Last Sunday, 140,000 Mumbaikers showed up on Bandra’s Carter Road to celebrate their city’s first-ever Car Free Day. The Khar-Bandra-Santacruz Foundation organized the event, with co-sponsors including the Pirojsha Godrej Foundation, EMBARQ (producer of this blog) and other corporate and nonprofit partners. The event is modeled after initiatives like Bogotá’s Ciclovia and New York City’s Summer Streets. (Read an interview with one of the organizers, Seema Tiwari, here.) Streets normally clogged with congestion were closed to traffic, allowing local residents, celebrities, cyclists, and government officials to enjoy physical activity in a safe, non-motorized, fuel-free environment. The event organizers hoped for an engaging celebration that would allow people to envision their city with fewer cars, less pollution, and more bicycles.
TheCityFix: Would you say Mumbai’s first Car Free Day was a success?
Madhav Pai: It was definitely a success. The turnout was great. 1.5 kilometers of Carter Road were closed off, and residents really got to enjoy it. People were cycling, and kids were racing up and down the street on bikes or skates. The event had a street fair-like atmosphere, with all kinds of community activities, skating competitions, musical performances, yoga, dance, cricket, food stalls and representatives from the fitness industry.
Organizers combined the Car Free Day activities with the Cyclothon, which attracted 6,000 people. A lot of people bought bicycles to participate in it, and we got some good media coverage. And a group of cyclists rode 1,000 kilometers from Bangalore to Mumbai, passing through Car Free Day.
TCF: What is the next step?
MP: Next time, Car Free Day needs to get bigger. We need to continue to educate people about the benefits of cycling and the need for better facilities. We’re working on an evaluation of this event to see how we can best take advantage on the enthusiasm it generated. One thing was clear: Mumbaikers want to be able to cycle more regularly and more safely.
TCF: Do you think Car Free Day will motivate policymakers to create more bicycle infrastructure in the city?
MP: I hope so. They have shown little interest up to now. There are some initial ideas driven by NGOs, and we’re trying to educate advocacy groups who can push for bicycle improvements. But no plans are being formulated at the government level yet. The priorities of decision makers have been building roads and advancing a few transport projects like the monorail. We hope that if we show them citizens’ growing interest, they’ll respond.
TCF: What are the most important actions the government and NGOs could take to increase cycling and non-motorized transport in Mumbai?
MP: First, there are a lot of people who routinely cycle and walk in Mumbai. 42% of the mode share is still on foot – people are walking to work. And a significant number of people who work in the informal sector and who have no other transport alternatives depend on bicycles. The government’s policies must support those people. But we also want to reach out to potential cyclists who are now commuting by car, in order to shift more people to less-polluting forms of transport.
For both groups, there is one solution: providing cyclists with safe space, including bicycle lanes and parking. This is the most important thing the government can do to increase the viability of the bike as a commuting mode for a wider population, and it must be a focus of their policies.