Raahgiri city plots street-smart future

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GURGAON: A busy metropolis like Gurgaon, immersed in riches of every variety, has a severe shortage of time. So when time is devoted – a whole workday morning, in fact – to discussing some of the more pressing concerns of the day, the gesture itself is significant. But Friday’s workshop, titled ‘Sustainable Transport in Gurgaon – What Next?’, went beyond gestures. It was an attempt to arrive at realistic solutions to the problems of urban transport in the city.

Bringing together the stakeholders – urban planners, government officials and residents – on one forum, the workshop, co-hosted by The Times of India and EMBARQ India, was seen as a necessary follow-up to Raahgiri Day’s immense success in Gurgaon.

Now that the Raahgiri movement is on the ascendant, and now that there is a palpable demand for better infrastructure for non-motorized transport in Gurgaon, what next? This was the crucial question the session sought answers to.

“Walking, cycling and public transport should be a right of residents in any city,” said Gil Penelosa in an inspired keynote speech that got the workshop under way. Penelosa is a former transport commissioner of Bogota, Colombia, and had a key role to play in taking the local cycling festival Ciclovia, on which Raahgiri Day is modelled, to new levels.

“Making sustainable transport work is not the issue of budgets and money, it’s about getting your priorities right,” he said, adding, political will was the pre-requisite for such changes to occur. Citing the example of his own record in Bogota, he said, “Twenty-seven years in that city, we had nothing. And within three years we built footpaths, parks and bikeways all across.”

Penelosa recommended that residential colonies be marked as “low-speed zones” and said the city required a network of protected cycle lanes “physically separated from the rest of the road”.

Making the case for sustainable transport from the view-point of industry was Nitin Seth of Nasscom. He said active commuting had become an “existential necessity” for the survival of Gurgaon’s industry. “Our transport costs are more than our real estate costs, which increasingly challenges the growth of our industry,” he said.

Seth further suggested the setting-up of a sustainable transport forum with representatives of the IT-BPO sectors, civil society and the administration, and which is “empowered to take decisions”.

S K Lohia, national project director of the Centre’s Sustainable Urban Transport Project, said revamping Gurgaon’s streets wouldn’t require massive investment. “High-cost infrastructure is not what’s needed here, small changes can make a huge difference,” he said.

Among other panellists at Friday’s conference was the commissioner of police Alok Mittal, and TOI’s Ranjan Roy, who said Raahgiri Day was the “opening up of a dialogue”, which is cultural on one level and administrative on another. What’s needed now is to take the next step ahead.



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