Chennaites’ love story with Pondy Bazaar is one which spans across many generations, long before shopping malls sprouted across the city. It continues to weave its charm, attracting people from all walks of life across the world to be a part of this unique shopping experience. “Since my childhood I have been coming here for shopping. The experience of walking from shop to shop with my parents is a fond memory, which I am reliving now with my kids,” said Mr.Balaji, a 46-year old shopper. For him and many others, Pondy Bazaar is not just a space, but an emotion. To further enhance this feeling and the overall experience, Chennai Smart City Ltd. and Greater Chennai Corporation with design support from Darashaw and Studio R+R is implementing the much-awaited pedestrian plaza along Thyagaraya Road, the 1.4 km stretch of Pondy Bazaar between Panagal Park and Mount Road.
While the city is eagerly anticipating the plaza, local shopkeepers are concerned that the removal of cars and parking from Thyagaraya road might affect their sales. To understand the ground reality and possible solutions to address their concerns, the ITDP India Programme conducted a public opinion survey. Results show that only 25% of the shoppers visiting Pondy Bazaar park on Thyagaraya Road. These vehicles can be accommodated in the side streets and around Panagal Park, which is already preferred due to the availability of parking. The shoppers are eagerly looking forward to the vibrant pedestrian plaza, expressing their preference for an unhindered shopping space over cars!
Over the years, cars have gradually been dominating the street space, making life difficult for the shoppers. “I take fifteen minutes to cross this road! Accidents! Pollution! There is no peace of mind, and it’s because of the traffic,” said a survey respondent. Pondy Bazaar has become vehicle centric, taking space away from the public.
The pedestrian plaza planned by the city with support from the ITDP India Programme, is envisioned as an attractive public space for shoppers. With continuous pedestrian walkways, ample opportunity for seating, comfortable tree cover, and colourful play elements, the plaza will be easily accessible for women, children, senior citizens and people with disabilities.
The project aims at transforming the street to encourage more people to walk, shop and wander, without the fear of accidents. It will enhance pedestrian and cyclist safety, foster community interaction, and boost local businesses. Once implemented, the Thyagaraya Road will prioritise public transport and cars will not be allowed. By transforming the shopping street from a car-centric to a people-centric space, the pedestrian plaza will result in better air quality, health, and wellbeing of the users.
The citizens had a glimpse of the new Pondy Bazaar experience during the trial runs held in November 2016 and February 2017. With cars stopped from entering Thyagaraya Road, traffic progressed smoothly and shoppers had more room for walking and other fun activities and games. The space was filled with laughter, smiles, and a new-found energy, showing the impact the proposal could have on the users, for generations to come.
Despite the excitement for this project, the local shopkeepers have raised concerns about the impact of pedestrianisation on their revenue. With the proposed multi-level car park still under construction, the shopkeepers are worried that shoppers would drive away to other destinations with better parking facilities. To understand the actual travel needs of the shoppers, the ITDP India Programme conducted an on-ground survey of over 500 shoppers, in collaboration with the RVS School of Architecture.
The survey showed that over half of the shoppers reach Pondy Bazaar by means of public transport, walking or cycling. Amongst the private motor vehicle users, more than half already park on the side streets and at Panagal Park. While Thyagaraya Road has a capacity of roughly 200 vehicles, the side streets which are currently under-utilised for parking, can accommodate nearly 500 parked vehicles.
Therefore, one possible and feasible solution is to shift parking from Thyagaraya Road to the side streets, through an effective parking management system. Demand-based parking fees combined with strong enforcement will ensure that cars are not irresponsibly parked in front of residence gates or on footpaths. This will also help shoppers find parking spots more conveniently through their phones, saving time, and fuel.
When asked about accessing Thyagaraya Road from the side streets, 78 percent of the users felt it was easy to park on the side streets and walk to the shops. A whopping 94 percent of the shoppers expressed how they were looking forward to a Pondy Bazaar, free of cars and designed for the pedestrians.
Pondy Bazaar has always been and will continue to remain a strong evergreen sentiment. By prioritising pedestrians, especially children, elderly and other vulnerable users over vehicles in the Pedestrian Plaza, Chennai is opening up new ways of experiencing the space. The people and their interactions make a city. The Pedestrian Plaza is bound to attract more locals and foreigners, boost the economy and above all, enhance the identity of this shopping hub.
Written by AV Venugopal, Research Associate at ITDP India.