New Delhi becomes latest – and largest – city to join the Raahgiri Day movement
Raahgiri Day – the weekly event that closes streets to cars in the name of sustainable, active transport – has arrived in the world’s second largest city. New Delhi, India will now host car-free Sundays each week, following the joint efforts of the New Delhi Police, New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), EMBARQ India and the Times of India to expand the movement beyond its inaugural home in nearby Gurgaon. This is a pivotal moment for sustainable urban mobility in Indian cities. Scaling up the Raahgiri movement to the nation’s capital and largest city is a huge leap, one that reminds us that reorienting cities around people – not cars – is achievable.
Over 5,000 people participated in New Delhi’s first Raahgiri Day in Connaught Place, located in the heart of the city. In its third week, that number doubled, with traffic police and organizers estimating the turnout at more than 10,000 people. Connaught Place is a strategic location, sitting in the core of the city, and is a prominent shopping and business district. Bringing Raahgiri Day to Connaught Place is a transformational move, as experts at both the national and local levels have been exploring ways to turn the area into a pedestrianized zone for over 20 years.
According to EMBARQ India’s Sarika Panda Bhatt, one of the instrumental organizers in bringing Raahgiri to New Delhi, "Connaught Place is not just the heart of Delhi, it’s the heart of India. Choosing Connaught Place to start Raahgiri Day in Delhi has brought the entire nation's eyes to this event."
Mr. SK Lohia, former Joint Secretary, Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India and Ms. Meenakshi Lekhi, Member of Parliament, New Delhi, were among the attendees of the inaugural Raahgiri Delhi, cycling with citizens and celebrating the spread of the Raahgiri movement to their city.
Marrying international trends with local needs for Raahgiri Delhi
The process of creating local buy-in in Connaught Place was markedly different than the approach organizers took in Raahgiri’s founding city of Gurgaon. Unlike in Gurgaon, the pedestrianization of Connaught Place has been on the minds of city leaders over the past 20 years, each time met with resistance from the Connaught Place Traders’ Association. Local business owners believed that pedestrianization would decrease the number of shoppers in the area and hurt their sales. Even when presented with successful examples from cities like Seoul, South Korea and New York City’s Times Square speaking to the benefits of pedestrianization for local businesses, these were dismissed as not being suitable for the specific context of Indian cities.
Organizers used a four-step approach to engage local traders and win their support. First, they shared the impressive results from Gurgaon’s experiment with Raahgiri Day, with a focus on how it has supported commerce. While 80% of business owners surveyed in Gurgaon were at first skeptical of Raahgiri Day, four months later 79% were in favor. Second, Sundays were chosen for Raahgiri Days to minimize interference with businesses, as most stores in Connaught Place are closed on Sundays. On top of that, the event would be held from 6 – 9am, when no stores are open. Finally, organizers assured traders that Raahgiri would be implemented on a trial basis, and that no efforts at permanent pedestrianization would advance without collecting feedback from all stakeholders in Connaught Place.
New Delhi’s citizens and leaders embrace the spirit of Raahgiri Day
As in Gurgaon, it was not long before Raahgiri Day captured the minds of citizens across Delhi. Each edition of Raahgiri Delhi has grown larger than the previous. Following the third Raahgiri Sunday on July 20, 2014, Panda Bhatt went as far as to state, “There is a definite need to expand the area marked off for Raahgiri. This Sunday, the place was so bursting with cyclists and skaters, that there wasn’t enough space for everyone.”
Furthermore, Amit Bhatt, Strategy Head for Urban Transport at EMBARQ India, emphasized the importance of New Delhi’s leadership in promoting sustainable active transport among Indian cities:
“Good or bad, anything that is done in the urban transport and planning sector in Delhi, India is always the benchmark and is followed by the rest of the country without question, be it the installation of metro in the city or the city’s Master Plan. So the success of this event in Delhi could shape the future of this country.”
A prime example of the momentum Raahgiri has brought to New Delhi comes from Ms. Lekhi, who was so impressed with New Delhi’s rendition of Raahgiri Day that she declared all her official meetings with the NDMC would be converted into walking meetings on Raahgiri Sundays.
Raahgiri Delhi set to grow
With the event seeing increasing attendance and attention each week, the New Delhi Police and NDMC are looking to expand. They have already taken small steps, expanding from the inner circle roads of Connaught Place to the middle ring between weeks one and two. One day soon, advocates hope that all of New Delhi will soon reclaim its streets for people.
Read more about Raahgiri Day’s impacts on air quality, traffic safety, and local businesses on TheCityFix.