On 1st of May 2016, KMRL (Kochi Metro Rail Limited), with the support of CODATU and the Cochin Municipal Corporation, organized for the first time in Kochi (India) a « car-free sunday ». Launched in 2013 by WRI-EMBARQ in Gurgaon (India) under the name of « Raahgiri » (« Own your street » in Hindi), the car-free sundays gather the citizens of a city on the street, which has been « reclaimed » and blocked to traffic for few hours. In Kochi, the event was launched under the name « Theruvulsavam », which means in Malayalam (Language spoken in Kerala) « Street Festival ». This event was the initiative of KMRL, which is actively trying to promote non-motorized transport in the city (as the best way to ensure last-mile connectivity), along with a change in the urban planning in order to give more importance to pedestrians and cyclists
At 6.30am on Sunday 1st of May, a huge crowd gathered around the stage which was placed at the centre of the 850m long pedestrian zone. The event was kicked off with a 450m race. Soon after the start, the participants started converging towards the various acitivites, in a very convivial and enthousiastic way. Apart from the expected activities, other unanticipated initiatives took place, such as drums, dance club etc… taking advantage of this great opportunity to be on the road!
In total, around three thousand people participated to the activities or simply came to experience this amazing feeling of being on the road safely and peacefully. Participants of all ages practiced football with Terry Phelan, the Manager of the Kerala football team (The Kerala Blasters), cycled, played volleyball, danced Zumba, practiced Yoga, flew kites, listened to music concert, watched dance performances… The Cochin Bikers Club proposed to bring awareness on road safety and distributed reflective stickers to all. The district admistration led a campaign to focus on the importance of vote.
By 9am, the sun started being too strong for sports activities, and people shifted to the rest of the activities which were located in the shade. Local artists created a temporary mural on a canvas stretched between two trees along the road. In the last half-an-hour, ecologist activists demonstrated to bring awareness on the implications of the strong pollution of the Periyar River. That is a clear sign that people enjoyed this feeling of reclaiming the road and that people are craving for more public space in the city. In Kochi, pedestrians mostly walk on the tarmac, or on make-shift footpaths.
The success of the event has encouraged KMRL and its partners to continue it and offer it to Kochi citizens every sunday, considering that this kind of initiatives could pave the way to a total urban reshaping of the city. This is also a great way to raise awareness on the importante of Public Transport and the necessity to reduce the number of cars plying in the city. The members of the steering committee are currently evaluating the possibilities to sustain such event and spread it all over Kerala.