The car-free Sunday initiative has plans to grow into other areas of the city soon. “We want it to become sustainable, for the locals in the area to take initiative to continue the programme even without us. It was after all, started as a way to not just block roads from cars but also a community activity to encourage good health and physical activity,” says Ashwathy Dilip of Institute of Transportation Development Policy (ITDP).
Although the organisers are clear in turning the initiative into one that focuses on activities to engage the community on a weekend morning alongside the aim of non-motorising roads, the citizens have different views of what ‘car-free’ should mean. “They have blocked only a small stretch at the Beach road, which sees no traffic from 6am to 9am on a Sunday anyway. It was largely car-free to begin with, so I don’t see the hype,” says Vasudevan G, a professor and resident of Vanandhurai, who frequents the beach.
Started in September 2015, the initiative brought a cluster of events like Yoga, Zumba, cycling and sports to the sea-front road, which was cordoned off from vehicles with the help of the city’s traffic police. Chennai is not the first though, to implement a programme that looks at a more pedestrian-centric approach to claiming roads.
But people staying nearest to the beach have raised questions. “Post-sunset is when there is peak traffic, so why not do this then? In fact, there is drunk-driving and speeding around evening, so it would make sense to non-motorise the road then,” says V Chandrasekhar, president of Senior Citizens Group of Besant Nagar.
He also expressed that the senior citizens’ society, which have been demanding pavements for walking around the beach road, but merely find themselves walking through promotional banners of sports-gear in the name of a pedestrian-centric programme.
But the organisers clarify their intention. “Every Sunday morning, we witness things like fathers and mothers playing sports with not just their kids but also the slum kids on the beach. A holistic community initiative is what we want to achieve. So we hope volunteers can come up to help keep us doing this every week,” adds Ashwathy.
Taking a survey-based approach, the organisation has been receiving interest from localities like Anna Nagar, Nungambakkam and T Nagar to expand car-free Sunday to their areas.