Mumbai’s Equal Streets launch sees overwhelming community support
Editor's note: This post has been updated to include progress of the Equal Streets movement through the month of November.
Equal Streets, Mumbai’s citizen-driven open streets movement, was launched Sunday, November 9, 2014 by EMBARQ India, the Mumbai Police, and the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), with support from the Times of India. According to Mumbai Police estimates, over 15,000 people came out at 7am on Sunday morning to take back the streets. One side of the road was closed to vehicular traffic along the 6.5 km (3.7 mile) Equal Streets loop consisting of SV Road, Linking Road, and a part of Juhu Road. The loop saw a range of activities including yoga, aerobics, cross-fit, Zumba, and cycling.
Equal Streets is a citizens’ movement aimed at correcting the imbalance in how roads are used in Indian cities. With the belief that roads are public spaces meant for all people, the organizers hope to change people’s mindsets and behavior towards sustainable transport. Sitaram Kunte, Commissioner of MCGM, and Rakesh Maria, Commissioner of Mumbai Police, released balloons to kick off the inaugural event. Madhav Pai, Director of EMBARQ India, said at the event,
“This movement is an opportunity for us to think differently about our streets. It’s not just about cars, it’s about people.”
It was great to see little children on bikes and roller skates, and to see mothers pushing their babies in strollers on traffic-free major roads in the city. "This is exciting," said Rakesh Maria, "as a Bandra-ite [a member of Mumbai’s exercise-crazed suburb], I'm all the happier this is happening here." People lined up at the three free cycle-rental stands enjoyed rides along the open streets; yoga enthusiasts took part in sessions conducted by the Yoga Institute; young and old danced at the Zumba fitness corners; and many enjoyed games of 'pickle football.'
“We’re very grateful to the local residents who came out in large numbers to support this movement. We’re overwhelmed by their support and cooperation despite some inconveniences. Without this community support, Equal Streets would have not been possible,” said Binoy Mascarenhas, Manager of Urban Transport for EMBARQ India.
Other organizations integral to the success of the Equal Streets launch included residential welfare associations, cycling clubs, and NGOs like KBS Foundation, Bandra West Residents Association, P. K. Das & Associates, Juhu Citizens Welfare Group, Gulmohar Area Societies Welfare Group, Oshiwara/Lokhandwala Citizens Association, Only Cycling, Bandra Cycle Club, Mumbai Cycling Enthusiasts, Cycling All the Way, Juhu & Lokhandwala Cycling Club, Indian Dietetic Association, Mumbai Waterfronts Centre, and Bandra Bandstand Residents Trust.
Active, open urban streets across India
From EMBARQ India’s experience working on similar events with partner organizations in cities like Gurgaon, New Delhi, Bhopal, and others, it is clear that people welcome the opportunity to walk and cycle if given safe and secure infrastructure to do so.
Equal Streets is not a one-off initiative, but a sustained movement driven by the power of Mumbai’s citizens. Its objective is to provide walking and cycling paths throughout all neighborhoods in the city. As shown by the success of the Equal Streets launch, the people of Mumbai have overwhelmingly declared their support to the concept of open streets and the larger objectives behind the movement. While there are still a few operational and logistical issues to be ironed out, the Equal Streets team is confident that this movement will grow with continued citizen support, and will create a paradigm shift in how we view our public spaces.
Continued progress since Equal Streets' launch
Since the launch of Equal Streets, the event has continued to grow. By the fourth Sunday of Equal Streets, the crowd had grown significantly to approximately 40,000 people. Equal Streets has also recently launched a Raasta Chhaap campaign to encourage residents to take a pledge as they reclaim their streets. The pledge helps people understand that they have an equal right to the road and encourages them to take responsibility to improve mobility in Mumbai. As part of the pledge, they register themselves for the movement and get a raasta chhaap stamp.
Every week, Equal Streets activities are aligned with a particular theme, ranging from urban tree cover, climate change, pollution control to other environmental issues. The upcoming theme is based on the safety and accessibility of women using public transport (women and mobility).
Equal Streets is also gaining momentum in the press. For example, The Guardian recently covered Equal Streets in its article - Reclaiming the streets: a vision of a happier, healthier Mumbai. As Equal Streets grows, more people are realizing this is more than just a fun Sunday event, but rather a sustained movement to make Mumbai healthier, happier and more inclusive.