Kolkata-January, 2022: SwitchON Foundation conducted a multi stakeholder virtual workshop on the topic ‘A Road Towards Clean Air and Sustainable Mobility’ on 7th Jan 2022. A high level panel discussion was also organized as a part of the virtual event.
The webinar was organised with an objective to raise awareness on the critical role of sustainable mobility & clean transportation as an apparatus for cleaner air, reduce congestion, improve safety and a more inclusive model of transport in the city. Particularly given that there is an urgent need to realign planning priorities and pay special attention to Non Motorised Transport (NMT) as an integral part of the overall mobility and transport for the City.
Vehicular pollution along with challenging road conditions faced by the pedestrians and cyclists call for a shift in the current transportation system in Indian cities. As embraced by various global cities, cities in east India need Non Motorised Transport (NMT) supporting infrastructure to mitigate the challenges faced by pedestrians and cyclists and to make its transportation system sustainable.
The virtual event was attended by distinguished urban planners, urban designers, sustainable mobility experts, environmentalists, campaigners, researchers and members of the civil society organisation from across the country. Who were highlighting the urgent need for defining clear goals to enhance cooperation between policymakers, urban planners and final beneficiaries.
There is a growing belief that people ideally should have their right to choose their transport and the right to move freely. Therefore, planning for NMT not only makes economic sense because of the high prevalent mode shares, but also contributes to social equity by improving accessibility to jobs and houses. In addition, NMT modes are completely non-polluting and help to reduce the environmental burden of the city.
The keynote address of the webinar during the opening session was delivered by Shri Rajanvir Singh Kapur, IAS, Managing Director of WBTC, said, “I love walking and cycling but in Kolkata these are mostly done by commuters due to their economic constraints. He further added “A social change needs to come where people pickup these activities out of the concern for the environment and pleasure instead of only compulsion. In Europe some streets are exclusively reserved for NMT and cars are banned there, such initiatives should be taken up in Kolkata as well.”
Delivering the second keynote address during the virtual event, Ex Regional Director for South West Asia C40 and a Strategic Advisor for Urban Research Lab, Shri Sanjay Sridhar, said, “Kolkata Pedestrians are disciplined and the parking spaces here are organised, this certain system and logic is missing in a lot of other Indian cities. The city has about 6 modes of transport including trams using overhead wires which can be upgraded to further facilitate sustainable mobility. The state government is in sync with the thought process supporting the change towards a green future and Kolkata has the largest fleet of E-busses thus providing us with a
great window of opportunity. We need to push for further efficiency using cycling and walking as safe and fast inter-modes of the Kolkata transportation system”
From the distinguished panellists attending the webinar; Dr. Anumita Roy Chowdhury – ED CSE, who through her ppt, appealed for a thriving economy along with blue skies, she said, “Our transport system cannot afford to go back to the ‘old normal’ and struggle with the issues of congestion and air pollution. Therefore, there is a need to envision policies and promote non motorised transportation. More so as nearly half of the working population commute by bus, bicycle, train and Intermediate Public Transport (IPT). Despite this however, both cars and two-wheelers occupy maximum road space but carry just about 12 percent of the daily trips in Kolkata.”
From the other experts attending the event were; Ms Aswathy Dilip – South Asia Director, ITDP, Mr. Ranjit Gadgil, Programme Director Parisar, Mr. Sandeep Gandhi (Principal)-Researcher and Sustainable Mobility Professional) SG Architect; shared his experience and identified the bottlenecksof designing NMT infrastructure from New Delhi and Mr. Vikas Kanojia, practicing urban designer from New Delhi – Who emphasised the importance of equity for all modes of transport.
From Kolkata, noted environmentalist; Pradeep Kakkar, Founder PUBLIC praised the initiative. He said, “We want the city to recognize and respond to pedestrians. Half the people getting killed in road accidents are pedestrians, yet look at how pedestrian safety is treated. He further added “Traffic management needs to calm traffic on city roads rather than speed it up. Arterial roads for speed, secondary roads should be treated with priority to allow safe and convenient sharing of space between Non-motorized and motorized modes. Thus allow development of internal streets – as low speed pedestrian priority streets where a car is clearly identified as an intrusion”
Also supporting the initiative Satanjib Gupta, Bicycle Mayor of Kolkata said, “Until now allocation of public/shared space of urban neighbourhoods has been prioritized in favour of motorized transport, resulting in spiralling unsustainable patterns of development. This has to change and authorities should therefore develop principles and parameters that could increase walk ability and usage of NMT in the neighbourhood.”
“An NMT based infrastructure can play an important role in reducing air pollution and the adverse health effects of pollution. The need of the hour is to develop a comprehensive mobility plan for our cities with a priority on developing an NMT master plan.” – Mr. Vinay Jaju Founder SwitchON.
During the event a task of creating a framework of Youth Charter was also announced, the charter is expected to be ratified by those present during the webinar and would be further by a list of other important individuals and organisations. The charter would be built on a vision to make Kolkata one of the most liveable cities for its citizens by 2030.