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Tuesday , 14 May 2024

Walking Tall, Pedaling Strong: India’s Comeback of Active Mobility

Transitioning to walking and cycling for shorter journeys holds incredible potential for our planet. It keeps the air cleaner, enables inclusive mobility, and dials back those emissions that are warming the atmosphere. Additionally, poorly designed pedestrian and cycling infrastructure has given rise to unsafe urban environments for people. The stark reality of 26,000 pedestrian fatalities in India during 2019 underscores the urgency. Recognising the need for proactive measures, India embarked on a journey to revive safe walking and cycling. Kashmira Dubash, Senior Program Manager – Development, Communications, and Partnerships, ITDP India gives a report

Over 100 Indian cities collaborated to materialise the vision of Cycles4Change and Streets4People. It all started with a vision back in 2020 when India decided to ride the wave of interest in walking and cycling sparked by the Covid lockdowns. During this period, people rekindled an appreciation for the simplicity and advantages of these active modes of mobility. If there was ever a moment to take action, it was right now.

The Government of India’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, under the Smart Cities Mission, introduced Cycles4Change and Streets4People Challenge. They adopted a novel approach involving 100 cities to test, learn, and scale up walking and cycling interventions, ushering in transformative changes to urban streets. Second, these initiatives established an open platform that fostered cross-city learning and knowledge exchange. Third, they facilitated vibrant partnerships, uniting numerous experts and community groups in a collaborative effort to achieve a shared goal.

As a knowledge partner, ITDP India provided technical and communication expertise, facilitated capacity-building workshops, and set up peer-learning platforms.

Test-Learn-Scale approach

The goal was to rekindle a fond connection between people and these modes. Cities conducted a nationwide survey to engage with its citizens and leaders to uncover the barriers hindering walking and cycling. An impressive 60,000 people responded. Then, designated sites were identified—whether specific streets, public areas, or entire neighbourhoods—marked for revitalisation. Cities initiated design competitions, extending invitations to community members, designers, and planners, fostering diverse perspectives to enrich the creative process and contribute ideas for enhancing these spaces.

The designs were put to the TEST through practical urban interventions, known as tactical urbanism. Innovations like segregated cycle lanes in    Pimpri-Chinchwad and the temporary closure of a heritage site to cars in Ujjain showcased the potential of these changes. A noteworthy achievement surfaced as numerous streets transformed from provisional fixes into permanent solutions, marking a significant step forward in this endeavour.

Following that, the LEARN stage offered the community and stakeholders an opportunity to contribute their perspectives on temporary street interventions through nationwide offline and online surveys. Insights from the surveys were then disseminated across various cities through an information-sharing platform set up by ITDP India, igniting a collaborative spirit that inspired cities. For example, the success of Kohima’s cycle repair clinics served as a catalyst, prompting over 20 additional cities to create similar facilities and thereby revitalising cycling within their communities.

The conclusive phase, SCALE-UP, aimed to encourage transformations on the ground and secure funding for the city. A jury panel selected 39 cities as “pioneers” for exemplary leadership, creative transformation on the ground, and extensive collaboration with their community and stakeholders. In January 2022, the top 11 cities, among the pioneers from both Challenges, were awarded by the Smart Cities Mission.

These pioneering cities are now establishing a solid foundation by adopting the Healthy Streets Policy and establishing committees to enhance institutional capacity and drive transformative change. To bring tangible changes, these cities are creating ambitious plans and allocating budgets to expand and formalise their pilot programs into permanent infrastructure.

The impact

Through the Challenges, a remarkable 15 cities have laid a strong groundwork by embracing the Healthy Streets Policy, with another 17 currently in progress. The result? Over 500kilometress of enhanced streets have already become a reality. Beyond these accomplishments, more than 60 open street events and campaigns have facilitated direct community engagement, subtly nudging toward a favourable change in behaviour.

An inspiring close to a national endeavour

As the Challenges come to a close, it is a moment to pause and witness the remarkable transformations they have ignited in cities throughout India. What is truly astonishing is that the changes we have been tirelessly pursuing in India for over a decade are beginning to take shape in a mere three years since the inception of these challenges. A decade ago, proposing walking and cycling infrastructure in a city may have appeared far-fetched, but today it is a full-blown trend, a craze that has captured everyone’s heart.

Through these Challenges, cities have honed their ability to create better streets for people to enjoy, walk, and cycle, and fostered valuable partnerships, igniting changes on the ground. We extend our best wishes to all Indian cities. Their efforts serve as a beacon of inspiration, and we eagerly anticipate the opportunity to share their experiences to inspire global change.

Kashmira Dubash
Senior Program Manager – Development, Communications, and Partnerships, ITDP India

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