Seuty Sabur, a professor of Economics and Social Science at Brac University, loves to cycle. Whenever she can, she goes on bicycle tours or rides her bicycle in the city. And she would love to cycle to work too. However, a treacherous 'but' bars her from doing so.
"I actually plan to take the bicycle to work but the roads where l live are broken to the point that it hurts me physically to ride through," said Sabur.
Dhaka's gridlocked bumpy roads are not ideal for bicycles per se. However, in general, a person can ride the bicycle at an average speed of 10-15 km per hour compared to the mere 5 kph at which motorised vehicles are able to move on Dhaka's roads.
One could deduce that bicycles would be a faster mode of transport for Dhaka dwellers. Perhaps even more reason for everyone, especially job holders, to take up cycling. But factors - some beyond just poor road infrastructure - make cycling a more challenging feat than it should be.
However, there still remain Dhaka city residents who frequently cycle through obstacles to work. And if things improved, they believe more people would be encouraged to do the same.
Since the merits of cycling outweigh the setbacks of cycling, we reached out to avid cyclists to mark World Bicycle Day to see how viable is the idea of cycling to work in Dhaka city.
Misconceptions and the case for a changing room
Most commuters, it seems, would rather sit through traffic than take a bicycle to work. Perhaps this is because most people in our city associate bicycling with ridicule. Perhaps this is also a reflection of how we view the preconceived hierarchy in social class and how the big cars we drive (or work to be able to afford) represent the status quo.
In the typical Bangali sentiment, a bicycle is no more than a toy for children and, in the best case scenario, a handy tool for school boys who make do on a measly pocket-money sum. And so, the idea of job holders cycling to work is demeaned and ridiculed.
Is that normal? The Business Standard's editor, Inam Ahmed, a cyclist, said "Instead of ridiculing me, my friends support me a great deal. You see, the will is most important here. If we really want this, we can carry an extra set of clothes with us or store a set at the office. Then quickly swap the drenched clothes with clean ones in the washrooms and get on with the day."
The editor often cycles to his Eskaton office from his Gulshan house. And, on days when in the mood, he walks all the way to work.
He said that we could take up cycling on a daily basis with the right amount of determination. A lack of washroom or changing room should not stop one from choosing a bicycle as a daily mode of transport.
Tanvir Tuhin, is a passionate cyclist, said the lack of a proper changing room/shower is a problem. To help with that, he carries an extra set of clothes with him. That is the least he can do, he says, under the circumstances.
Tuhin is a member of BDCyclists, a Facebook online forum consisting of about one and a half lakh members. A post on the group revealed that some even make 60 kms round trips between home and work, everyday, for years.
Sabur, the female cyclist from Brac University, said "In summertime, it becomes extremely important to have a changing room after reaching work on a bicycle. That is especially true for the case of female employees. Our offices don't give us a proper changing room, let alone a shower where we could freshen up before we start working."
The roads that ail cyclists
The road network of Dhaka was never meant to take on the number of vehicles that it currently hosts. Public transports also remain inadequate in terms of handling the millions of commuters running through the veins of Dhaka's road network, making it the ideal breeding ground for gridlocks.
And in this chaos, vehicles that can outmuscle smaller ones, do so liberally. Without proper lanes for cycles, cyclists are just as prone to accidents as any other commuter on the road, if not more.
Bicycle lanes were in fact installed on both the sides of the Manik Mia Avenue, adjacent to the National Parliament complex, as part of an urban development project. But motorists, illegal parkers and hawkers occupied it more than cyclists. And soon, the 'cycling safe' symbol only stayed etched on the pitch black asphalt.
Without ensuring road safety, the Manik Mia Avenue is friendly to anyone but cyclists. The law too seems blissfully oblivious to this predicament.
Cyclists would be safe in Bangladesh if somehow the country became like the Netherlands, where nearly everyone is a cyclist. For now, that remains an utopian dream.
The benefits abound
Tuhin, also a project coordinator and team leader at Studio Rendering Inc, said "Women could definitely benefit from taking the bicycle to commute since public transports are less than ideal for them in terms of their safety.
I think cycling for working women at least keeps them away from these obvious problems."
Mujib Rahman, another BDCyclist member who works at the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) as an Mass Dog Vaccination (MDV) expert, said, "In a bustling city like Dhaka and with all its traffic issues, if one lives within 30 kilometres from work, one should take the bicycle. That would save time. Amidst the worst traffic, it takes, approximately, about 40 minutes to travel only 15 kilometres."
Rahman commutes between Mirpur-2 to DGHS, Mohakhali Branch, everyday. The distance between his point A and B is about 10 kms; 20 kms round trip.
Inam Ahmed said, "People living in Dhaka hardly understand the kind of pollution they live in, day in and day out. The traffic police have it the hardest. If more people took to cycling on a regular basis, a lot of the problems like our carbon footprint, traffic congestion and losing our precious time to traffic could all be addressed by this one-stop solution."
Reports say that people who take the bicycle to most places are significantly fitter than those who do not. Stress from work does enough damage to the mind and body. Exercise directly works to de-stress and cycling is essentially exercise.
On the plus side, people with hectic schedules would not require subscribing to a gym, if they chose to cycle their daily commute.
"Cycling is my hobby. I do it whenever possible. Cycling to work saves time, about two whole hours per day," said Tuhin, adding, "Once a biker told me that he thinks bicycling is illegal in Dhaka."
On this Friday, perhaps we could consider taking out our bicycles from our garages to ride it and feel the wind to mark this year's World Bicycle Day. Should that grow on us, we would at least be doing ourselves a favour.