Today, Indian cities are facing an ever-increasing number of cars on the road, bringing congestion, pollution, and shifting to a focus on personal vehicles to move people. As traffic rises, daily commutes are getting longer, costing individuals and the city valuable time and resources. Meanwhile, vehicle emissions are making the air in many of India’s biggest cities unhealthy for residents. At the same time, conditions for walking and cycling in many cities are becoming more dangerous and difficult. Unsafe crossings, narrow footpaths, and inadequate, disconnected cycle lanes are preventing city residents from choosing to move in sustainable, non-motorized ways.
To combat these problems, everyone from civil society groups to governments are looking for ways to reconnect people to their cities and expand options for active transport. Launching car-free days has become one of the best ways to help city residents rediscover their city and enjoy the comfort of exploring the streets without the fear of moving vehicles. Safer, engaging streets are critical to creating a sustainable environment and inclusive, vibrant cities.
Across India, cities are turning to car-free days to help residents reconnect with the city and experience the joy of walking, cycling, playing, and relaxing on their city’s streets. By giving people the opportunity to safely and comfortably explore their city on foot, these programs are building a culture that values pedestrians, and one where residents are empowered to ask for a greater focus on ways to move around their city besides cars.
Recently, the cities of Coimbatore and Chennai each held their first car-free day. Both proved extremely popular, becoming larger and larger events each week. Starting in August, 2015, it is held once a week at the week-end (Sunday) and within three weeks, Coimbatore’s car-free days had over 19,000 participants walking, cycling, playing games, and connecting in the streets. Chennai’s car-free day, started in October 2015, have also brought together citizens from all walks of life to transform the streets into vibrant public spaces. In addition to games and music, these events offer an important opportunity for social mixing, and have provided a platform to discuss important issues in the city, including raising awareness about health issues and the need for an inclusive society.
Establishing car-free days requires considerable buy-in from the public and local officials. In both Coimbatore and Chennai, ITDP India used strong social media campaigns to build support for the program. The Namma Kovai Namakke and Namma Chennai Namakke Facebook pages encouraged local residents to contact their city officials to ask for car-free Sundays, then helped spread the word about the events every week. The campaigns have proved the power of everyday residents to take action, reclaim their streets from automobiles, and create vibrant public spaces.
In the run up to the launch of car-free Sundays in Coimbatore, residents and city officials came together to discuss how to transform the city into a smart, vibrant place that offers safe, accessible, and comfortable public spaces to all. Coordination between local officials, traffic policy, and civil society groups have proved to be critical to running successful events. Adjusted traffic patterns, clear support from the city, and ample activities all make the events run smoothly for participants.
Car-free days are the first step toward making livable cities with safe and equitable public spaces. Following the success of car-free Sundays, Coimbatore plans to upgrade footpaths along key streets in each of its five zones, demonstrating how car-free days can build momentum for more permanent investments in pedestrian infrastructure. As one participant rightly said, reclaiming space for people makes it “not (only) a happy street, but a happy city.”
To combat the steady rise in car use, building safe, connected, ample footpaths, as well as cycle lanes and accessible public transit, must be a priority. By investing in modes of transit with low- or no emissions, cities can be transformed into centers of sustainability.
On of the major benefits it to demonstrate to city officials that transport is not just about roads and motorized vehicles but also about offering choice to citizens on how they can move about their city.
The car-free movement is growing. Already, more and more cities across India are launching their own programs. Even within cities with established programs, residents excited and pleased by existing car-free days are calling for their expansion, such as longer
hours and in new parts of the city. As these programs build a pro-pedestrian culture, demand is also growing for more permanent infrastructure dedicated to making walking and cycling safe. Cities are seeing the benefits to health, environment, and society from increased pedestrian activity. Now, activists and civil society can ask for more resources dedicated to forms of transit that prioritize people, not cars. The result will be a new culture of urban mobility, and it starts with a first step at car-free day.
Facebook Page for Coimbatore Car-Free Day:https://www.facebook.com/NammaKovaiNamakke
Car-Free Day in Coimbatore:https://www.itdp.org/car-free-days-transform-coimbatore-india/
Facebook Page for Chennai Car-Free Day:https://www.facebook.com/NammaChennaiNamakke/
Chennai’s Car-Free Sunday:https://www.itdp.org/chennais-bold-move-to-go-car-free/
Chennai and Coimbatore, India
India, Mitigation, walking, Cycling, Awareness, Partnerships, Policy
ITDP, Local Government, Civil Society Organizations, and Newspapers
Gabriel Lewenstein Gabriel.Lewenstein@itdp.org
“I didn’t realise how wide our roads are,” said Archana Patnaik, District Collector for Coimbatore, as she walked and cycled along the streets during Coimbatore’s first car-free Sunday, August 2015.