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Raahgiri: the event which changed Gurgaon!
Raahgiri Day, the first of its kind in India, is a weekly street event which turns major city roads in Gurgaon into a car-free zone every Sunday from seven in the morning to noon, where citizens can participate in community or recreational activities. Started on November 17, 2013, the event was launched by Mr. Alok Mittal, Commissioner of Gurgaon Police, and supported by all major administration units in Gurgaon ? HUDA, MCG, PWD and Traffic Police.

Raahgiri Day is modeled after Ciclov?a, an event that began in Bogot?, Colombia in 1976, which closes streets to cars and opens them for the exclusive use of people for running, cycling, skating, or other recreational activities; a concept that has inspired several cities around the world. Raahgiri Day is a citizen led movement and is a milestone for Gurgaon to achieve a shared vision of an active and car-free lifestyle.

Purpose behind Raahgiri Day

India has witnessed tremendous urbanization in the last few decades, which has spurred an increase in vehicular traffic stressing an already pressured transport infrastructure in our country.

Data shows, in India :

1.5 lac people die annually on account of road traffic accidents out of which 20 percent die in our cites and town, out of which 70 percent are pedestrians and cyclist.

About 6 lac people die annually on account of air pollution and transportation account for 1/4th of these pollutants.

About 4 lac people die annually on account of physical inactivity because of sedentary lifestyle and therefore we need to promote active transportation.

In Gurgaon, an equal proportion of residents travel by private modes (car & two wh.), formal and informal public transport. But almost all the infrastructure is designed for cars. Looking at the above data, we have two options - either we wait for authorities to plan these things (not sure when this will happen) or we come together and make this change (tough but doable). Raahgiri is an attempt to reclaim what belongs to people.

What do Sundays in Gurgaon look like?

Every Sunday, Raahgiri Day participants can be seen cycling, running, working out, playing soccer, taking street zumba classes, honing skating skills, or just soaking up the winter sun with their families, friends, and even their pets. It?s also common to see kids singing, dancing, and performing martial arts. One of the highlights of the event is the diversified participation that can be seen there.

People from different age groups - 6 years to 83 years brave the elements and jump out of their homes to spend a day with their community. Crossing all barriers, both rich and poor of Gurgaon share equitable space; this not only gives an opportunity to the urban poor to participate in their city?s transformation, but plays a major role in changing the image of bicycle from being a ?poor man?s vehicle?.

Raahgiri Day has had an overwhelming response since its inception on 17th November, 2013. It was started by cordoning off 4.5 kilometers of streets opposite Vyapar Kendra, Galleria Market and DLF Phase IV. On the first day over 10,000 residents of Gurgaon, India, poured onto the streets to celebrate Raahgiri Day in their city. In a breakthrough moment for urban India, the roads were car-free and people-friendly.

Post the inaugural event, the numbers have only grown; more than 200,000 people have already participated in the event. Not only this, from 23 Feb, 2014 Raahgiri Day has expanded to 2.5 times; with support from Gurgaon Police and DLF an additional 6.5 km has been added to the already existing 4.8 km loop thereby making it a 11.3 km long corridor. Sarika Panda, transport planner at EMBARQ India, says, ?Our idea is that people coming from the nearby residential colonies should be able to cycle or walk all the way to the Raahgiri Day venue.?

Raahgiri Day sparks a new future for Gurgaon

Raahgiri is not an end but a means toward an end, which is sustainable development. Data from Bogota shows Ciclovia was one of the seeds planted in the Colombian city to prioritize people, not cars. ?The concept flourished with the construction of permanent bikeways (now a 320-km network), sidewalks and public transport (TransMilenio BRTS system, now 104-km of busway and moving 2 million people a day),? says Dario Hidalgo, Director Research and Practice, EMBARQ.

With Raahgiri Day garnering significant public and media attention, a strong message is being sent that Indian roads have great potential to positively benefit urban residents when they are accessible not only for cars, but for pedestrians, cyclists, and for recreational purposes as well. More importantly, the event has succeeded in driving home the fact that many of India?s urban residents are willing to use sustainable modes of transport, provided they have access to safe and secure infrastructure. I hope what Ciclovia did for Bogota, Raahgiri will do the same for Gurgaon!

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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