Indian cities have traditionally been centered around walking and cycling as the primary means of transport. For example, Chennai’s Comprehensive Transportation Study reports that walking and cycling account for almost 34 percent of all trips made in the city. With an increasing number of private vehicles on the road, the demand on road space growing by the day. Although there is an inherent recognition of the need to improve walking and cycling facilities in general, there is little understanding of design measures that could help make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
To address all these issues, ITDP held a series of capacity building workshops in Pune and Chennai from 4 to 8 February. The workshops brought together municipal engineers and officials working in the field together with street design expert Michael King from Nelson Nygaard. The workshops sought to bridge the gap between theory, reaality, and practice.
Mr. King specialises in multimodal transportation for livable communities. By working at the intersection of transportation and urban design, with a particular emphasis on pedestrian safety, bicycle facilities, traffic calming, and street architecture, he endeavours to ensure that streets serve the diverse needs of urban residents—beyond their role as a conduit for motor vehicle traffic.
In each workshop, participants formed groups and went out to visit a given site. The site audits gave participants a chance to examine the grim conditions faced by pedestrians every day. These issues were then addressed through a collaborative design exercise among the members of the group, the key aspects of which were then presented to the other groups to enable cross-learning and debate.
Considering that the city of Chennai has initiated a project to improve footpaths on 71 “bus route roads” in the city, the exercise comes at a crucial time to enable the decision makers and engineers to interact with experts and chart out a way forward. In Chennai, eager participation from local bureaucrats gave an impetus to implement some of the proposals as pilot projects, with Mayor Saidai Duraisamy indicating that all 400-odd main streets within the Corporation limits will be taken up for pedestrian improvements over the next 4 years.
ITDP is in the process of compiling the results of the workshop and preparing implementation plans based on participant drawings. Earlier workshops are beginning to yield results: in the city of Pimpri Chinchwad, officials have initiated the redesign of an intersection that was the subject of a workshop in September 2012. To conclude, in the words of Mr. Vikram Kapur, Commissioner, Corporation of Chennai, “All that is required is a change in mindset and a will to do it.”