Car-free streets for people-centered cities: Raahgiri Day expands
Since its inception in November 2013, Gurgaon, India’s Raahgiri Day has exploded in popularity. About 350,000 total people have already participated in the weekly event, with the numbers growing each week. The encouraging turnout every Sunday and numerous requests from citizens got authorities and founding members – EMBARQ India, IAmGurgaon, Pedalyatri, Duplays, and Heritage School – thinking about its expansion. Beginning February 3, 2014, the Raahgiri Day “loop” of car-free streets more than doubled, adding 6.5 km to the existing 4.8 km loop. The 11.3 km corridor was supported by the Gurgaon Police, Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon, and DLF, one of Gurgaon’s largest private housing, commercial, office and retail developers. April saw the further expansion of Raahgiri Day, with the loop now crossing National Highway (NH-8), into the “old Gurgaon” section of the city. This expansion, which includes another 3 km, was led by the Palam Vihar Residents Association (PVRA) and highlighted the sense of camaraderie and community Raahgiri Day has helped to build in Gurgaon.
Gurgaon’s public agencies embrace the Raahgiri Day movement
Public agencies in Gurgaon – including the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon (MCG), Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) and Gurgaon Police – were early supporters of Raahgiri Day and have played an important role in the success and growth of the movement.
Raahgiri Day represents the first time in Gurgaon that these public agencies have decided to own and organize an event of this scale. As of May 4, 2014, MCG and Gurgaon Police have taken the lead organizing role for Raahgiri Day, on top of their existing responsibilities to citizens. Seeing government officials and citizens working together to bring positive transformation is an encouraging sign for the city’s future. Furthermore, MCG taking full ownership of the event speaks to the longevity of the Raahgiri Day movement, a comfort to founding members. “It’s only these public agencies that have the capacity to sustain such events and spread them further to cover the entire city. This has also sent a big message that the government in Gurgaon is serious about providing infrastructural changes in order to make Gurgaon safer for cyclists and pedestrians”, says Amit Bhatt, Strategy Head for Urban Transport, EMBARQ India.
A more active, healthy Gurgaon
In the last 23 weeks, Raahgiri Day has become the largest and coolest citizens’ initiative in Gurgaon. It has had a game-changing impact on the mindset and lifestyles of Gurgaon’s residents. A recent survey of Raahgiri Day attendees conducted by EMBARQ India revealed that many participants have even become newfound proponents of active transport.
“One of the biggest deterrents to using cycling as a mode of transportation in cities is not having access to a bicycle itself," says Bhatt. But Raahgiri Day is contributing to a change in this trend, and Gurgaon is now seeing increased bike ownership, and in turn increased cycling. Of 185 survey respondents, 28% said that after experiencing cycling on Raahgiri Day, they now own a bicycle; 59% said they now cycle or walk to the Raahgiri venue, while 87% said they now cycle or walk to cover shorter distances outside of Raahgiri Day.
The survey also showed that 44% of those interviewed were dedicated Raahgiri regulars. This and the huge turnout each week suggest that people are committed to the cause. Another interesting finding is the number of people coming to Raahgiri with their family and friends. While 31% said that they came with friends, 53% said that they came with their families. For a city like Gurgaon, which is dominated by condominiums and huge segregated private properties, Raahgiri Day gives residents an opportunity to meet and greet new people and has helped build more cohesive communities.
Looking beyond Gurgaon, the Raahgiri Day concept expands
Inspired by Gurgaon, enthusiastic citizens in other Indian cities are looking to institute their own car-free days. One such city is Ludhiana, where a 13-year-old schoolgirl is spearheading the movement after learning about Raahgiri Day through Facebook. Ludhiana is the first city after Gurgaon to have implemented sustained car-free Sundays, and had its very first Raahgiri Day on January 19, 2014 with roughly 1,000 people joining. This is a commendable achievement for a city like Ludhiana, which is also known as the vehicle capital of the state of Punjab, and a favorite destination for luxurious car dealers.
Another city that has implemented Raahgiri is Navi Mumbai, which has blocked out a 1.5 km stretch on main thoroughfare Palm Beach road every Sunday for residents to enjoy car-free streets. Having begun just over a month ago, close to 6,000 people participate each week.
A pathway to sustainable cities
The Raahgiri Day movement has sparked a ray of hope in many Indian cities, proving that non-motorized and public transport are fixtures in India’s urban future. Major cities are taking note, with Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, and Noida having already reached out to the Raahgiri Day founding members to begin planning their own car-free Sundays.
Raahgiri Day participants have played a major role in making this a national movement, leading to some global recognition. Raahgiri Day was recently chosen as one of the 24 most inspiring stories for “Pathways to Green Cities” by the Global Advisory Committee of the Earth Day Network, a Washington-based international non-profit organization working to improve the environment. With growing recognition for its results and increasing interest from citizens and governments alike, Raahgiri Day is poised to bring car-free, sustainable urban mobility to citizens across India.