November 17, 2013 was a groundbreaking day in the history of Gurgaon, when 10,000 people came out of their houses to enjoy the country’s first ever car-free Sunday. Raahgiri Day had arrived! Without vehicles dominating the streetscape, pedestrians, cyclists, and runners all converged on the streets; children took the opportunity to play soccer, cricket, and badminton; skating enthusiasts honed their skills; and fitness enthusiasts enjoyed Zumba classes.
Ever since then, about 3.5 lakh people have participated in this movement, which happens every Sunday for 4-5 hours in the morning on dedicated stretches of roads which are blocked for motorized traffic and opened for people. Along with getting extensive media coverage, Raahgiri Day has recently been chosen as one of the 24 most inspiring stories for “Pathways to Green Cities” by the Global Advisory Committee of The Earth Day Network. It has also won the early-bird prize for UL and Ashoka Changemakers: Safer Roads, Safer India Competition and has been selected as one of six most innovative solutions in addressing road safety.
Poor NMT Infrastructure in Gurgaon spurs the need for Raahgiri Day
According to the Integrated Mobility Plan of Gurgaon, the mode share of walking, pedal cycle and cycle rickshaw in Gurgaon is 23%, 8% and 2% respectively, which makes the total mode share of cycling and walking in the city equal to 33%.
Even with 1/3rd of population in Gurgaon walking or cycling to meet their mobility needs (especially shorter distances of up to 3-4 kms), Non-Motorized Transport facilities are non-existent in the city. Practically no separate lanes are available for Non-Motorized Vehicles, which forces them to the share the main stream with vehicular traffic and leads to unsafe traffic conditions on roads. With almost all infrastructure designed only for cars, data shows that on an average there is one pedestrian/cyclist death in Gurgaon every day.
The story behind Raahgiri Day
The conceptualization and planning of Raahgiri Day in Gurgaon goes back over an year. Local inhabitants from five organizations – EMBARQ India, IAmGurgaon, Pedalyatri, Duplays Gurgaon and Heritage School, who could no longer sit back and watch their city die, joined hands to create a new future for their city. With the backing of the local administration – the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon (MCG) and Gurgaon Police – there was a commitment to create an example of a clean, green and sustainable city.
Raahgiri Day is modeld after Ciclovia, an event that began in Bogotá, Colombia in 1976, which closed streets to cars and opened them for the exclusive use of people. Today, up to two million Bogotá residents from all walks of life still enjoy over 70 miles of car free streets every Sunday. In order to choose a more Indian name for Gurgaon’s event that would resonate with the city’s residents, the founders 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, the objective of Raahgiri Day is to encourage people to ditch their cars, and promote physical activity by influencing residents to get up, get out, and get moving.
Impact of this movement in Gurgaon
Close to 500 people die in Gurgaon every year on account of poor road safety, majority of whom are pedestrians and cyclists. There has been a remarkable impact on road safety at the Raahgiri stretch since the event has begun. During a recent survey conducted by EMBARQ India, it was found that there were five road fatalities in the Sushant Lok area from Jan-Oct 2013. However, since the event began in November 2013, this number has come down to zero. These statistics speak a lot about the potential that this initiative has to make our roads safer. This has also to do with the phenomenal support and participation from Gurgaon Police, who conduct activities on Raahgiri Day every Sunday to generate awareness about road safety.
It is clear that we need to re-look at the way we are looking at mobility and city design because the status quo is not sustainable at all.
Another unexpected outcome of Raahgiri Day is the increase in bicycle sales in Gurgaon. “The biggest deterrent to using cycling as a mode of transportation in cities is the non-availability of a cycle itself”, says Amit Bhatt, Strategy head, Integrated transport, Embark India. In our survey, out of a sample size of 185, 28% of respondents said that after experiencing cycling on Raahgiri Day, they now own a bicycle; 59% said they now cycle/walk to the Raahgiri venue, while a substantial 87% said they now cycle/walk to cover shorter distances.
According to the survey, 31% people said that they came with friends, and 53% said that they came with their families. For a city like Gurgaon, which is dominated by condominiums and huge segregated private properties, Raahgiri Day gives residents an opportunity to meet and greet new people and has instilled a sense of belonging amongst them. “Instead of sleeping it over, we now prefer to come to Raahgiri Day on Sunday mornings. The sight of all these young kids jumping and dancing, and bands performing is infectious”, says a Raahgiri patron.
Raahgiri Day has also had a significant impact on noise and air pollution in the event zone, directly impacting the quality of life of people.
Expanding in and beyond Gurgaon, building a strong future for the city
Raahgiri Day began by blocking 4.8km of roads in the city. But the encouraging turnout every Sunday and numerous requests from citizens soon got the authorities and founding members thinking about its expansion. Hence the route was first expanded to 11.5km and then to 14.5km following the ciclovia model, which today has a 120km path being blocked every Sunday.
But this is not it. Inspired by Gurgaon, enthusiastic citizens in other parts of the country are also following suit. One such city is Ludhiana where a 13 year old school girl, after going through the Raahgiri Day facebook page, got inspired by what was happening in Gurgaon. She encouraged her friends and teachers at school and her family to have a similar movement in Ludhiana, making Ludhiana the first city after Gurgaon to have implemented sustained car-free Sundays. The other city that has implemented Raahgiri is Navi Mumbai. But the biggest leap for the movement is scaling it from a city of 800K (Gurgaon) to a city of 22 million. Raahgiri Day was launched in Delhi from July 13, as a part of which the inner circle of Connaught Place and various radial roads leading to the inner circle were blocked.
While talking about the expansion Amit Bhatt says, “Raahgiri / Ciclovia is not an end but a means toward an end, which is sustainable development. Ciclovia led to construction of permanent bikeways (now 320km network) and sidewalks (all over the city) in Bogota. We hope what Ciclovia did for Bogota, Raahgiri will do the same for India; our cities will have better infrastructure for active commuters and better quality life for our children.”
Kanika Jindal Associate Embarq India