Bengaluru: A Kasuti-patterned cobblestoned carriageway, wide footpaths, red tactile tiles for the visually challenged and ramps at crossings for those on wheelchairs—there’s a lot to like about the new avatar of Church Street, in the heart of Bengaluru.
Over the past year, the 715-metre stretch, with around 50 eateries and watering holes, has been rebuilt and transformed into a new-look road.
This included the mammoth task of getting the infrastructure in order, with public utilities placed neatly in ducts beneath footpaths that are 2-4 metres wide.
But what has Church Street really achieved?
“Its biggest achievement is that it has embedded the word pedestrianisation into the minds of the government and citizens. The conversation has moved from building flyovers to making the city pedestrian-friendly. Church Street uses the Tender SURE framework, which started the pedestrian-friendly movement in Bengaluru, and takes it a quantum step further," said Naresh Narasimhan, principal architect and managing partner at Venkataramanan Associates, who designed the Church Street makeover pro bono for the BBMP, the city’s civic body.
Tender SURE—or Specifications for Urban Road Execution—is a template for designing urban roads that involves getting utilities like water, power, electricity and sewage together before planning any road project in order to minimize the need for subsequent road digging and repair. It was formally launched in 2011 after which St. Marks Road became the first road to be designed using Tender SURE.
It encourages wider pavements and walkable roads in a city like Bengaluru, whose population of around 10 million in 2011 is expected to more than double by 2040.
The Karnataka government is now looking more closely at putting the pedestrian in the forefront.
“We are exploring the idea of partial pedestrianisation of Church Street for limited hours in a day. We will start with a couple of roads in the central business area, where people generally like walking, and then take it further. Bengaluru weather is such that it is suitable to be outdoors for a large part of the year," said Mahendra Jain, additional chief secretary, urban development department and managing director, Bangalore Metro Rail Corp. Ltd.
Jain added that the plan is also to improve pavements to encourage walking within a kilometre of metro stations and make them top class even if the roads themselves are not up to the mark.
Tender SURE, which was conceptualised by urban practitioners such as V. Ravichandar of Bangalore City Connect Foundation, a non-profit platform, was later introduced as a manual by Swati Ramanathan and her Jana Urban Space Foundation team, that has now been adopted by the government.
“The biggest benefit for walkers has been that redevelopment of city roads based on Tender SURE, has now gained tremendous leadership by both municipal government and state leadership. Everybody has embraced the need for walkable roads. We will only get better in our execution and integration with each project. If we continue as planned, Bengaluru will be the most conducive walking city of its size," Ramanathan said.
The guidelines are now being followed for 50 additional Tender SURE roads as well as a Tender SURE “Lite" where only the footpaths are being rebuilt. Last year, the Nagarothana initiative allocated Rs200 crore for about 100km of Bengaluru footpaths to be redeveloped.
If there is a pecking order of streets, then the pedestrian comes first, followed by cyclists and public transport users and the motorist at the last, said V. Ravichandar, chairman, Feedback Consulting and chief catalyst, Bangalore City Connect.
“Under BBMP, there are around 13,000km of roads and even if 2,000km of those can be fixed, it will have high impact. And to provide good footpaths in that 2,000km would require around Rs2,000 crore," he said.
How can pedestrian experience be encouraged?
Narasimhan said the character of Church Street lends itself to a “pedestrian experience" and has the potential to translate into a vibrant public space.
“The aim was to make it walkable without being scared of being run over by vehicles. The use of warm white LED street lighting enhances the evening stroll, combined with piped music through speakers donated by BPL," he said.
These initiatives in Bengaluru can be compared to few other cities in India.
After nearly two decades, the Charminar pedestrian project in Hyderabad that aims to create a ‘walking only’ area of about 200 metres in and around the 427-year-old monument in the Old City is all set to be completed, but not without resistance.
“...Pedestrianisation is a process in which all stakeholders need to be taken into consideration and build a consensus. In the case of Church Street, owners of shops and restaurants need to be consulted and where we can have a trial period for this," said Ravichandar.
Sharan Poovanna from Bengaluru and Yunus Y. Lasania from Hyderabad contributed to this story.