A movement in Colombia inspires the citizens of Gurgaon to reclaim their streets every Sunday morning.
Any discussion on India’s approach to urbanization is likely to throw up Gurgaon as a shining symbol of the problems besetting the modern Indian city. The city has witnessed unprecedented growth over the last decade, especially since the completion of the Delhi Gurgaon Expressway in 2008. Yet the city is as famous for its luxurious condominiums & fancy cars as for its crumbling infrastructure, dwindling resources & a rising crime rate.
Of all the accusations levelled at the prosperous Gurgaon wala, the strongest is of being isolated and apathetic to the city’s problems. The upscale residential islands charge a substantial premium for providing an uninterrupted supply of utilities, ample space for parking & recreation facilities such as parks and clubs – leaving no incentive to its residents to rightfully demand these amenities from the government. So it was a pleasant surprise to see the heavily congested road next to my residence free of vehicles on a Sunday morning – instead, there were hundreds of beaming adults and children on their feet or on their cycles. I couldn’t help feeling that a benevolent Pied Piper had finally arrived to liberate the “condo citizens” of Gurgaon.
My pleasure was compounded when I learnt that a boisterous revolution was underway – to claim the streets of Gurgaon for its walking citizens for a few hours every Sunday. The unique idea, aptly named Raahgiri Day, has gone viral in just a few weeks; nearly 90,000 people turned up on Gurgaon’s streets in just its third month. My Big Red Bag caught up with the team behind this fantastic initiative to understand how we, the Aam Aadmi, can participate to make a difference.
1. Thank for you chatting with us, and for starting this amazing program! What is the purpose of Raahgiri Day and how did the idea first germinate?
Half of the residents in urban Gurgaon travel by autorickshaws, buses, cycles or on foot. However, the entire road infrastructure in Gurgaon is biased towards private vehicles such as cars – this is bad for the environment and moreover is not inclusive. It became clear to us that we need to re-examine the city’s approach towards mobility and city design in order to ensure a healthier, safer and more equitable development. We need to promote walking, cycling and other forms of physical activity in our cities. We can either wait for the authorities to plan these things (as we have been waiting for the last 60 years) or we come together and make this change happen (tough but doable). Raahgiri is an attempt to reclaim what belongs to people.
2. Who are the people that make this happen, are there any government authorities or private corporations involved in this initiative?
Raahgiri Day is a citizen led movement catalyzed by Embarq India, The Heritage School, I Am Gurgaon, Duplays Gurgaon, and Pedal Yatri Group. Gurgaon Traffic Police has been a great supporter of this event and it’s only with their support that four stretches of roads opposite Vyapar Kendra and Galleria Market, DLF Phase IV, are cordoned off from 7 am to noon every Sunday. Infact, Raahgiri Day was launched at a press conference by Mr. Alok Mittal (Commissioner of Gurgaon Police), who is a regular participant at the event and can be seen walking, cycling, and doing yoga on the Raahgiri loop. According to him this is a historic event which will help in commissioning permanent pedestrian and bicycle paths in the city.
Raahgiri has also witnessed some visitors from other public agencies & organizations, such as Ministry of Urban Development, Directorate of Urban Land Transport Bangalore (DULT), Traffic Police Bangalore, TERI, CSE & CAI Asia, who are coming to Gurgaon to learn from the event so that they can replicate this novel concept in their cities.
3. Are there specific places where the activities take place? How has the response been so far?
Although only nine weeks old, Raahgiri Day has had quite the journey since its first day in action on November 17, 2013! While 10,000 people participated in the inaugural event, that number has grown each week – reaching over 20,000 by Week 5 and nearly 90,000 by Week 11.
With growing enthusiasm among people who have now started coming from the nearby regions of Gurgaon – Delhi, Faridabad, Gaziabad, Noida – there are demands to make this a full day event and extend it to other roads and sectors.
Every Sunday, Raahgiri Day participants can be seen cycling, running, or just soaking up the winter sun with their families, friends, and even their pets. A lot of activities are organized to make the atmosphere festive and upbeat. This includes organizing football matches, races for kids within the age groups of 11 and 18 years, fitness exercises like Zumba, aerobics, yoga and body combat, band performances and street plays. Last week we had Palash Sen from Euphoria participate in Raahgiri Day and the crowds kept him performing till way past noon.
4. What are your future plans and how can interested citizens stay informed on future activities?
Raahgiri Day is already building a powerful movement behind transport and urban planning focused on people. Our future plan is to use this event as a social precedent and encourage people in the country to expand it to their cities.
Raahgiri Day is inspired by a similar movement called Ciclovia that started more than a decade ago in Bogota, Colombia. The primary goal of Ciclovia was to prioritize people instead of cars, and the idea flourished with the construction of permanent bikeways (now a 320 km long network), pedestrian sidewalks all over the city and accessible public transport ( in the form of the TransMilenio BRTs system, now 104 km of busways that carry 2 million people a day). It is not that Bogota has solved all the challenges associated with high growth – a lot more needs to be implemented to solve the puzzle of sustainable mobility – nonetheless they have experienced tremendous advances for the common citizen and a large part of this was catalyzed by Ciclovia.
We believe that Raahgiri or Ciclovia is not an end but a means to the vital goal of sustainable development. We hope what Ciclovia did for Bogota, Raahgiri will help achieve for India; that our cities will have improved infrastructure for active commuters and a better quality life for our children.
5. It seems it takes a lot of effort to organize this – how can citizens contribute to keep this going?
Raahgiri Day is a demonstration to the administration of India that many of India’s urban residents are willing to use sustainable modes of transport, provided they have access to safe and secure infrastructure. A huge turnout at every event reinforces this fact, suggesting that residents no longer want to rely on cars alone for their travel. Instead, they want to enjoy their city’s simplest daily pleasures – walking and cycling on accessible, pleasant and safe streets.
Citizens can contribute to this event by demanding the right kind of infrastructure from the administration in Gurgaon; by asking the government to build proper cycle tracks & footpaths in the city and demanding that the inadequacies of the existing public transport system be addressed on priority. (Editor’s note: It is a nightmare getting around in Gurgaon if you don’t have your own vehicle – you are at the mercy of private or shared autorickshaws which do not have metered fares and are rumoured to be controlled by thugs.)
6. In your view what more can be done by citizens and civic authorities to turn Gurgaon into a safe, healthy and happy city?
It is important to bring about a transformation in the car-oriented mindsets of people and civic authorities in our city. They should now begin to understand that non-motorized transport modes can be used as an effective form of mobility for shorter trips and last-mile connectivity to large-scale mass transportation systems, such as Gurgaon’s metro.
7. Are there any other initiatives along these lines that you are aware of?
To promote Non-Motorized Transport in Gurgaon, NASSCOM (National Association of Service and Software Companies) has recently launched an Active Commuting Campaign. As part of the campaign they have recorded a song and video with the popular band Euphoria to showcase the problems that cyclists & pedestrians face in Gurgaon and the changes that are required to make Gurgaon a more accessible city.
8. From a civic perspective, what do you like best about Gurgaon, and what is the worst thing about it?
In 2006, the Indian Government introduced the National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) in an effort to promote people-centric transport solutions and increase the usage of non-motorized transport in cities – especially car and bike-sharing programs. The good thing is that based upon this model, Haryana’s state government developed an Integrated Mobility Plan (IMP) for the Gurgaon-Manesar Urban Complex in 2010. The plan proposed the creation of 500 kilometers (310.7 miles) of footpaths and 210 kilometers (130.5 miles) of bicycle lanes. The advantage that Gurgaon has over other cities is the availability of ample space, which can easily accommodate cycling and pedestrian facilities
Unfortunately, the plan has served as little more than a policy document rather than a catalyst for action. Even though non-motorized transport trips, including those made by walking, constitute nearly 30% of total traffic, the infrastructure for non-motorized transport remains inadequate and none of the proposed bicycle lanes have been built.
End Note: Consider the following:
1. Every year there are 30,000 road accident related deaths in India’s urban areas – 70% of the casualties are pedestrians and cyclists.
2. Air pollution claims the lives of nearly 6 lac (600,000) people in India every year – a quarter of these deaths (150,000) can be attributed to transportation pollutants.
3. Nearly 4 lac (400,000) people die in India every year on account of physical inactivity – the absence of public transportation plays a big role in inducing a sedantary lifestyle amongst city dwellers.
This image says it all – the best cities in the world are those that encourage and incentivize their citizens to use various forms of public transportation. A high GDP or Per Capita Income means little in the absence of health and safety. So it is our duty as educated & responsible individuals to demand sustainable development from our government and to make a conscious attempt to embrace public modes of transportation – for our own sake and for the sake of our future generations. We look forward to seeing you next Sunday on Raahgiri Day!
Data courtesy: EMBARQ India; National Crime Research Board 2013 & Data from WHO Global Burden of Disease Report 2013. Featured image courtesy: Raahgiri Day