The move to make New Delhi’s iconic Connaught Place a pedestrian zone from February and keep out cars and other vehicles from its middle and inner circle roads, during a three-month trial programme is an inspiring attempt to reconquer public space.
Urban design in India is the preserve of State governments and local bodies, which have failed spectacularly to provide a safe, comfortable and accessible experience for walkers.
The pilot project in the national capital represents a refreshing change, taking a leaf out of the book of global cities that have pedestrianised their landmarks, often in the face of conservative opposition.
Contrary to apprehensions that restrictions affect commercial activity, the experience around the world has been quite the opposite:
1.better walking and public transport infrastructure and availability of food plazas attract more people, improving the local economy.
2.In America, pedestrian injuries decreased after vehicles were removed from Times Square.
3. Globally this has been the trend too when cities curb car use and clean up the air.
Such examples should convince the Ministry of Urban Development that it is moving in the right direction, and if anything, this needs to be extended to other cities.
In the intermediate phase, many cities find it rewarding to levy a stiff congestion charge on personal vehicles entering designated areas.
This is a mature idea and needs to be trialled in India, under its ongoing smart cities programme. It should be mandated by law that all proceeds would go towards funding walking, bicycling and emissions-free public transport infrastructure.
Measures to unclog cities are often posed, wrongly, as detrimental to the economy and efficiency. While cars will continue to remain relevant for longer-distance travel, dense urban areas need relief from excessive motorisation.