Over the last four months, as more than one lakh citizens have stepped into the streets on car-free Sundays transforming the city’s thoroughfares into vibrant public spaces, Coimbatore residents have started strongly calling for better pedestrian facilities in the city. The dramatic success of Coimbatore’s car-free Sundays has proved that there is demand for pedestrian infrastructure, and has encouraged civic authorities to begin implementing more permanent changes on ground. As a first step, the Coimbatore City Municipal Corporation (CCMC) has begun—redesigning and construction of city’s main roads with wider footpaths. In addition, the city plans to expand the car-free event to other areas such as Race Course Road.
Coimbatore’s car-free Sunday has been a huge success, and is bringing the city national attention. The comprehensive effort by CCMC was recently honored with the Best Project Award, Non-Motorised Transport (NMT) category, by India’s National Ministry of Urban Development. The national award was received by CCMC Commissioner K Vijayakarthikeyan at the Eighth Urban Mobility India Conference and Expo, 2015 held at New Delhi. Of the 40 cities that sent in entries, Coimbatore emerged the winner, recognizing both the success of the program and it’s potential to be replicated in cities across India
For decades, transport planning in India has focused on improving conditions for private vehicles at the expense of safe footpaths and cycling facilities. However, in most Indian cities at least a third of all daily trips are made by foot or cycle. In Coimbatore, rapid urbanisation is placing increasingly high pressure on the existing infrastructure. Until recently, the response to these pressures has been to widen roads and propose more flyovers, while the welfare of pedestrians and cyclists was often overlooked.
Fortunately, the success of car-free Sunday is transforming this paradigm. By creating a new platform for citizens to assert their right over the city’s public spaces, the program is sparking interest in better footpaths and safer streets. The initiative, which brought together other partners including Coimbatore City Police, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, the Residents Awareness Association of Coimbatore (RAAC) and the Times of India, helped generate the political backing for a comprehensive programme of pedestrian improvements.
Recently, the Coimbatore Council approved redesigning 13 km of streets in the city with wide and continuous footpaths. Gathering architects for the design of these streets is already in progress, and ITDP India will continue to play a role in the process. The Corporation is also creating a network of greenways along the city’s water bodies. Work is in progress on walkways along Perur Lake, while the edges of Ukkadam-Valan Kulam lake are being cleaned and beautified. Besides the construction of new footpaths, the Corporation has also set a goal of building raised pedestrian crossings outside 80 schools and redesigning two intersections for improved safety by August 2016.
(Left) Existing and (Right) Proposed pedestrian facilities on DB Road, Coimbatore
Car-free Sundays in Coimbatore reclaim only 2km of streets from traffic. However, even this modest beginning has made citizens realise the joy of walking on their streets and empowering them to voice their demand for better pedestrian facilities. With national leaders taking notice and local leaders taking action, Coimbatore’s non motorised future now looks promising. The vision of reclaiming the city for its people—Namma Kovai Namakke—is becoming a reality.