Mobility in cities is a complex issue. Speed, comfort, convenience, economy, time and safety are key concerns. At the same time, parking and air pollution concerns are becoming even more important. The world faced and addressed these problems decades back. It is only now that we in India are waking up to looking at pedestrianisation seriously.
A global overview
World over car-free pedestrianisation of areas is popular and has been in existence for long. Germany takes the lead with the creation of a pedestrianised street in Essen city way back in the year 1929. By the year 1955, over 20 German cities pedestrianised parts of their urban areas.
Many other European cities followed this idea with success. During almost the same time, many cities in the US also adopted the same strategy. Most of the downtown shopping areas have been made car-free zones. Many streets in New York city, Boston, San Francisco, New Orleans and other cities have been made pedestrian-only streets. In Africa, and in Australia and South America too, there are several examples of successfully operating ‘all pedestrian’ streets.
Sai Yeong Choi Street in Hong Kong, Nanjing Road in Shanghai and Insadong Steet in Seoul are some popular examples in Asia. ‘Hokosha Tengoku’ or ‘pedestrian heaven’ in Japan is very popular.
The various types
Pedestrianisation can be achieved in several ways. At one extreme is making an entire street or area completely pedestrianised and at the other is making it a ‘no car’ zone on certain days of the week or at certain times of the day. This way, depending on the nature and intensity of the problem as well as other local conditions, one can evolve the strategy. However, sometimes, while it could be made a ‘no motor’ zone, one may permit battery operated cabs, bicycles and so on for the movement of the elderly. In fact, the concept of shopping in district centres (such as Nehru Place in Delhi) and community centres is also a type of pedestrianisation where the cars are all left at one central place and one walks around an area to do shopping. These have now graduated into airconditioned shopping malls, a more sophisticated form of pedestrianisation!
In India, the MG Road in Gangtok and the Mall Road in Shimla have been very successful pedestrian streets. In Panjim, Goa, one of the main streets has been made a ‘NoMoZo’ or ‘no motor zone’ for one day in the week.
Further, on certain days of the week, we have ‘weekly baazars’ on different days in different parts of Delhi. On these days, the streets become completely pedestrianised. For instance, the weekly bazaar in Bhogal or Sheikh Sarai is a very popular event for the citizens to visit and pick up traditional items at reasonably prices.
The Central Market at Lajpat Nagar and the Sarojini Market, both in Delhi, are other examples of pedestrianisation, although it may not be entirely a pleasant experience. Initiatives by the community such as ‘raahgiri’ have attempted to give back the street space back to the pedestrian.
Advantages of pedestrianisation
The need for pedestrianisation arises from several quarters. Firstly, too many cars on streets makes it very difficult for parking. Secondly, with a large number of cars close to shops, there is little space for the ‘shopping experience’. Thirdly, this also leaves little space for pedestrians to walk. Fourthly, a fully pedestrian space actually becomes a civic place to experience, to hang around, to socialise. Plazas also become spaces for leisure walking and ‘taking the city in’. They also become meeting grounds for the young and old alike to entertain themselves.
Finally, they provide a space for inclusion, for all kinds of people to mix, and also for the informal sector and traditional crafts to get exposure to the markets. The advantages of pedestrianisation are also in terms of safety, low levels of noise, decreased air pollution due to vehicles, more exposure to merchandise, leisurely movement of humans and an overall aesthetic experience of leisure and life as a whole.
Imperatives for pedestrianisation
Today, while there are few who would argue against pedestrianisation, the way to go about it is very important. There are many important imperatives that need to be taken into account:
(i) Getting to the place is very important. One may come from a far off place and want to visit the market. Therefore, metro train connectivity becomes essential. Further, for the car movers, vehicular parking facilities in adequate measure need to be provided at close quarters. Also, walking from the vehicular parking area to the pedestrianised area also needs to be addressed by way of some means which makes the entire mobility experience a seamless operation.
(ii) Within the pedestrianised area, the floor of the walk area needs to be designed with appropriate material, texture and color so that it makes for a safe and enjoyable experience. Special needs of the visually impaired, differently abled, elderly, women and children have to be catered to. Resting benches, lighting, toilets, garbage and general cleanliness are equally important.
(iii) Walk may not always be the only way to move around a pedestrianised area. There could be people who would need support, may be battery operated vehicles for the elderly.
(iv) From the safety point of view, access for fire vehicles becomes very important, particularly when there are a large number of people. This, coupled with other fire safety arrangements are a must. Arrangement for movement of other types of emergency vehicles viz. ambulance is also important.
(v) Often, pedestrianisation leads to a spurt in the street hawkers, with so much street space available. This needs a lot of management or else, the space released by vehicles could just be taken up by street vendors and the basic purpose of creating a pedestrianised space would be defeated.
(vi) Stakeholder consultations are an essential imperative in the entire process. Without the cooperation of the shop owners, the best of plans may not succeed. In fact, the planning has to begin with stakeholder consultations. One of the major fears of the shop keepers is the loss of business due to pedestrianisation, which actually does not have much evidence. It could at best only be a short term effect and in the long run, the total ‘look and feel’, ambience and experience of the place is what attracts customers.
CP and Khan Market
Connaught Place and Khan Market are unique experiences in the city of Delhi, the national capital. While Khan Market may be easier to handle, Connaught Place may be much more complex. Khan Market actually has a specially earmarked piece of land for a multi-storied car parking lot. By shifting all the cars into a multi-storied parking lot, one can make the area around the shops more spacious for people to walk around and experience the ambience.
While shop owners do a lot of ‘window dressing’, few have the space to stand back and take in the experience. In the case of Connaught Place, despite the fact that there is a metro station right in the centre and others close by on the outer edge, despite the fact that there is a two level car parking at Palika and a multi-level mechanised car parking at Baba Karak Singh Marg, there are a few thousand cars parked in the inner and outer circles every day. This movement of the cars makes it very difficult for the shoppers. The taking out of these cars calls for more car parking lots in close proximity. Further, after parking, reaching the inner circle in a safe, convenient and comfortable manner is also very important. While all the imperatives mentioned above are applicable in CP, the ‘Dil’ of Delhi, it needs very carefully thought out interventions to make it happen.
Pedestrianisation of specific precincts in the city is a very good and accepted idea. Making it happen needs careful orchestration of various parameters. A dedicated team of urban planning, design, engineering and other experts need to work on the micro details. It is more than a traffic problem. It is more than a planning issue. It is not just aesthetics. It is a combination of several interventions which will make the idea work. Pivotal to the entire scheme of things is the governance structures that will fund, implement and manage the entire effort. Starting the initiative is relatively easy. Sustaining the same is more important.