Image Courtesy: http://www.wrirosscities.org
Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL), in cooperation with the Ernakulam District Administration, Kochi City Traffic Police, GCDA and Kochi Biennale Foundation is planning to conduct a `Happy Streets’ programme in Kochi on the lines of a programme called `Raahgiri’, which is a regular event held in more than 15 Indian cities. This will be held on 1st May, Sunday morning from 06.30 am to 10.30 am on Shanmugham Road.
The concept of `Happy Streets’ is that on Sunday mornings, a major road in town is temporarily closed to traffic and given back to pedestrians, cyclists and other Non-Motorised Transport (NMT) users. It is a great opportunity for people to `reclaim the streets’ for peaceful and festive uses. The reclaimed public space is used for open-air activities such as sports and cultural activities.
Major Indian cities now have this as a regular event: Delhi (4 locations), Gurgaon, Bhopal, Hyderabad, Navi Mumbai, Bhubaneswar, and the list is long. It is a very scalable event that can be adapted to the size of the city concerned and will increase with the number of the participants and sponsors. In Gurgaon, the event had been launched two and a half years ago, and a million people have already participated in the same.
The efficiency of the `Raahgiri’ has been proven in many ways. It has helped increase the number of bicycles on the roads (28% of the participants bought bicycles after Raahgiri), and the modal share of NMT (87% of the participants started walking/cycling on a regular basis after Raahgiri). The image of the `Raahgiri’ itself changed dramatically amongst the population, from 80% who opposed it before the event to 79% in favour of it, post the event. It is now quite popular in those cities where it is conducted regularly.
Beside its positive effects on health and the increased use of NMT systems like walking and cycling, the `Raahgiri’ days have had a positive influence on the sales for local business. It led to an increase of 27% in the sales compared to that of a normal Sunday.
As KMRL is already engaged in an approach to increase the use of NMT, it was decided to conduct one such event in Kochi, as it is the best option to create sensibility towards the use of NMT. Though the event is an initiative of KMRL, it will be organised with the support of the District Administration, Kochi City Traffic Police, GCDA, Kochi Corporation, Kochi Biennale Foundation and partners like NGOs, local sports & arts clubs and other like-minded organisations who are also working in this area.
The road shall be closed from both the sides and shall be used to create a safe and festive zone for everyone to engage in walking, sports, cycling, fitness, culture and community-building activities, and enjoy the public realm. The objective of this event is for people to rebuild their relationship as pedestrians and cyclists with the city of Kochi, and enable them to realise the quality of life that could be obtained with less-aggressive traffic.
EMBARQ, an NGO associated with the World Resources Institute (WRI), a global research organisation conducting `Raahgiri’ in all these cities, is providing technical information and assistance for planning the `Happy Street’ day in Kochi too.