“There is no such thing as bad weather for walking or cycling; it’s just bad clothing.”
By Priyanka Vasudevan Mumbai | March 20, 2014
Gil Penalosa, Executive Director 8-80 Cities, Former Commissioner of Parks, Sport and Recreation for the City of Bogota, Colombia, visited Mumbai last week, where he met with students, media, interested citizen groups and several others. Mr. Penalosa conducted several discussions and presentations, where Mumbai was able to feel and discover some of its own passion, enthusiasm and inspiration. Titled “Sustainable Mobility: Creating Vibrant and Healthy Cities for ALL”, Gil presented to a crowd of around 70 planners and city decision-makers at the Observer Research Foundation in Mumbai. On promoting non-motorised transport and speaking of the need for public space, Gil brought attention to the excuses we give to avoid walking – it’s too hot or it’s too cold. There is no such thing as bad weather for walking or cycling he says. It’s just bad clothing.
His presentation began as he drew attention to the population growth rate of India: in the next 20 years, India will add another United States! Or that’s ten more Canadas!
CARS, CARS and MORE CARS As aspirations and urban sprawl continue to grow, Indian cities are increasingly more car-dominated. In 2013, India added 3.8 million vehicles to its streets, further augmenting traffic congestion, air pollution and urban health concerns, and reducing economic productivity. What does this mean? Just to accommodate parking needs of those additional vehicles, India needs 38,000kms of new roads or 18 times the road length between Bangalore and Delhi! And this is just to park newly registered vehicles.
LEAPFROG OUR WAY FORWARD Today, we continue to move towards making our cities more car-dependent and building cities around the private motorised vehicle. As a developing country, India is in a unique position to learn from the mistakes of cities around the world and leapfrog to their solutions instead and improve the quality of life our cities have to offer. We need to stop building our cities as if everyone was 30 years old and athletic.
WHAT WE DO BEST - ADDING SPICE How do you recreate your city towards a better quality of life? Gil’s four ingredients: pedestrians, cyclists, public transit and public spaces.
Everyone is a pedestrian. It is the only individual mode of transport, for all children and youth; even a transit or a car user needs to walk to the station or to their vehicle. As humans, we are in our element most when we are walking. As Gil said, “Birds were meant to fly and fish were meant to swim. People, were meant to walk!”
Gil pointed out that cycling is a more efficient way of walking. While we would willingly walk up to a kilometre; but we would cycle up to 3 or 4 kilometres. It’s noiseless, non-polluting and allows us to engage with other people at the street level and at public places.
Public transit allows access to larger distances. If you want to understand how well a city respects and dignifies its people, assess the infrastructure for walking, cycling and public transit. Public spaces tie these three ingredients together. These elements function and piece together to make a better city: pedestrians, cyclists, public transit and public spaces.
Gil emphasized that to encourage people towards sustainable mobility uses, cities must bring together these four elements. To facilitate this, there are two important “must haves”. First, is to lower vehicular speeds. Aside from arterials, cars must not be allowed to pass 30 km/hr. This will enhance safety and create a public environment more conducive to walking and cycling. And secondly, cities must build a network of protected paths for pedestrians and cyclists. Without proper connectivity, users will be forced to walk or ride on unsafe streets, not understanding the full benefits. A grid will improve safety for all and encourage new users to use non-motorised transport modes.
Gil concluded with the five elements he believes to be the way forward, from talking to doing: 1. Building a sense of urgency 2. Boosting political will 3. Building leadership 4. Finding doers and champions 5. Engaging the public
There is an urgent need to act now and shift our focus from strengthening the private vehicle to promoting walking, cycling and public transit uses in Indian cities. While challenges exist in every city, it is up to us to see the opportunity and seize it. Any city can do it: they just have to do it right.