Nestled at the foothills of the Western Ghats, Coimbatore plays the perfect balancing act between two distinct worlds. One is resolute in maintaining its image of a sleepy retirement haven and the other nurtures aspirations of an emerging commercial centre. The city is the second largest in Tamil Nadu with a population of more than 2.5 million (2015 UN stats). Though, incessant urbanisation and industrialisation helped the city push its boundaries, it also left gaping holes in its urban planning. Transport systems being one of its main vulnerabilities.
In the past years, the city’s mobility infrastructure did not inspire much confidence. Walking and cycling, which account for a quarter of trips in the city, were neglected for years; with just 650 operational buses the supply misses demand by double the margin; the city has 2.2 million registered personal motor vehicles, that is eight vehicles per 10 person.
Taking stock of this unabated urbanisation, the city administration realised that an intervention was necessary. In 2013, the city supported the State’s ‘Sustainable Cities Through Transport’ initiative to develop a strategic plan to expand the use of sustainable transport. This also set the tone for the city’s bid for the Smart City Mission.
In its resolve to value its citizens, Coimbatore, supported by the ITDP India Programme and the Residents Awareness Association of Coimbatore, pioneered the ‘Car-free Sunday’ initiative in the state. The response to Car-free Sundays was spectacular and Coimbatore citizens came forward to make it a success. Such measures have allowed the city administration and its inhabitants to be receptive to the idea of sustainability in transport.
Eventually, the stage was set for larger agendas of sustainable transport. In 2017, the city cemented its intent by adopting the Street Design and Management Policy. The India Programme provided technical input for these regulations that aim to increase walking and cycling in the city to at least 50% of all trips. It also looked to ensure that 50% of all motorised trips are made by public transport in the next 15 years.
Paving the way for walking and cycling, the city aims to create infrastructure along 75% of its primary and secondary road networks before 2020. Even launching auxiliary projects like the state’s first bicycle sharing systems and the ‘Eco Restoration’ project, which aims to link eight major lakes and provide a 30-km pedestrian- and cycle-friendly greenway.
The citizens of Coimbatore have lapped up the vision of a sustainable transport network. This turnaround was recognised by the India’s National Ministry of Urban Development, which honoured the Coimbatore Corporation with the Best Project Award, Non-Motorised Transport category.
Clearly, Coimbatore is set to be on the right side of history in terms of sustainable urban planning. With projects such as the parking management system in the pipeline, Coimbatore could soon become a model city which other towns and cities aspire to replicate.