Raahgiri Day promotes people-friendly streets in Gurgaon, India
In seven short weeks, Sundays in Gurgaon, India, have become ubiquitously associated with Raahgiri Day, a non-motorized community event that closes 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) of city streets to vehicles and opens them to people. Boasting about 60,000 weekly participants, Gurgaon’s streets are now full of revelers playing, walking, and riding bicycles each Sunday. In the wake of Raahgiri Day’s success and the event’s extensive media coverage, the movement may seem to have sprung up organically, but its roots go back over a year.
EMBARQ India was involved from the beginning stages of conceptualizing and planning Raahgiri Day, which has become a groundbreaking event in India, raising awareness about the benefits of non-motorized transport and setting a precedent for other Indian cities to follow.
Humble beginnings: The roots of Raahgiri Day
In November 2012, Gurgaon First and Gurgaon Renewal Mission co-organized a one-day workshop, “Finding Traffic Solutions for Gurgaon,” which discussed civic issues pertaining to Gurgaon, India’s “Millennium City.” The workshop was attended by various stakeholders, including Amit Bhatt – EMBARQ India’s Strategy Head for Integrated Urban Transport – and the major consensus they arrived at was that traffic chaos and congestion were the biggest issues in Gurgaon.
At the workshop, Bhatt raised the point that a significant contributor to Gurgaon’s traffic problems was a lack of a cohesive policy for non-motorized transport. He argued that traffic chaos was a result of ineffective planning that focused on moving cars, rather than moving people. Instead of continuing to focus on building vehicle-friendly infrastructure, Bhatt suggested the construction and development of more non-motorized transport facilities for both cyclists and pedestrians. As a testament to our increasingly technologically connected society, The Traffic Solutions workshop led to the formation of a non-motorized transport (NMT) Google group, which has served as an active forum for discussing and advocating for NMT in Gurgaon ever since.
EMBARQ India’s organizing role
The next step on the path towards Raahgiri Day was a workshop organized by EMBARQ India in February 2013 focused on non-motorized transport planning in Gurgaon. The workshop was attended by over 40 participants from various stakeholder groups, and produced a collective agreement that significant steps needed to be taken to enhance the safety and security of city streets for non-motorized transport users, combined with an effort to reduce the emphasis on developing infrastructure for private vehicles.
Stemming from that workshop, EMBARQ India became part of a growing, broader movement promoting non-motorized transport in Gurgaon. For example, NASSCOM – the premiere organization that represents and sets the tone for public policy for the Indian software industry, a major economic sector in Gurgaon – began promoting active commuting to its employees and encouraging them to use public transport to get to work, particularly Gurgaon’s metro. A large bicycling rally also took place in April 2013 with participation by students from Gurgaon’s Heritage School, which proved to be a very effective tool in promoting NMT in the city.
Raahgiri Day is born: Overcoming challenges to make it happen
It was after the bicycle rally that the idea for car-free Sundays in Gurgaon took firm root. However, it quickly became apparent that an event of such magnitude would need to have a high impact. With this challenge in mind, EMBARQ India took the lead in developing the technical aspects of the event, a great part of which necessitated generating community support. To this end, EMBARQ India staff led by Bhatt made strategic presentations to public agencies, including the city’s traffic police, who were very keen on the idea in addition to many prominent journalists. As a result of this outreach, both Gurgaon’s traffic police and several media sources have been at the forefront of promoting Raahgiri Day.
The greatest challenges to implementing Raahgiri Day were identifying a venue for the event, and devising a plan for parking, activities, and traffic management. Although it was originally thought that the event might be better attended if it were held in a neighborhood park, a busy part of downtown Gurgaon was chosen in order to adhere to the spirit of the event. And the location has proved to be a blessing, because it draws participants from many parts of the city and from diverse social groups.
After a long conceptualization and planning process, Raahgiri Day has been in action since November 17, 2013. The event is already helping change perceptions about non-motorized mobility in India, and with Gurgaon’s urban residents calling for Raahgiri Day to be made a permanent feature of their city, the growing momentum for equitable urban spaces has the exciting potential to continue spreading throughout India.