Monday, April 19, 2010

Imagine a car-free world!

Acara Institute
Imagine a car-free world!

You don't need to do that anymore. Welcome to Fazilka, a small 162 year old town on the India-Pakistan border. Its unkempt, garbage-strewn congested streets with small, bustling shops are nothing out of the ordinary. But this town of about 68,000 people – and about 45,000 vehicles on its narrow lanes – has removed one source of congestion: cars. Yes, that sounds crazy and shocking but it's true.

Let's think about the problem of transport for a while. On one hand is the attraction of convenience. Who wouldn't want to travel in a luxury car driven by a chauffer who takes you wherever you want to go! Yes, traffic is increasing everyday, particularly in metropolitans, and it's takes forever to get from anywhere to anywhere but people seem okay with adjusting to that. On the other hand, walking on the pedestals is a nightmare and is not considered as a good option by anyone. Come summer and the scorching heat makes things worse. This has trapped our roads and us into a vicious circle of increasing pollution, congestion and traffic and seems to have no solution.

This is what people at Fazalika have done. They are placing special emphasis on traffic calming devices and installing permanent barriers in a few locations. Recognizing that people need to be on the move and get somewhere fast, a popular dial-a-rickshaw service was also initiated. The rickshaws, called "Ecocabs", were introduced as a new form of public transportation using intelligent transport tools, arriving at residents doorsteps following a phone call. The city has been divided into five zones and each has a different phone number.

"We didn't want the rickshaws to be considered a poor man's transport, therefore the name Ecocabs," explains Navneet Asija, a Delhi graduate. Strange, how semantics can make a huge difference. Initially, the scheme got a lukewarm response, but picked up when residents understood the utility. It's not just residents, even the rickshaw-pullers have benefited from fixed rates, which means their earnings have gone up. This is all helping make the city centre more sustainable, pedestrian and cycle friendly.

The successful projects making the city centre carfree have been beneficial in many ways, not simply by decongesting the market. With the carfree zone and the Ecocab initiative, Fazilka is perhaps the only Indian town with such simple yet effective schemes. And it is clear that with public transportation alternatives such as these, along with the introduction of carfree spaces, communities benefit from feeling safer and healthier, when free from cars. Fazilka can proudly show a new way to the rest of the country.

You can read the full story of Fazalika here on the Carbusters website. Carbusters is a quarterly journal published by World Carfree Network and produced by an international team of activists in Prague, CR. Acting as a voice of the global carfree movement, it critiques car culture and explores positive alternatives.

By the way, are you ready for a car-free world?

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