Car-Free Day: Let’s start with the first gear, please

  • Aarish Chhabra, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Feb 28, 2016 10:41 IST

How do you take a great idea in spirit, and then, in letter, stretch it so far that it becomes more of a dangerous joke? If all goes by plan, you will see how that happens on Chandigarh’s roads this coming month. The UT administration plans to hold a car-free day on March 13. Doesn’t sound so bad; does it?

In fact, it has come in for some appreciation for its forward-looking approach as Chandigarh is thankfully not as bad in terms of traffic as some of the other major cities of India and outside, so far.

Yet, the administration appears hell-bent on making it worth ridicule. First, it was slated for a day, when there was to be a VIP visit and also a large number of weddings. Then, the date was changed, and now some more brainstorming is on to figure out its required extent. A lot of balls are hanging in the air, as the very idea of having it across the city, and not in some specific area, is also being questioned.

But, well, when has the UT administration been vary of going overboard? Board reminds me: Remember that day when Sector 17 looked like it had faced some aerial bombing? The day saw the administration employing 200 and more men and women to take off over- and under-sized display boards from a set of buildings in the central shopping district of the city. In the zeal to get the shopkeepers to comply, many boards that were actually as per the specifications were also removed, torn or broken. The illegal window glazing too was shattered by untrained staff throwing bricks and stones.

A classic case of a good idea implemented badly, and then hardly followed up. Forget the rest of the city, even the major part of Sector 17 still wears humungous, illegal boards. There is, after all, a difference between showcasing and doing.

The car-free idea too has been implemented across the world with some success. But most of these initiatives are voluntary; or limited in their scope; and rightly so. Chandigarh’s car-free day will be implemented on a Sunday, only from 7am to 2pm, which is the good part. Emergency vehicles and VIPs would obviously be exempted.

But having it across the city — that, too, a city like Chandigarh which is the central protagonist in an ensemble cast of cities, towns, suburbs and villages — is a bit of a stretch. There is still no clarity on whether outside vehicles will be covered. The initial, wild idea was that outside vehicles will be given special parking space and the occupants would be shifted to buses.

Now, there is talk that outside vehicles would be permitted to go through the city with special passes. It conveniently ignores that a good number of residents of the suburbs have cars that have ‘CH’ numbers. Will those be considered outside vehicles and be exempted too? Of course not, since that’d be impossible to figure out. Does the administration not know that the public transport from Chandigarh’s suburbs is pathetic at best, non-existent at worst? How many extra buses would the administration run, and to what extent would it coordinate with the neighouring cities and states? Also, if the idea is to reduce traffic congestion, the odd-even plan could’ve been a start. If the idea concerns pollution, then this is overreaction to a problem that is no way as severe as to require such drastic measures. Being future-ready is one thing, being gimmick-hungry is quite another.

By the way, should the ‘car’-free day cover two-wheelers too? That’s the next big thing under the administration’s consideration. Sources said cyclists would certainly be spared. Thank god for that. Here’s some free advice: Start small, start well. Or, as a car-driving coach would say, ‘First, put it in first gear’.

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