Jangli Maharaj Road and Fergusson College Road build hope of a pedestrian friendly city in the near future. A glimpse into this unprecedented makeover.
For the past three decades, Pune has had the dubious distinction of thinning down its footpaths on arterial roads be it in the cantonment, or the city.
More space for the motorized vehicles has been Pune Municipal Corporation’s (PMC) mantra and to achieve that, precious mature trees including 200 year old banyan trees have been mercilessly chopped over time.
In short, development in this city meant making infrastructure suitable only for vehicles making it that much easier for them to drive recklessly!
The most horrendous decision was chopping off part of the parking area of Balgandharva Rang Mandir, a landmark of our cultural and heritage in order to carve out a road through its premises. It is a different matter that it is classified as Grade I of the Heritage List.
However, let bygones be bygones. After witnessing the transformation of the Jangli Maharaj Road, over the past few months, I am overwhelmed.
The broad footpath outside the Sambhaji Park has become a hub of happy people. The young and the old, patronize the well-designed sit-outs and a series of rectangular arches give it a feel of ownership to the pedestrians.
There is so much interaction between friends and families – some with their laptops, other sharing their `dabba’ and many strolling around. All chatting away in real time as a welcome change from the social media world.
The good news is that the PMC’s road department is developing the entire footpath that borders the Jangli Maharaj Road on the lines of the picturesque boulevard called`Orchard Garden’ of Singapore.
Jangli Maharaj Road, which anyway is traditionally considered as a model road in Pune and has been experimented with, as a `Zero Tolerance’ Road (traffic management and traffic engineering wise), will now have small shops and eateries too. Flower beds will enhance the experience.
A couple of days back, I was delighted to see a similar metamorphosis of a portion of a footpath on Senapati Bapat Road, Near Symbiosis College. This one, has more colourful rectangular arches and it is in the process of becoming a peoples’ square. The 2.5 km odd stretch between College of Agriculture and Garware Chowk will also have dedicated cycle tracks, public toilets and sit-out facilities. The stretch between Sancheti Chowk and Khanduji Baba Chowk has already been remodelled.
What’s exciting is that the same PMC which was stubborn about the pedestrians’ rights on the roads has interestingly put up its vision on its website, www.pmc.gov.in, which reads: `a considerable chunk of Indian roads have historically given preference to motorized vehicles in street design.
However, smart streets ensure safety of non-motorized stakeholders. By redesigning 27 k m of streets, it will be ensured that adequate footpath space and demarcated bicycle lanes are present.
The street will have demarcated zones: for commercial activities, pedestrians, bicycles and vehicles, to ensure a sustainable mobile ecosystem is created.’’ Surprised at this turnaround?
Almost like saying a la Anupam Kher – Kuch bhi ho sakta hai.’
As a prelude to this plan, just last year, a rehearsal was conducted by making half of the Aundh Road, into a pedestrian plaza for seven days.
While there were mixed reactions to this experiment, the PMC found that it had a footfall of 3000 per day and that if various facilities were given even for the senior citizens and the physically challenged, they would be enthused about this idea.
One must not forget that noted civic activists, Sujit Patwardhan and Prashant Inamdar have been fighting tooth and nail since the mid-1990s to give pedestrians their space on roads.
In fact, the side barriers that you see along Laxmi Road to demarcate movement of vehicles and pedestrians was Prashant’s idea that was implemented by PMC. Such action though, were few and far between.
I am really glad that the PMC quotes thus on its website, from one of the noted books `Great Streets’ authored by Allan Jacob – ‘if we can develop and design streets so that they are wonderful fulfilling places to be community- building places, attractive public places for all people of cities and neighbourhood, then we will have successfully designed about one third of the city directly and will have had an immense impact on the rest.’ -‘Great streets’ Allan Jacob ‘
All over Europe, roads are being transformed for people movements on foot and non motorized transport.
London’s internationally famous Oxford Street is soon turning into a vibrant pedestrian plaza.
In Seoul in South Korea, a road has turned into a gurgling stream studded with stones to enrich peoples’ experience of walking.
Now that Pune has joined the bandwagon, let us support the PMC to the fullest and be alert about it fulfilling the commitment of augmenting the plans for major roads across the city.
Am actually eagerly awaiting MG Road’s transformation into another well endowed JM Road. To the good times then!
That's Vinita Deshmukh, Senior journalist and RTI activist who believes in journalism that reflects the views and needs of the common man.
Get Real And Stay Relevant says Vinita,