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  • Writer's pictureAngella Darling J

Pedestrianization - Bringing back Streets

Pedestrianization can be defined as the method of converting certain streets or areas exclusively for pedestrian use. These are also often known as car-free or auto-free zones. Such zones are created to facilitate accessibility and mobility for pedestrians. This helps in improving a plethora of factors, including economic, environmental, social, and public welfare. Pedestrianization projects are frequently linked to considerable reductions in local air and noise pollution, accidents, enhanced store turnover, and property values. The activity of walking, either as part of one’s transit, fitness regime or for leisure, is being increasingly associated with a city’s social life. The measures a city takes for the safety of its pedestrians are now becoming a deciding factor in its popularity.

Bicycles, inline skates, skateboards, and kick scooters are among the human-powered vehicles that can be found in pedestrian zones. Some prohibit everything with wheels, while others prohibit specific kinds, segregate human-powered wheels from pedestrian traffic, and still others have no laws at all.

Historically, many Middle Eastern Kasbahs (area surrounding a citadel) often had no wheeled traffic allowed, instead relying on donkey-drawn or hand-drawn carts to convey goods. Separating pedestrians from wheeled vehicles is a long-standing concept that dates back to the Renaissance. However, the notion appears to have been used in cities for the first time around 1800s, when the first covered retail arcade opened in Paris. Separated shopping arcades, forerunners of modern shopping malls, were built throughout Europe in the nineteenth century.

Traditional Kasbahs in Middle Eastern cities
Covered arcades for shopping in Paris
Present day Limbecker Straße

In Essen, Germany, the first "pedestrianisation" of an existing roadway appears to have occurred around late1920s. This happened on Limbecker Straße, an extremely tight shopping street with no room for both car and pedestrian traffic. In the early 1930s, two more German cities adopted a similar approach, but the concept was not widely adopted outside of Germany. Following the devastation of WWII, a number of European towns implemented initiatives to pedestrianize city streets, though mostly on an ad hoc basis and with little landscaping or planning, through the early 1950s. By 1955, twenty-one German cities had blocked at least one street to traffic, albeit only four of these were designated as "genuine" pedestrian routes.

Since its discovery in 1854, vehicles have been prohibited in the town of Matheran in Maharashtra, India. In India, 18 June Road, Panjim's main shopping avenue, has been designated as a Non-Motorised Zone (NoMoZo) as a result of a citizen's initiative in the state of Goa. Every month on one Sunday, the road is turned into a NoMoZo for half a day. Similar efforts have been made in Pune, Maharashtra, to transform M.G. Road (also known as Main Street) into an open-air mall. The goal of the project was to establish a so-called "walking plaza." Even the famous Chandni Chowk in Delhi, one of the most popular shopping districts in the country, remains a non-motorized zone from 9 am - 9 pm everyday.

Revamped non-motorised street of Chandni Chowk
Matheran - Automobile free hillstation

As for Kerala, it is a small strip of land that is heavily populated and environmentally fragile. And precisely for the same reason, pedestrianization is a near-optimal solution. The WHO's 2009 report, which analyzed the causes of accidents and policies, suggested that our roads are particularly unsafe for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcycle riders, who, without the protective cell of a car around them, are particularly vulnerable.

Even for Kochi, one of the fastest-growing metros in Kerala, the walkability index is only 0.53, which is just an average score. Studies show that Kochi faces grave issues in terms of pedestrian traffic safety. There is an acute lack of footpaths or proper drainage cover in most parts of the city, making way for very dangerous conditions for pedestrians.

The state of sidewalks for pedestrians in the city of Kochi

“In a quality city, a person should be able to live their entire life without

a car, and not feel deprived. "

Paul Bedford

"15-minute cities" was a concept developed by Carlos Moreno, a Sorbonne professor who aimed to improve the urban quality of life. With “hyper-proximity” to amenities, jobs, government services, public parks, shopping, and a variety of entertainment only by bike or foot, the concept reconsiders how cities can be better designed to support the basic needs of residents. Within this small radius of their homes, stronger communities will be created that allow residents to feel more invested in the businesses and services in their area. Melbourne has created its own take with a 20-minute neighborhood where everything is within a 20-minute commute. Reduce the heavy reliance on cars and recreate a sense of neighborhood that has diminished with the increase of urban sprawl. The goal is to transform the areas into more efficient and productive neighborhoods to reduce pollution and create socially and economically diverse areas.

Recently, as part of a collaboration with the Kottayam Municipality, we put together a proposal to make the heavily populated Kanjikuzhy junction at Kottayam more walkable. You can see it below:

If you design communities for automobiles, you will get more automobiles. If you design them for people, you get walkable, livable communities. "

Parris Glendening, Christine M., Todd Whitman

The main aim of pedestrian streets is to design public spaces with high priority for pedestrians. Literature shows that pedestrianizing a street will help enhance the vitality and livability of urban spaces, helps increase the city's livability, by improving the accessibility, mobility, safety and environment that make the city a good quality place to all its inhabitants. It will promote more independent movement and active play amongst children as well as more social interaction among adults. Less land taken for parking and roads, meaning more available green and social spaces. Inculcate low levels of vehicle use, resulting in much less traffic on surrounding roads. Pedestrianization is the simplest way to decongest roads and streets in CBDs and Heritage towns. Due to unavailability of space and socio-economic system, only feasible way to upgrade mobility and environment in such special areas is to pedestrianize them. The increasing public consciousness regarding air quality crisis and the tide of related issues should be a good enough motivation for citizens to choose against vehicles whereas it is the duty of the civic bodies to enable this by increasing walkability in the streets.

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