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Cities across India are remaking their streets

Jul 23, 2023 11:40 PM IST

The idea behind the redevelopment of these streets is to make them spaces that are attractive, accessible, and prioritise the safety and mobility of all users

In 2020, the Delhi government said it will give the Capital’s roads a “European makeover”, announcing plans to redevelop a 540-km network of roads of a width of 100 feet or more. Three years on, it has revamped 16 road stretches totalling about 41 km, creating landscaped footpaths, cycling tracks, public facilities, and installing artworks and street furniture.

The redeveloped road stretch between Dhaula Kuan and Moti Bagh in New Delhi. (Arvind Yadav/HT Photo) PREMIUM
The redeveloped road stretch between Dhaula Kuan and Moti Bagh in New Delhi. (Arvind Yadav/HT Photo)

“We adopted the concept of equitable distribution of road space, which considers the needs of varied street users. We made the carriageways uniforms and widened footpaths. The idea is to improve the safety and aesthetics of roads, and reduce traffic bottlenecks,” said Vinay Sheel Saxena, executive engineer, Public Works Department (PWD).

Not just Delhi, many cities across the country such as Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad, and Surat, among others, are transforming their roads into what urban designers call “complete streets”, “healthy streets”, or “liveable streets” — streets that are attractive, are accessible, and prioritise the safety and mobility of all users, while also serving as vibrant public spaces.

Chennai, the first city to adopt a progressive non-motorised transport policy (NMT) in 2014, has launched what it calls the “Mega Streets’’ project, which aims to transform 150km of roads into “healthy streets’’ by 2025. In the past few years, the city has redeveloped over 100km of roads, including Pondy Bazaar (Soundarapandianar Angadi) — one of the principal shopping districts of the Tamil Nadu capital, which has been transformed from a crowded, car-centric street into a pedestrian promenade with broad walkways.

Place-making was an important resdesign on JM Road in Pune. The architects wanted to develop the road as a destination space on the lines of the Orchard Road in Singapore. (HT Archive)
Place-making was an important resdesign on JM Road in Pune. The architects wanted to develop the road as a destination space on the lines of the Orchard Road in Singapore. (HT Archive)

The Mega Streets project is funded by the World Bank as part of the ‘Chennai City Partnership: Sustainable Urban Services Program’.

“We want to redefine the idea of the street by making it an experiential space accessible to all stakeholders such as motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, and vendors,” said GS Sameeran, joint commissioner (works), Greater Chennai Corporation. “We will create separate underground ducts for each utility such as stormwater drains, water and sewer pipelines, optical fibre cables and electricity cables.”

Around 20 cities have adopted street policies, and 15 others are in the process of doing so. “Never before has there been such a collective push by cities in the country to redevelop their streets into people-friendly spaces,” said Aswathy Dilip, managing director, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) India, the Indian arm of the global non-profit that provides technical guidance to cities across the world.

Another city that has taken a lead in redeveloping its streets is Pune. Under Pune Street Programme (PSP), Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has transformed over 40km of streets into complete streets, with another 110 km transformed under various other schemes.

“Place-making was an important JM road redesign. We wanted to develop the road as a destination space on the lines of the Orchard Road in Singapore,” said urban designer and architect Akash Hingorani, who co-founded Oasis Design Inc, the design consultant for the JM Road redevelopment project.

“Streets demonstrate how cities take care of their people. But thankfully there is a growing realisation that streets are primarily meant to move people, not cars,” he said.

Jhansi is currently remaking about 5km of roads under its Iconic Street Project. The 1.6-km road from Elite Chaurha to Medical College boasts a broad footpath, a kids’ play area, a jogging track, a vending area, parking lots, fountains, street furniture, canopies, signage, and a selfie point, among others. (HT Photo)
Jhansi is currently remaking about 5km of roads under its Iconic Street Project. The 1.6-km road from Elite Chaurha to Medical College boasts a broad footpath, a kids’ play area, a jogging track, a vending area, parking lots, fountains, street furniture, canopies, signage, and a selfie point, among others. (HT Photo)

Surat, meanwhile, adopted a street policy in 2018, and has transformed 22km of roads so far, most notably VIP road and Canal Pathway.

“Our street policy is aimed at creating safe, pleasant mobility corridors that double up as public spaces where people can walk, cycle, and idle. The footfalls have increased, mobility has improved and there has been a socio-economic boost to the areas where we have completed these projects,” said Surat Municipal Corporation commissioner Shalini Agarwal, adding that the civic body has recently initiated the redevelopment of four more streets with a length of 9.65km

“Street development projects are our topmost priority and we have dedicated budgetary allocations for them each year,” she said.

Even smaller towns such as Jhansi, Jabalpur and Ajmer are taking up street redevelopment projects. Jhansi, for example, is currently remaking about 5km of roads under its Iconic Street Project. Work on the 1.6-km road from Elite Chaurha to Medical College — arguably the city’s most important road — is on at a fast pace, and the stretch, which was once synonymous with encroachments today boasts a broad footpath, a kids’ play area, a jogging track, a vending area, parking lots, fountains, street furniture, canopies, signage, and a selfie point, among others.

“We have reclaimed over 10,000sqm of space on both sides of the road by making them free of encroachment. The work on other roads will begin soon,” said Jhansi municipal commissioner Pulkit Garg.

The city was a finalist in the Streets4People Challenge, launched by Smart Cities Mission, to support cities to create pedestrian-friendly streets through quick measures.

Last year, 11 cities — Aurangabad, Bengaluru, Gurugram, Kochi, Kohima, Nagpur, Pimpri-Chinchwad, Pune, Udaipur, Ujjain, and Vijayawada were selected as winners for their pilot projects to make roads more pedestrian-friendly, a competition that was open to 113 smart cities.

City authorities say that they are ensuring the participation of all stakeholders in the road redevelopment projects — a challenging task which involves motivating citizens, changing attitudes, and breaking stereotypes surrounding cycling and walking.

In the past few years, Chennai has redeveloped over 100km of roads, including Pondy Bazaar (Soundarapandianar Angadi) — one of the principal shopping districts of the Tamil Nadu capital, which has been transformed from a crowded, car-centric street into a pedestrian promenade with broad walkways. (HT Archive)
In the past few years, Chennai has redeveloped over 100km of roads, including Pondy Bazaar (Soundarapandianar Angadi) — one of the principal shopping districts of the Tamil Nadu capital, which has been transformed from a crowded, car-centric street into a pedestrian promenade with broad walkways. (HT Archive)

“We have held year-long consultations with the local community, vendors, pedestrians, and others for the Mega Streets project. We want to ensure that everyone feels empowered, and not threatened,” said Sameeran of the Greater Chennai Corporation.

However, experts note that dedicated budgetary allocations for walking and cycling infrastructure continue to be an area of concern.

“Indian cities are enthusiastically taking initiatives to create walking and cycling infrastructure. However, their success depends greatly on their ability to consistently allocate budgets towards the expansion of walking and cycling networks,” said Dilip.

“Metropolitan cities must prioritise these interventions in their annual transport budgets. Medium and small cities will require support from the national and state governments to achieve this vision. The current momentum should be sustained.”

Sadan Jha, who has co-authored The Social Life of Streets in India: Histories, Contestations and Subjectivities, which seeks to understand the complexities of the social dynamics of streets in relation to spatiality and materiality, said it is necessary that cities also focus on poor neighbourhoods.

“There is a growing awareness that streets are not just nodes connecting places. But most design interventions are limited to middle-class areas and not in migrant or working-class localities,” said Jha, an associate professor at the Centre For Social Studies, Surat.

“Therefore, a separate lane for cyclists is primarily where cycling is not for work but for leisure. Similarly, sidewalks are not safe for children in these working-class neighbourhoods. I think for making streets better it is important that we acknowledge and address multiple hierarchies pertaining to streetscapes.”

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Manoj Sharma is Metro Features Editor at Hindustan Times. He likes to pursue stories that otherwise fall through the cracks.

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