This is an open letter written by Critical Mass Karachi to the citizens of the city.
Amidst the social and economic disruption of the Corona Virus lock-down, perhaps a silver lining has been the enthusiasm with which the citizens of Karachi have reclaimed their streets. This has been most evident in the hundreds of people out enjoying a walk and riding bicycles. The sudden interest in cycling has been a real treat to behold for us long-time cyclists. The demand for cycles and other equipment has exhausted stocks with retailers and driven prices to ridiculous levels.
Helmets and Protective Gear
However, we have also noted a worrying trend that is the reason for this letter. A large number of the cyclists visible on the streets are without helmets or any other protective gear. Many are riding at night without any front or rear lights. This is an extremely dangerous practice. The streets of Karachi have not changed. The traffic may be lighter but the potholes and other obstruction are the same. The inconsistent street lighting is the same. Even cars are taking advantage of the light traffic and speeding. Karachi’s streets are a contestable space on the best of days, where cyclists have to struggle to assert their rights. Cyclists are a novel phenomenon on the streets of Karachi and it will take time before their presence is acknowledged by other traffic. The recent guidelines issued by the Commissioner Karachi’s Office were very welcome step.
A cyclist is always at a disadvantage on the road. As a small soft object, he/she has to contend with large hard, metallic bodies moving at considerably greater speed. Even a slight misjudgement can have serious consequences. It is therefore exceedingly important for cyclists to take the necessary steps to protect themselves. The most important piece of equipment in this regard is a bicycle helmet. Most injuries heal but traumatic head injury can be life-changing. The helmet can be the difference between a bad headache and a brain injury. The second most important piece of equipment, for both daytime and night-time riding, are front and rear lights. The purpose of the lights is two-fold. To see and be seen. Even if the street is well-lit, lights on the bicycle will alert car drivers about the cyclist’s presence.
The other matter regarding cycling on the road is that of road sense and situational awareness. As the slowest vehicle on the road, cyclists must always be in the left lane. Not in any other lane and definitely not weaving from one lane to the next. Riders riding in a group must ride in a single file, at most two a breast. Cyclist are expected to follow all the traffic rules and exercise additional caution when crossing intersections or changing lanes. Careless disregard for traffic rules can have dire consequences. There have been a few accidents recently involving cyclists. We would like these to be the exception rather than the norm.
Since a large number of cyclists on the streets are children this is addressed to parents as much as to the cyclists themselves. Parents must insure that children are wearing bicycle helmets and following traffic rules. Ideally parents should accompany their children.
We hope this mini-cycling revolution will persist beyond the lock-down and will help promote a healthier and more sustainable use of our streets and public spaces. On behalf of Critical Mass Karachi we wish everyone safe and enjoyable cycling and look forward to welcoming everyone back to our group rides when the social distancing requirements are lifted.