Public spaces to be made friendly for pedestrians, informal sector workers
According to Robin Chase, a transport entrepreneur based in the US, “Indian cities will have to deal with large sections of the informal economy coming back as streets open up. We urgently need to create spaces for them, and we need to reallocate space away from cars and reserve them for micro-mobility such as electric scooters, which can enable social distancing. The lockdown is a grey area in which these negotiations can be revisited,” said Chase.Updated: Jun 04, 2020 10:05 IST
The Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) has decided to no longer undertake road expansion projects within its jurisdiction, and to instead utilise available space along arterial roads for walking paths, cycling tracks and green belts, authority chief VS Kundu said Wednesday. Speaking at a webinar titled ‘Active Mobility Post Lockdown’, Kundu said though it had been decided earlier this year to halt the expansion of carriageways, the lockdown has ensured there is no going back on the same, and strengthened the GMDA’s resolve to make streets more accessible.
The GMDA chief said that the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on disrupting mobility in the city, as well as posed as a setback for the enhancement of public transport systems in Gurugram. “With the decrease in traffic during the national lockdown, imposed to control the virus’ outbreak, and seeing the need for social distancing, there is no need to expand roads any further. Instead, we will be utilising the same space to create facilities to ease movements of pedestrians and cyclists. This will hopefully offset the increase in use of private vehicles, which we are anticipating,” Kundu said.
He added that the GMDA’s comprehensive mobility plan (CMP) for Gurugram, which was delayed due to the lockdown, will now be put through another round of public feedback. “We appeal to experts to help us devise a mobility plan in line with the demands of a rapidly changing world,” Kundu told HT over the phone after the webinar.
Organised by the World Resources Institute (India), in partnership with The Raahgiri Foundation, the GMDA and the National Institute of Urban Affairs, the webinar featured transport entrepreneurs, urban planners and administrators. Among the range of topics discussed were changing public mobility trends in the wake of Covid-19 and the need to plan sustainable transport systems that can ensure social distancing, as economies around the world open up.
“The irony is that Gurugram, which is where the Raahgiri movement of car-free streets began, has not been able to accommodate the demands of pedestrian-friendly mobility and equitable streets. The lockdown presents a challenge to mobility, as we anticipate an increasing preference for private vehicles in a post-Covid world. But at the same time, we also need to reallocate street space so that those who can work from home continue to do so, while the informal economy is given space to come out onto the streets, where they make their living,” Kundu said, addressing the panel.
However, he and other experts on the panel agreed that for a city like Gurugram, this poses an almost insurmountable challenge. According to Robin Chase, a transport entrepreneur based in the US, “Indian cities will have to deal with large sections of the informal economy coming back as streets open up. We urgently need to create spaces for them, and we need to reallocate space away from cars and reserve them for micro-mobility such as electric scooters, which can enable social distancing. The lockdown is a grey area in which these negotiations can be revisited,” said Chase.
In agreement with this statement, Kundu added, “It will be a challenge for Gurugram. I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but you have to consider that an entire section of the population cannot switch to sustainable transport within the next few months. We have to do this in a phased manner.”
Other experts said that the link between transport advocacy and health advocacy has become much clearer in the wake of the pandemic, which is caused by a respiratory pathogen. Margarita Parra from the Silicon Valley Bike Association pointed out that adopting cleaner means of transportation is imperative. “Early evidence does suggest that poor air quality puts people at a higher risk of mortality due to Covid-19. So we need to act now to reduce vehicular emissions.”
This view was echoed by National Institute of Urban director Affairs Hitesh Vaidya, who said the real key is in getting the middle class to change their habits. He pointed out that in order to maintain social distancing, metro and bus services would have to run at between five to seven times their previous capacity, which may not be practically feasible. “This presents two scenarios. Indian cities like Delhi and Gurugram can either make a conscientious shift toward improving walking and cycling infrastructure, thereby reducing dependency on diminished public transport, as cities like London, Bogota, Milan and New York are doing, or it could result in a forced shift to private vehicles,” he said.