“High-quality public pedestrian space is evidence of a true democracy at work” – Enrique Penalosa, Former Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia
Starting on November 17, an entire street in Gurgaon, India will be transformed into a car-free zone every Sunday where citizens can come together and use the street for recreation. The street will be closed to automobiles from 7:00 am to 12:00 pm, and open for recreational and community leisure activities. Some Sundays will also offer opportunities for street dancing and live music. Christened as Raahgiri Day, the recurring event will celebrate the fact that cities are meant for people, not cars.
Raahgiri Day seeks to spark new future for Gurgaon
Gurgaon is known as India’s “Millennium City” due to its tremendous recent urbanization. Within the last decade, the city has transformed from farming town to major technology hub. Its rapid growth has spurred a tremendous increase in vehicular traffic, and a lack of public transport, walking, and cycling paths have made pedestrian life very difficult in the city. In addition to a serious infrastructure shortage to adequately serve the current population, Gurgaon faces other challenges common in many Indian cities, including deteriorating roads and pollution. Raahgiri Day is an effort to create a new future for the city, and to build a city with bicycle paths and pedestrian avenues interwoven throughout its urban landscape.
Gurgaon joins a myriad of cities worldwide that are implementing innovative transportation and urban planning. Driven by ever increasing road congestion and a growing awareness of transport’s impact on the environment, sustainable urban transport has emerged as a top priority in many of the world’s major cities. For example, Suwon, South Korea transformed an entire neighborhood into a car-free zone during its month-long EcoMobility World Festival in September.
Increasing demand on transportation infrastructure
In recent years, Gurgaon has emerged as the third largest information technology (IT) center in India. It currently holds a 10 percent share in the country’s software exports and employs roughly 200,000 people. Due to its close proximity to India’s capital city, Delhi, a large number of skilled and semi-skilled workers have moved to Gurgaon in the last 10 years, increasing the city’s population by about 73.93% to about 1.5 million.
Due to the number of proposed Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in Gurgaon’s metropolitan area, the population is expected to grow to about 4.3 million by 2031 – a staggering threefold increase from the present population. Peak hour motorized transport demand is estimated to be about 370,000 by 2031 compared to today’s demand, which hovers around 130,000. The impact of this significant increase in demand on transport infrastructure is a critical challenge for the city.
The story behind Raahgiri Day
Raahgiri Day is modeled after Ciclovía, an event that began in Bogotá, Colombia in 1976, which closes streets to cars and opens them for the exclusive use of people for running, cycling, skating, or other recreational activities. Today, up to 2 million Bogotá residents from all walks of life still enjoy over 70 miles of car-free streets every Sunday. This concept has gone on to inspire several cities around the world to promote sustainable transport, and facilitate social integration while highlighting environmental issues.
In an effort to choose a more Indian name for Gurgaon’s event that would resonate with the city’s residents, the organizers selected Raahgiri – a term that brings two ideas together. Raah refers to a path or journey towards a final goal, and GandhiGiri is a colloquial adaptation of Mahatma Gandhi’s transformative technique of non-violence. In a city like Gurgaon, where car use is on the rise, it is hoped that Raahgiri Day will encourage people to ditch their cars, and promote physical activity by influencing residents to get up, get out, and get moving.
Raahgiri Day is more than an event. It’s a milestone crafted to galvanize the citizens of Gurgaon to participate in a shared vision of an active, car-free lifestyle. Raahgiri Day is an important step forward towards making Gurgaon a more sustainable, environmentally friendly, and forward-thinking city – a city alive with active citizens who take part in shaping its future.