Mumbai Streets Equality on Sundays
by Binoy Mascarenhas & Priyanka Vasudevan
Every day, Mumbai residents are being squeezed out of spaces to walk or cycle by the sheer pressure of cars, whose numbers are growing rapidly each year. A recent report by the Munich-based global consultancy Roland Berger Strategy Consultants stated that the Indian passenger vehicle market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12%, and will reach annual growth of five million cars by 2020. According to consultancy Strategy&, India will be the third largest market for annual vehicle sales in the world by 2030.
A strikingly common feature of almost every road improvement project in Mumbai is the complete eradication of footpaths. At the cost of already compromised footpath space and under the pretext of increasing road capacity, traffic lanes are being widened. This is, ironically, most prevalent on roads that need footpaths the most such as neighbourhood streets and commercial roads. As a result of eliminating footpaths, pedestrians are now forced to share road space with the traffic. The perceived increase in the road’s traffic capacity is not realised, because pedestrians who would have otherwise walked on the footpath, now walk by the side of or in between moving traffic. The road work becomes counter-productive as this reduces speed and capacity.
Even in places where footpaths have not been eliminated, their condition is in a state of disrepair and they are rendered unusable. Unlevelled footpaths, open manholes, crumbling paver blocks, encroachments, dirt, debris, bottlenecks and missing sections are just some of the many issues common across many footpaths in Mumbai.
Where they are forced to walk in the middle of the road, pedestrians are faced with unsafe car speed and movements resulting in their journey becoming a long, daunting and highly dangerous one. For a city like Mumbai, where 60 percent of the population walks, dilapidated facilities and a discontinuous network indicate a strong priority for other modes of transport. Urban policies, funding and infrastructure weigh in towards enhancing the mobility needs of vehicles; on the downside, this translates into minimal focus on pedestrians.
Equal Streets is a citizens’ movement that seeks to highlight the fundamental imbalance in Mumbai’s transport planning priorities. It intends to bring in a certain equality in transportation priorities and road space allocation, by especially focussing on the needs of the marginalised pedestrians and non-motorised transport users, while also addressing the concerns of all other road users. This movement is driven by the mantra that everyone has an equal right to the road, irrespective of their mode of transport.
As an immediate objective, the team conducted Equal Streets Day every Sunday, where one side of an arterial road was cordoned off for vehicles, and opened up to the public. The 6-km loop was brought alive by various activities and exercises conducted through collaborations with communities and other groups. These activities drew crowds from all around Mumbai, including its neighboring cities. The public’s response was phenomenal and highly indicative of the dearth for public space for safe mobility and recreational use.
The long-term vision for Equal Streets is to build momentum towards permanent change and facilitate this conversation between all stakeholders. The Equal Streets team, consisting of urban planners, architects and designers, has re-designed the two main arterial roads that hosted this open streets event every Sunday. The design proposal reimagines the space and aims to carve out public space in the suburbs and allocate comfortable and adequate space for pedestrian and non-motorised transport movement, achieving this through minimal loss of road capacity and without impeding local vehicular access. At present, these proposals are being readied for inputs from stakeholders.
The mobility of people, largely impeded by the lack of, dilapidated or encroached-upon footpaths, is merely an afterthought for Mumbai. Only a fraction of the transportation infrastructure outlay is devoted towards pedestrian mobility improvement, and these projects are often token-like in nature, such as foot-over bridges or skywalks. What Mumbai really needs is an integrated transport and mobility plan that places priority on the movement of people, not vehicles. Equal Streets works to catalyse this movement and create permanent change for users of sustainable transport modes, towards healthier urban mobility.
About the Authors:
Binoy Mascarenhas, Manager – Urban Transport, EMBARQ-WRI and Equal Streets Trustee, Twitter: @binoymas
Priyanka Vasudevan, Senior Associate – Urban Transport, EMBARQ-WRI and Equal Streets Trustee, Twitter: @vunderthetree
The project “Equal Streets Mumbai” won a Walking Visionary Jury Prize.