“Sustainable change through transport is something that needs to be discussed at length. However, what is missing from these conversations is the participation of actual commuters. Those who use public transport, those who walk, those who cycle. Here in Coimbatore, though, actual users of public spaces and public transport are very involved in these discussions,” says Mr. Clayton Lane, CEO of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, sharing how thoroughly impressed he was at the level of community involvement in Coimbatore.
Inspired by livable cities across the world, Coimbatore has kicked off various sustainable transport (sustrans) initiatives, and these changes in the cityscape are being brought about with incredible public support. The city’s sustrans initiatives include — the Model Roads project to design safe streets for all, encouraging more walking and cycling, and the Lake Eco-restoration project to rejuvenate eight lakes in the city and create a 30km eco-mobility corridor around them.
To discuss Coimbatore’s transformation through sustrans initiatives, experts from the field were at Coimbatore on March 18, 2017, to add their inputs as well as learn about the process that has been initiated.
“It all started with the Car-free Sundays initiative”, said Dr. K. Vijayakarthikeyan IAS, Commissioner of the Coimbatore City Municipal Corporation, during the round-table discussion. He explained how the car-free Sundays event helped create awareness about the need for walking and cycling infrastructure, becoming a milestone in Coimbatore’s journey towards sustainable mobility. “If we could make streets safe for pedestrians and cyclists for 3-4 hours every weekend, why not at all times? This was how the idea of the Model Roads project was conceived!”
Coimbatore’s commitment to launch car-free Sundays and follow through with their plans on Model Roads led to its selection as a Smart City. The proposals for the Smart City Mission were created with inputs from the people. “We Coimbatoreans have big dreams as to how our city should be. And our dynamic Commissioner and Corporation support our dreams. They encourage all of us including NGOs to take part in the action towards sustainability”, said Mr. C.R.Swaminathan, President of the Residents’ Awareness Association of Coimbatore (RAAC).
Under the Smart City mission, the primary demand from the people including organisations such as Siruthuli and RAAC, was the rejuvenation of the 8 lakes in the heart of Coimbatore. The city is blessed with a series of lakes, that have been neglected and polluted. The citizens wanted the lakes restored and a 30km eco-mobility corridor linking them . The Lake Eco-restoration project has been tendered out and the consultant for the same will be selected by the end of March, 2017.
In a city that is so willing to reduce its carbon footprint, there is much potential for a transition away from fossil fuel-driven personal motor vehicles, especially to low-emission electric vehicles. Mr.Leonardo Lacerda, the Environmental Programme Director of the Oak Foundation advocated this shift during the meeting, given that Coimbatore is home to the popular e-vehicle production company, Ampere.
While discussing other ways and means to reduce the city’s carbon footprint, members of Residents Awareness Association of Coimbatore put forth the following points with the aim of shifting people away from private vehicles to public transport:
- Implementing a modern IT based parking management system
- Strengthening and improving the existing public transport services
- Integration of public transport with with a well-connected rapid transit system
The discussion was peppered with many feasible suggestions and one of the bigger ideas that captured everyone’s attention was the need for a Transit-Oriented Master Plan for the city. Representing the urban planning community of Coimbatore, Ar. Arun from Arun & Associates stressed the need for planning to focus on creating more transit near people, and bringing people near transit.
“There are many mid-sized cities in Tamil Nadu”, said Ms. Shreya Gadepalli, Director – South Asia, ITDP. “Chennai, being a large metropolitan area, is generally seen as a higher standard for them to reach. On the other hand, Coimbatore owing to its similar size is inspiring these cities to work for SusTrans changes. ‘Coimbatore is doing it, we would also like to try’, is the mantra that is driving sustainable transformation in cities like Madurai. Kudos Coimbatore, for showing the right way forward!”