New Delhi: Public places will need to become more suited for pedestrians and walking and cycling networks will need to be expanded in a post-Covid world, the Union housing and urban affairs ministry said in an advisory to states, asking them to redesign some market places as part of a pedestrianisation experiment.
The initiative comes at a time when experts fear increased infection risk in mass transit, which in India is usually crowded at rush hours. Experts and officials handling policy in these areas believe those that can will switch to personal transport, which could have implications for pollution as well as congestion.
“COVID-19 has brought cities around the world to a halt. Public transport is either shut or very limited in many cities. Movement of private motor vehicles is controlled. However, cities have benefitted from cleaner air. As cities look to ease the lockdown, the need of the hour is to provide safe, affordable and equitable modes of transport and also ensure physical distancing,” the advisory said.
The ministry has asked states to select at least three market places in cities with million-plus population for the ‘pedestrianisation’ plan. For cities with fewer than a million people, at least one market area has to be redesigned and the selections need to be done by the end of this month, the ministry said in the advisory, seen by HT.
“This will require proper survey of space used in the present scenario by various stakeholders. A movement/direction plan has to be prepared to see that there are designated walking paths where visitors are able to follow social distancing,” it said.
Once the plan is made and firmed up, cities may start implementing it in two phases: measures that can be done in the short-term and those that will need more time.
“Short-term recommendations include interventions that are quick, temporary, east to install, and ensure safety to commuters after the lockdown. The market spaces could be rearranged with quick and temporary measures such as barricades, road closure for vehicles, etc…On-street parking space or even carriageway lanes can be re-purposed for more walking and waiting space…Cyclists may be allowed with dedicated/ear-marked pathways,” it said.
Access ways motor vehicles for area residents should be clearly delineated and municipal bodies may increase the width of foot paths of the streets leading to the market, it added, while also recommending provisions for high frequency public transit.
According to the ministry, redesigning vending spaces provides a good opportunity for innovations and long-term local authorities can begin working on long-term permanent structures to increase pedestrianisation once short-term steps prove effective.
The planning, which the government described as needing to be holistic, can be done over the next three months till September 30 but a survey of vendors and others users of a market should be done by July 31.
“By the end of September 2020, a plan may be formalised to start implementation. Short term measures such as temporary barricading, closure of roads for traffic, earmarking spaces, etc. to assess the plan on the field may be started in the first week of October 2020. The assessment of the implemented plan through short term measures may be done by November 2020 and amendments as required ma be completed by November 2020,” it added.
Experts welcomed the initiative. “This is a very important step and we should move quickly on it. If you look at cities around the world—London, New York etc, they are all moving shorter trips to cycling and walking which are contact-free and make mobility safer. They also reduce pressure on already stressed public transport systems that will have to operate under social distancing norms. In urban India about nearly 48% of daily trip are below a distance of 5 KM and this is a big opportunity for India to move these short trips towards cycling and to promote it as an independent mode of travel. With the advisory we will have a clear map into transitioning towards pedestrianisation,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director (research and advocacy), Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).