Priya Bhattacharji

School manager, research consultant, short-film curator are a few roles I glide through. Cycling and running recharge me. I have been cycling since a very young age. Cycling is more than a passion or recreation. It makes me breezily contemplate on life, appreciate my surroundings, and has connected me with fascinating people, and gifted me cherishing stories.

How would you describe your mission?

Meerut Cantt are the lungs of the city and a valuable ecological asset to the Delhi NCR. Currently, it is one of the cleanest Cantonment areas in India.
We inhabitants need to play a role in preserving it well for the present and the future, especially with its increased connectivity to the Capital. Cycling is one of our favorite pastimes – I hope to make it the preferred choice for short commutes, especially among school children.

Additionally, I do feel cycling is a great unifying symbol for various government initiatives – Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India), Smart City Mission, Swwach Bharat (Clean India), Vocal for Local.My mission is to get children studying and staying in the Cantt, to actively engage with Meerut Cantt’s lush green open spaces and rich historical background.
The desired outcome is they (and hopefully their parents) play an active part to maintain a Clean and Green Meerut Cantt with small tweaks to their daily routines.

I owe a lot to Sonal Shah, an urban planner, who encouraged me to articulate this mission. In 2018, days before I was leaving for a ‘cyclecation’ to Holland, I casually mentioned to her how nice it would be if Meerut Cantt had cycling lanes, and in a few days’ time, a cycle-friendly Cantt proposal was sitting in my inbox.

What are the obstacles and challenges you are facing in your city?

1. The streets .

Like most small towns, the roads of Meerut Cantt are designed for small vehicles, rickshaws, and cycles. As the city has progressed, these roads now accommodate big SUVs, shared tempos, e-rickshaws, buses , trucks, scooters, motorcycles, horsecarts, cows, dogs (the list is quite long).
While navigating these roads is a great way to develop reflex action and mental agility for adults, cycling on roads is quite unsafe for children.

2. Lack of infrastructure and risk of theft

I saw this amusing sight that speaks well for the current condition – a group of kids were parking their bikes outside a park. They had brought along a huge chain and lock to collectively lock up the bikes!
I remember when I was in school and visited a park with my friend on cycle, her locked bicycle went missing.
Things haven’t changed but they need to.

3. Scooty> Cycle for short commutes

In 2011, the bicycle was the primary mode of commute in Meerut City (according to the Census of India). In the last decade, with rising incomes and easy EMIs, people prefer scooters, scooterettes, and motorbikes for their social signaling and convenience. With daily traffic jams and incessant parking issues, I can vouch bicycles and e-bikes are the real smart way to go about Cantt – some have realised this, I hope more do.

What are the next steps now that you are the Bicycle Mayor?

The next one year requires a sustained and planned ‘zhuzhing up’ to get more children out on their bicycles.The short-term plan is setting up a kids-only cycling club to conduct weekend cycling groups. Of course, parental approval is necessary to join and participate With the help of the Cantt Board, setting up dedicated cycling parking spots around Gandhi Bagh (a popular park for kids) is another goal.
I have proposed a “Back to School on Cycle” pledge ride with a few Cantt Board members and school students. Long-term initiatives proposed to the Cantt board include cycle-only zones on weekends, especially around school areas.
In my own capacity, I am working towards kid-friendly film, music, and art pop-ups around the Cantt – Entry for cyclists only!

What can other cities learn from your city?

Meerut is an interesting mix of small-town bustle, old–town charm, urban living, industrial and agrarian. Many world-class sports brands such as BDM, Stag are manufactured in Meerut. The historical town of Hastinapur falls in the Meerut district.
As for the Meerut Cantt, it has tremendous potential to be an ideal Indian ‘15-minute city’ – Schools, parks, markets, historical sites, gyms, restaurants require minimal travel for most inhabitants.