People’s day out as Chennai gears up for T Nagar pedestrian plaza

Shoppers greeted the second trial run of the proposed Pondy Bazaar Pedestrian Plaza with great enthusiasm, even as shop owners had to be convinced that their businesses would not suffer.

“He doesn’t want to leave yet! He hasn’t even had his breakfast, but in his enjoyment, he’s forgotten his hunger!” Mrs. Lalitha, a resident of T Nagar, thus ended up spending the entire morning at Pondy Bazaar with her seven-year-old son Pranav. Pranav, who has nobody at home to play with, found not just games, but also company and a lot of space in T Nagar to keep him entertained. His mother, who also participated in the games, reliving her childhood days, enjoyed a fun-filled, nostalgic shopping trip.  

This alternate shopping experience was on the occasion of the second trial run of the proposed Pondy Bazaar Pedestrian Plaza. Owing to the success of the first trial run of the plaza, a second trial was organised by the Greater Corporation of Chennai on the February 25, 2017 from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm along Sir Thyagaraya Road. Though a hit amongst the people who visited, the shopkeepers remained concerned that the plaza would affect their sales. 

Pondy Bazaar, located in the heart of the city, is known for being a famous shopping destination, with both small stores and big brands lining the stretch. This shopping promenade is best experienced on foot, giving one the opportunity to stop-and-shop to one’s content. In order to transform this hub into a haven, a pedestrian plaza has been proposed along Sir Thyagaraya Road as a Smart City initiative.

As a first step towards creating this plaza — for collecting citizen feedback and building support for the project — a part of the road was converted into a pedestrian zone for the first trial run on November 20, 2016, from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. Visitors witnessed a new Pondy Bazaar, bustling with activity and games throughout the morning. The lack of congestion despite diverted traffic further added to the success of the experiment.

Similar to the first trial run, the 700m stretch between Thanikachalam Road junction and Panagal Park was closed off to cars, autos, shared autos and vans, during the second trial run. Two wheelers and buses were allowed along the stretch both ways, although on a shorter width of four meters on either side of the median. The traffic rerouting was quite successful, with incredible support from the Chennai Traffic Police.

Due to the longer duration of this trial, the activities were split into various slots across the morning and afternoon sessions. The morning was dedicated to kids, with games such as carrom, chess & life-sized snake & ladder, and activities like yoga, craft with newspaper & a drawing competition on  the theme of Smart City.

Photo courtesy: ITDP India

Young drummers and dancers dazzled the crowd in the afternoon while the elders learned more about first aid at a training camp organised by the NGO Alert. The health camps organised by the Corporation were also a hit among the older people. Restaurants set up tables and chairs outside, to serve those who wanted to snack while enjoying the outdoor activities.

In terms of facilities, parking was provided at the site of the proposed multi-storey car park at the Thanikachalam Road junction. On-street parking was also arranged for on Bashyam Road in front of Panagal park and Thyagaraya Road between Anna Salai and Nair road. Water and seating were provided all along the street at regular intervals for people’s convenience. Shuttle services in the form of battery-operated cars was made available for the elders.

Pedestrian counts and pedestrian user surveys were conducted to study the quantum of pedestrian traffic in this section of the street as well as collect public feedback. Vehicle-volume video surveys were also conducted at the intersections to study the flow of traffic and pile-up, if any. The results of these surveys, along with those from the first trial run, will be used to decide upon the final design of the proposed plaza.

The shopkeepers were concerned about the loss of parking that will result from the pedestrian plaza, which they believe might affect their profits. The appointed consultants for the project, Darashaw, along with members of ITDP, explained to them that the idea of mandatory parking for shopping is a myth. Cases from the world over were presented to them.

Pedestrianisation across the globe

Cities across the world are celebrating the pedestrian and the cyclist. Many have created completely pedestrianised areas to provide better mobility for pedestrians, enhance the shopping experience and volume, and reduce pollution level and the number of accidents. Despite initial resistances, most of these projects have proven to be great successes.

Copenhagen, for instance, set out to pedestrianise its main shopping street, Stroget, in 1962. In the 1960s, the increasing number of vehicles led to growing pressure on Stroget for both moving traffic and parking. As a result, shoppers became confined to a narrow, almost non-existent footpath, with no room to stop-and-shop.

In 1962, 15,800 sq m of pedestrian area was created. Today, a total of 100,000 sq m once dedicated to motorised transit has been converted to traffic-free space for pedestrians in Copenhagen. Stroget now has six times more area for pedestrians than in 1962 with a 10-12m width carrying 145 people/min. More importantly, the shops have seen an increase in sales by 30%.

Similarly in New York, to ease traffic congestion throughout the midtown grid and improve pedestrian safety, mayor Bloomberg decided to pedestrianise Broadway around Times Square for a trial on May 24, 2009. Initially, the plaza had a few tables, 376 rubber folding chairs, potted plants and orange barrier cones. The plaza is now being redesigned permanently at a cost of $55 million.

After pedestrianisation, Times Square has seen a 33% reduction in traffic related injuries. Sales have risen by 71% – the biggest growth in history – and the number of shops has doubled. The testing of Times Square’s pedestrianisation over the years has taught the world a valuable lesson – trials over a long period help understand the needs of the stakeholders better.

Pondy Bazaar pedestrian plaza to be rolled out soon

The Greater Corporation of Chennai aims to see the pedestrian plaza take shape on the ground by the end of the year. If all goes according to plan, Chennai will have a brand new, revamped public space in its centre, right on the street!

[Republished from the original, published by ITDP India here

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