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Connaught Place vehicle-free: City planners, heritage experts give thumbs up

Well-known heritage activist Sohail Hashmi says, "it's a fantastic initiative" that will help bring back the "glory of CP" and inculcate walking habit among people.

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Urban planners and heritage activists have welcomed the government’s move to pedestrianise middle and inner circular roads of Connaught Place, while suggesting boosting of parking infrastructure and deployment of rickshaws and e-buses for ferrying commuters.

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“The move to make Connaught Place friendly for pedestrians is a good initiative but needs to be executed with proper planning. From the heritage perspective, it’s a wonderful news, as people would now be able to admire the architectural grandeur of this iconic building complex.

“But, care must be taken by the government to provide alternative modes of transport, like e-rickshaws or compact electric buses, so that the decision doesn’t become an inconvenience for commuters,” noted conservation architect and town planner, AGK Menon told reporters.

Menon, former convener of INTACH Delhi Chapter said, the plan would be successful only if various urban agencies, including DDA, traffic department and traders associations, work in consonance.

Well-known heritage activist Sohail Hashmi says, “it’s a fantastic initiative” that will help bring back the “glory of CP” and inculcate walking habit among people.

“People in Delhi now hardly want to walk. This move would not only bring back that habit, but also make them admire history like never before. The Inner Circle is most of the time choked by increasing number of vehicles, either moving or parked.

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“When CP was built, the city had a very thin population, and there were hardly any cars. Now, there is a vehicular explosion, and so this is a wonderful initiative to not just decongest the busy market zone, but, people over time, would eventually also begin to develop greater respect for architectural heritage,” he said.

Connaught Place or ‘CP’ as it is popularly known as was built from 1920s-1930s as a premier shopping and recreation destination in the heart of Delhi, and despite lot of change effected in and around it, still enjoys a pride of place in the city.

Named after the Duke of Connaught, Prince Arthur who visited India in 1921, the building was designed by Robert Tor Russell, who also built the Parliament House. A handsomely colonnaded structure, its design is said to be inspired from the Royal Crescent in Bath, England.

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“People are getting worried about shopping, but we never think of the burden on environment. E-rickshaws or even pedal rickshaws in limited numbers should be allowed for ease of commuters, and I say, old-styled phaetons or horse-buggies should be allowed to ply. People would then know the real joy of visiting CP,” Hashmi said.

Menon, while hailing the move from heritage perspective, cautions that traffic volume on Outer Circle would be increased, and therefore, “alternative ways for diverting the traffic must be planned.”

INTACH Delhi Chapter Convener Swapna Liddle says, the move is good as long as there are means to counterbalance its fallouts.

“If the government provides easy means of transport from parking lots and metro stations, then it’s a fine proposal. Also, since CP is essentially a shopping district, traders may feel pinched, but overall, lot of planning is still needed to successfully execute the plan,” she said.

A lot of refurbishment of CP was carried out during the Commonwealth Games in 2010, the Central Park was created from the dug-out earth of its metro (Rajiv Chowk station). Hashmi feels that, the move should coincide with installation of uniform period street furniture in the CP areas.

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Also Read | No vehicles inside Connaught Place for three months starting February

“Victorian-era style, wrought-iron lamp posts, benches and dustbins should be put up to merge with the grand architecture of the building. Excess concrete structures added over last few decades outside the colonnade should be knocked out, and a norm should be made to have uniform signboards and frontage, as in Europe or the US,” he said.

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Menon adds that pedestrianisation has been implemented successfully in Paris, Amsterdam and parts of London, and Delhi, if it can plan it well, can surely pull it off.

“But, it should not turn like the case of the BRT, ambitious dreams but failed implementation,” he said. Connaught Place, Inner Circle and Middle Circle is also home to several old famous eateries and restaurants, and old film theatres — Plaza, Odeon — are located on radial roads, while Regal and Rivoli are on the Outer Circle.

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A state-of-the-art automated multi-level car parking, capital’s first, was inaugurated on Baba Kharak Singh Marg in 2012, which has a capacity to accommodate 1,408 cars.

According to estimates, about 3,170 cars can be accommodated at parking lots at Shivaji Stadium, Baba Kharak Singh Marg and Palika Bazaar. But, on an average only 1,080 vehicles are being parked.

“Parking should be made free to encourage people to use the facilities. And, not just CP, Khan Market, Ajmal Khan Road near Karol Bagh market, and entire 1.5 km stretch from Red Fort junction to Fatehpuri Masjid on Chandni Chowk Road should be pedestrianised, but let’s wait for the results of this pilot project,” Hashmi, who conducts regular heritage walks in the city, added.

The Union Urban Development Ministry yesterday decided on the pedestrianisation project on a pilot basis, which would be implemented for three months from February this year for ground level testing of issues related to changes in traffic circulation, experience of pedestrians and shop owners, management of reclaimed parking lots, traffic load on Outer Circle, etc.

First published on: 06-01-2017 at 03:53:35 pm
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