CHENNAI: The city’s swanky new Pedestrian Plaza in T Nagar, which was inaugurated recently has become a major attraction for residents. Seven play areas for children, wall murals, seating facilties under the canopy of trees — the entire stretch along Pondy Bazaar now wears a smart look. CE speaks to some of the officials from the Greater Chennai Corporation who were involved in creating this urban space, connecting people more closely with the city.
The Pedestrian Plaza
The primary objective of the plaza, executed under the Smart City Project at a cost of Rs 39.86 crore, is to promote non-motorised transport and a hassle-free walk for pedestrians. It boasts a play area for children, seating arrangements, street lights, wide footpath and a multi-level parking facility. The walls across the length of the road are painted with vibrant colours. This place will also be a cultural hub as it would host music, dance and entertainment programmes.
Behind the scenes
“When we mentioned about the project to the shopkeepers, the immediate response was a big no. They were scared if the benches we are placing would bar entry to their shop. Where will the shoppers park their vehicles and what will happen to their business if the roads are dug — were some of their concerns. Convincing them was a major issue as we used to tell them that it would look like Times Square in New York and they used to immediately ask — Have you seen it?,” says BV Babu, zonal officer, Special Projects.
This wasn’t the only challenge. The technical drawings that the officials had on paper were different from reality. “For example, we would have conceptualised to dig in one particular place and when we go to the spot, there would be a tree there. Similarly, the moment a JCB would start digging, pipes would start leaking from underground. Though we were progressing each day, it felt like we were back to square one every day,” he says.
The same vendors who opposed, in the beginning, became friends as days passed, says Ahmed Asthak, assistant engineer of Special Projects. “Every day, we had to walk across the length and breadth of the 1.4-km road back and forth to monitor the activities. It was a 24-hour job. We used to conceptualise in the morning, inspect in the afternoon, attend meetings and get back for the concrete laying work at midnight. We were enjoying it because it was a project we have never worked on before,” he shares.
As days passed, shopkeepers too got involved in the project. They began to gather around the officials to give them suggestions. “When we had to dig the road outside their shop, we used to provide a plank with handrails, so that the pedestrians could get a better balance. We bonded over one whole year,” he says.
Assistant executive engineer, G Logeshwaran, says that they discovered some “ancient items” underground. “While we were digging to provide ducts for stormwater drains and electricity, we found a dummy cable which was running for more than a kilometre. Metro water pipes too were mostly corroded and had to be changed,” he says.
Changes had to be made to original designs, say consultants TD Achutan and AV Venugopal from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP). “Initially, we did not think of parking space. We only wanted to provide a path for pick-up and drop. After continuous meetings with the shoppers, we realised providing a parking space is the only way parking woes could be solved. Similarly, the vehicles were not supposed to go through the Pedestrian Plaza. We later changed that too,” says Venugopal, while Achutan adds there is much more to this project than beautification.
The officials worked under extreme weather conditions and every personal commitment was secondary to the project. Even when some of them were on a fast for Ramzan or Navaratri, they ensured that work was in full swing. And their commitment to gift a smart street paid off. Sharing an incident, Achutan says, “The day before the opening of the Pedestrian Plaza, I saw a couple doing their pre-wedding photoshoot there. I asked them, why they chose this place of all the exotic places. They said that photoshoot in lanes is common in Europe and now that our city has one, they are delighted to do it here.”
Other officials who were involved in the project include chief engineer Nandakumar, assistant executive engineer GK Babu and superintending engineer R Balasubramanian. The Corporation has plans of constructing pedestrian plazas at Anna Nagar, Tondiarpet and Velachery.