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Posted at: Jan 13, 2015, 1:24 AM; last updated: Jan 13, 2015, 1:24 AM (IST)

Having car-free roads on Sundays

Having car-free roads on Sundays

Our neighbourhood in the Millennium City is largely made of young corporate professionals. Known to party hard over the weekend, it was a usual sight to find them perched on the balconies late Sunday mornings, unwinding over pots of green tea. However, the scenario has undergone a dramatic change in the past few months.

It all started one Sunday morning last year. As part of a unique initiative, two inner roads, one astride Vyaprkendra in Susahant Lok 1 and the other beside the Galleria Market in DLF Phase IV, were closed to vehicular traffic and thrown open to the public for outdoor activities like jogging, cycling and roller skating. The concept of ‘car-free Sunday’ originated in Bogota, the capital city of Colombia, in 1976. It was replicated in Gurgaon, the first time in India to show solidarity with the pedestrians under the name “Raahgiri”.

 When Raahgiri was launched, the organisers were uncertain whether the idea to reclaim the roads, otherwise dotted by unending vehicles trails, would ever take off! Surprisingly, the movement gained momentum with each passing week. Numerous activities like aerobics, martial arts, power yoga, music concerts and street plays emerged as crowd pullers. Various organisations came forward to even provide bicycles and select sports equipment for free.   

 It is a rare sight to see the roads, which on normal days groan under mad traffic, turn into amusement parks from 5 to 10 each Sunday morning. What is heartening is the diversity of participants, young and old, who come from all walks of life. During the recent elections, when Raahgiri was discontinued, there was resentment among residents.

On November 16 last year, celebrations were held to mark the first anniversary of the Rahagiri initiative. A former Mayor of Bogota, Mr Enrique Penelosa, the pioneer of this initiative, flew all the way to Gurgaon. In a brief address, he recalled: “The spirit behind the initiative was that at least for a few hours, allow human beings to conquer the city”.  Delhi and Gurgaon together have two times the population of Bogota. Whereas Bogota has 104 km city roads which are open to public on Sunday, Delhi NCR has barely 5km for Raahgiri. 

Mr Enrique pointed out that before cars descended on roads, no one ever died in a road accident. Today, a cyclist or a pedestrian is highly vulnerable and unsafe as Indian city roads do not cater for them. As India has planned to build 100 smart cities, the belated urbanising process is a blessing in disguise as the new cities can cater to non-motorised transport. This will result in dismantling the monopoly of cars and make pedestrians and cyclists influential stake-holders in urban planning.    

The Raahgiri slogan of ‘Apni rahen, apni azaadi’ has become an essential part of the lives of the residents of Gurgaon. It is turning to be a game-changer and the trend is fast catching up in other metropolitans. The best thing is that Raahgiri is a people's movement in which lesser mortals rule the roost! 

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