adhere to any rules. If I try to stay safe, others won’t let me. The majority of vehicles attempt to overtake me,” she said.
“Motorcycles and bicycles, both are two-wheeled vehicles. So, both groups usually use the same section of the road, but when you compare their speed, you’ll see that we’re always putting our lives at risk,” she said, adding that there is no proper bicycle lane in this city, which is “unfortunate”.
Najifa isn’t the only one in this city who is suffering. Thousands of users like her are cycling at their own risk in Bangladesh, particularly in Dhaka, with no attention of the authorities despite the environmental and health benefits of cycling.
They are unsure whether they will be able to return home safely as Bangladesh and other countries observe World Bicycle Day on Friday. The day was chosen by the United Nations in April 2018 to commemorate “the bicycle’s uniqueness, longevity, and versatility”.
NUMBER OF ACCIDENTS NOT NEGLIGIBLE
A total of 10,504 road crashes occurred in Bangladesh between 2018 and 2020, with 11,931 fatalities. These included 259 involving bicycles, with 267 fatalities, according to the Accident Research Institute at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
In addition, 750 crashes occurred in the past three years in Dhaka city alone, with 779 fatalities. Bicycle crashes accounted for 14 of these accidents, with 13 fatalities.
“Initially, it may seem that the bicycle crash rate is insignificant. But this figure cannot be overlooked at all because the actual picture is bigger than this,” said SM Sohel Mahmud, an associate professor at BUET.
“In fact, we don’t have a precise study on the percentage of bicycle users because bicycles aren’t required to be registered. So, we have no clue about the bicycle traffic composition. Bicycle accidents are rarely reported. It is published when someone dies in a bicycle crash.
“However, for the sake of our environment, we must promote cycling as soon as possible. In such a case, we should start with campus areas, residential areas, and rickshaw lanes. Our land is ideal for cycling but it’s sad that we are not taking this advantage,” he said.
Prof Hadiuzzaman, director of the Accident Research Institute, said: “Separate lanes for bicycles and motorcycles were never given any thought. The active mode [walking and cycling] of transport was never a significant factor.”
According to him, the distance from one place to another is not so significant in Dhaka, with 30 percent commuters travelling between 2 km and 2.5 km. “For them, nothing can be greater than cycling.”
“It is difficult to create bicycle lanes now as we have a vast number of vehicles which is four to five times bigger than the capacity of the roads,” Hadiuzzaman said.