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Mumbai Joins Other World-Class Cities to Celebrate “Car Free Day”
In addition to rollerskating, children were seen biking, running, walking and playing along car-free streets, far from pollution and air-conditioning. Photo by Madhav Pai.

In addition to rollerskating, children were seen biking, running, walking and playing along car-free streets, far from pollution and air-conditioning. Photo by Madhav Pai.

Last Sunday, Mumbai hosted a local event with global importance: Car Free Day. It was the first time the city had ever organized such an event, modeled after popular car-free days in other cities, such as Ciclovia in Bogotá and Summer Streets in New York City. About 140,000 people attended the community-based activities, which included not only walking and cycling but also yoga, cricket, dancing, skating, kite flying and musical performances. Organizers said the huge turn-out exceeded their expectations.

Now that the city has enjoyed its first taste of vehicle-free people-friendly streets,  local residents appear to want more: “We can breathe fresh air now,” one Carter Road inhabitant said in a DNA news article. “We want a car-free day every week.” As other cities have demonstrated, it’s not uncommon for car-free events to spark other sustainable transport projects. Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogotá, credits his city’s Ciclovia, created in the 1970s,  as planting the seeds for many other civic-minded and sustainable urban planning projects that happened afterwards, as described in this PBS documentary.

TheCityFix interviewed one of the Mumbai Car Free Day organizers, Seema Tiwari, and a local co-sponsor, Madhav Pai, from the Centre for Sustainable Transport in India (a member of the EMBARQ Network), before and after the event, to understand how Mumbai’s first-ever Car Free Day made a difference for Mumbaikers and what it means for the global sustainable transport community. Read some excerpts below.

From Seema Tiwari:

TCF: How does this Sunday’s event compare to other car-free initiatives in cities around the world?

ST: For Mumbai Car Free Day, we carefully reviewed Bogota and New York City’s car-free days — these two were our inspiration. The key difference is these that those events are led and funded by the government, whereas in Mumbai, it’s led by an NGO who fundraised with the private sector.

In India, the challenge is to get the government to reach an understanding that urban projects are just not “technical” but “socio-technical” in nature. It is important for them to make budgets for public awareness campaigns, like Car Free Day, through which we hope to bring behavioral change in people to appreciate and use the city’s facilities, rather then rebel against the government’s sustainable transport projects.

TCF: What are plans for the future?

ST: There will be an evaluation of the event to note down successes, failures and recommendations. This pilot project will be compiled into a report and submitted to the Ministry of Urban Development and the Maharashtra government. MOUD’s national urban transport policy clearly states the importance of such events for public awareness. Plus, under the funds provided by the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), there is a budget for capacity-building and public awareness campaigns, but it has not been mobilized so far. We would love for the Maharashtra Government to host future car-free days in cooperation with KBS all across Mumbai, as has already been done in Bogota and New York City.

To read the full interview, click here.

From Madhav Pai:

TCF: Do you think Car Free Day will motivate policymakers to create more bicycle infrastructure in the city?

MP: I hope so.  They have shown little interest up to now.  There are some initial ideas driven by NGOs, and we’re trying to educate advocacy groups who can push for bicycle improvements.  But no plans are being formulated at the government level yet.  The priorities of decision makers have been building roads and advancing a few transport projects like the monorail.  We hope that if we show them citizens’ growing interest, they’ll respond.

TCF: What are the most important actions the government and NGOs could take to increase cycling and non-motorized transport in Mumbai?

MP: First, there are a lot of people who routinely cycle and walk in Mumbai.  42% of the mode share is still on foot – people are walking to work.  And a significant number of people who work in the informal sector and who have no other transport alternatives depend on bicycles.  The government’s policies must support those people.  But we also want to reach out to potential cyclists who are now commuting by car, in order to shift more people to less-polluting forms of transport.

For both groups, there is one solution: providing cyclists with safe space, including bicycle lanes and parking.  This is the most important thing the government can do to increase the viability of the bike as a commuting mode for a wider population, and it must be a focus of their policies.

To read the full interview, click here.

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