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T.Nagar’s long wait for the pedestrian plaza

Nidhi Adlakha on how the Pedestrian Plaza project is shaping up in the busy shopping hub

With the Chennai Smart City’s cycle-sharing system launched in the city last week, residents can now get a feel of what the upcoming pedestrian plaza in T.Nagar has in store.

Over 250 cycles across 25 stations in Anna Nagar and Marina were launched as part of the project’s first phase and aims at proving residents an affordable, healthy and sustainable mobility alternative. But this pilot is the first of the many initiatives promised when the ₹33 crore plaza project was proposed way back in 2011.

On-ground

So what is taking the project so long? It has faced a series of delays, especially between 2013 and 2015, when a development bank intervened in the project. Another prominent reason was the design finalisation process (it changed hands between four designers). Officials now say that the main stretch — from Panagal Park to Thanikachalam Road — is expected to be completed next month and the remainder by June 2019.

And it was only when the Smart Cities Mission was launched in 2015, it gave the project a much-needed uplift. T.Nagar was chosen for the Area Based Development and the pedestrian plaza project got embedded within the Smart Cities Proposal for the area, explains an ITDP official, adding how the ITDP India Programme has been working closely with the Chennai Smart City Ltd. (CSCL) and Chennai Corporation, along with the respective design teams.

Evolved design

Given the prolonged process, it is but natural the initial design has changed significantly. What was earlier planned as a wide pedestrian plaza with a cycle track on one half of the street and a 2-lane carriageway (for buses only) with a footpath on the other, has now been refined to include 10m-wide plazas on both sides of the street.

A Chennai Smart City Limited official tells me how, earlier, shopkeepers were apprehensive about the project and were worried it would impact sales. But now, they have come around after seeing on-ground changes. Parking concerns will be alleviated once the multi-level car park comes up and as per a recent ITDP survey, 50% people are already parking on side roads and walking to shops. He explains how the pedestrian plaza is like an open mall of sorts that also provides residents with peaceful, green public spaces that are free from vehicular congestion.

After two trial runs (2016 and 2017), it was decided to allow two wheelers on the carriage way. Inclusions such as floor patterns, colourful seating arrangements, planter boxes, playing equipment for children, and even battery operated cars have been made. Personnel will be roped in by the Corporation, not just to keep the area clean, but to market it as well. But only time will tell if these elements progress from just being on paper.

Worth the wait?

Six years later and certain parts of the city’s shopping hub continues to be in poor shape — with non-existent footpaths, deep trenches and construction debris dotting Sir Thyagaraja Road. It is going to be a while before we get to see what the envisioned pedestrian plaza will look like and how it will be utilised by the public, but until then how do we commute along the stretch.

With parallel parking alongside the wide footpaths being constructed, deep trenches without barricades and auto rickshaws/share autos plying along Pondy Bazaar, it is a nightmare for pedestrians and cyclists. Arjun N, who works on Venkatnarayana Road says since work on the project re-started a few months ago, the entire Bazaar is dusty and congested. “Any large infrastructure project leads to inconveniences of this sort and while we have to be a bit patient given its long-term benefits, I hope the plaza constuction doesn’t result in even fewer trees because Pondy Bazaar already has lost a lot of trees during earlier projects.”

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 9:30:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/status-of-the-tnagar-pedestrian-plaza-project/article26469150.ece

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