DB Road and NSR Road are two of busiest streets in Coimbatore, where one can often see pedestrians fighting for space with vehicles. But every Sunday morning, thanks to car-free days, such scenes are replaced with those of citizens walking, cycling and playing. Initiated in August 2015, car-free Sundays have not only provided a new form of public space for people to unwind, they have also brought together various organisations working on improving Coimbatore and helped initiate dialogue on different issues in the city.
Residents Awareness Association of Coimbatore (RAAC) is one such citizen organisation. Along with Coimbatore City Municipal Corporation, Coimbatore City Police and ITDP, RAAC was a founding partner of Namma Kovai Namakke (‘Our Coimbatore for Ourselves’), a campaign to create people-friendly streets in Coimbatore. In conversation with ITDP, R Raveendran, from RAAC, speaks about what residents want for Coimbatore. Responses have been translated from Tamil and have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Coimbatore has seen rapid growth in traffic over the past few years. What can the city do to address this concern?
The concept of traffic jams in Coimbatore was unheard of, even a few years ago. But of late, there are traffic jams that last an hour or more. In this context, project such as car-free Sundays and better streets for walking and cycling are timely interventions.
Giving importance to pedestrians is a novel idea in Coimbatore, and people support this idea. Before this, we didn’t know concepts like pedestrian movement and walkability. People ended up walking on busy streets, sharing space with vehicles. With car-free days, children can now play on the streets. Residents have realised the importance of walking as well.
Namma Kovai Namakke has been very well received in Coimbatore. Tell us more about what makes this campaign a success.
Streets become highly energetic on car-free Sundays, new friendships are being formed, and the image of the city itself has been transformed. The cultural activities are a great hit, with many schools coming forward on their own to organise dance, drawing and other activities. Laughter clubs are popular with the older crowd. Walking and fitness activities are popular among all ages. For children who have forgotten or never experienced the idea of playing on the streets, car-free Sundays provide a place to kick a football and run around.
Within a short time, the city has expanded car-free Sundays from DB Road to NSR Road. How has the event been received in the second location? What makes this one different?
The event on NSR Road is also getting a lot of attention. With new activities like street magic, flash mobs and street music planned every week, people have something new to look forward to. Often, there are popular chief guests who come in. This also draws many people.
How have car-free Sundays helped in engaging people in the city-building process, in initiating a dialogue on different social issues in Coimbatore?
With car-free Sundays, residents now have a platform to talk about these issues. Many community organisations meet during the car-free Sundays to discuss common problems. The message that people want better footpaths has come out strongly in the event. Even for other social issues like voter awareness or disability rights, the event has become a platform where different people can communicate with each other as well as with the government.
What kind of public space improvements do you look forward to in Coimbatore? What public transport improvements do residents want in the city?
Coimbatore has been selected for funding under the Smart City Mission, and we hope that better footpaths on all roads, with features like good lighting, will be a part of the project. Work to redevelop six roads with better footpaths has already been initiated by the municipal corporation, in collaboration with ITDP.
We look forward to redevelopment of the lakes and creation of cycling tracks. Cycling is becoming increasingly popular here and streets needs to be made safer for cyclists. Such projects are not too expensive and should be a part of the government budget and implemented quickly. To address traffic congestion, we hope that the city develops a mass transit system that will help reduce use of personal motor vehicles.
What other projects do you work on? How does Namma Kovai Namakke fit in with your overall vision for Coimbatore?
We work on many projects like source segregation of waste, increasing green cover, developing parks and improving roads. We conduct activities related to restoring forests and rivers, and improving the quality of life in the city. We want the city to develop in a positive way, and initiatives like Namma Kovai Namakke help the cause.
Car-free days are held every Sunday, from 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., on DB Road, TV Swamy Road, as well as NSR Road in Coimbatore. All are welcome. For more information, log on to https://www.facebook.com/NammaKovaiNamakke.