There’s an instant moment of empathy when someone mentions that they live in Gurgaon — owing to the tough commute to Delhi that its residents endure daily. A sizeable chunk of life seems to lapse waiting in thousands of cars that are stalled for miles in traffic almost every day, travelling between the capital and its adjoining cities.
The toll of being stuck in traffic on work-life balance, personal productivity and health is immense; citizens brave on through alternate rhythms of resignation and rage without being able to rally effectively around the issue. In a bold move, the Gurgaon Police has announced that every Tuesday will be a car-free day, and it plans to enforce it strictly in five busy corridors.
The plan is to increase the frequency of metro rides, encourage shared journeys, improve shuttle services and crack down on illegal parking in order to offer the city some respite.
This is a overdue measure which Hyderabad has tried and one that other cities would do well to consider. We are all well aware as to how immensely liveable cities like Bengaluru are being choked by traffic problems.
A designated car-free day could make the administration and commuters try newer modes for tackling distance, while cities wait for the public infrastructure to improve. It will be interesting to see how the idea works in practice; the State must however see it as an experimental challenge that can have a wider import.
A large part of its success will likely depend on alternative forms of transport being provided for and operating smoothly; else there’s a real risk of citizens being alienated by the enforced measure.
In theory, limiting traffic can also revitalise public spaces by opening roads to fairs and cultural events. But at the end of the day ideas like car-free days can only go so far as to tackle the problem of traffic and pollution.
The real need for a fast-urbanising India, where cities and towns are exploding in size, is a massive infusion of investment in public transport. There is really no substitute for that.