The world over, car-free days and open street programmes, where streets are closed for vehicular traffic on Sundays or public holidays, are gaining popularity. They are helping to make roads safer, inclusive and accessible for citizens of all age groups.

The Mumbai Police’s recent initiative called Sunday Streets allows residents to walk, run, cycle, jog, dance, play cricket and have fun across stretches of the city. The unprecedented support for the initiative has led to the police to expand the programme to more locations.

Such programmes bring together a host of public agencies, private sectors and experts to jointly develop projects. While these programmes can create a sense of belonging for residents, they can also act as powerful tools to facilitate discussions around safer mobility and quality public spaces that could even lead to long-term policy decisions.

Mumbai, with its high number of walkers and public transport users, has a great opportunity to unlock the potential of events such as Sunday Streets and work towards long-term, tangible change for citizens.

Here are a few global examples that show how open streets proved to be avenues for planning agencies to enhance roads, neighborhoods and public spaces, and the opportunities it presents for Mumbai.

Pop-up projects

In 2014, the American city of Minneapolis conducted four different one-day pop-up protected intersection projects as part of a city’s open streets programme. The city has since approved protected bike lanes and intersection projects.

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai has also allocated Rs 50 crore to its newly launched Tactical Urbanism initiative to implement quick, low-cost street and public space interventions.

As part of the initiative, the municipal corporation can also consider taking inputs from the design community and citizens to test the most suitable designs using speedy, low-cost solutions for intersections and streets during events such as Sunday Streets. These ideas can then be made permanent based on feedback from citizens.

Informing infrastructure

In 1974, Colombia’s capital Bogota began a revolution called Ciclovia, a Spanish term for cycleway. Every Sunday, or on a holiday, 122 km of streets are closed, partially or fully, for citizens to cycle. Today, more than 1.5 million people cycle in the city, boosted by the creation of a network of permanent cycle routes and a city mandate that enforces bike lanes on all new streets.

Open streets initiatives can also help and catalyse city plans and policies. In the US city of Burlington, officials used such events to test their Complete Streets vision. The positive feedback from citizens fed into planning a 88-mile pedestrian and bicycle master plan.

Mumbai can use the Sunday Streets platform to support a bottom-up, iterative process of planning safer and walkable streets. Pedestrian-and-cyclist-oriented projects listed in city plans, such as the Comprehensive Mobility Plan and the Mumbai Climate Action Plan, and those suggested by residents, activists and designers, can be approved for implementation with the consensus of all stakeholders.

The way forward

Apart from providing safer and inclusive streets, Open Street programmes in cities have yielded many other benefits. The recently pedestrianised Church Street in Bengaluru increased revenues for local businesses, improved air quality and led to an increase in Metro ridership. Ciclovia, along with a sustained investment in cycling, led to an increase in cycling trips in Bogota.

A tweet by the Mumbai Police on the music by the police band for Sunday streets.

Along with creating equal chances for recreation, walking and cycling for a diverse group of citizens, Mumbai’s Sunday Streets initiative can prove to be a window of opportunity for citizens and administration to shape a more inclusive streetscape for the city.

Akhila Suri is Manager, Urban Transport and Road Safety and Tanushree Venkatraman is Manager, Program Communications at the World Resources Institute, India (WRI India) Ross Centre. Views expressed by the authors are personal.