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Mayor and Councilors pretty much arrived on time. Importantly, the Mayor was accompanied by the Deputy Mayor, the Leader of the Ruling Party and the Leader of the Opposition Party. There were about 30 Councilors at the event, from various political parties. Mayor very proudly mentioned this – that Councilors from the CPM, CPI, PMK, Congress and other parties were present at the event.

When the presentation started, in English, I was worried that we had made a mistake and that the audience would find it boring. One official had told us that many of the Councilors do not follow English well. We had translated some interesting documents on pedestrianisation and cycling in Manhattan into Tamil.

But I was relieved when most of the audience paid serious attention to the presentation. I did hear phones ringing a few times, but not to the extend mentioned in the article.

After the Gehl presentation the Commissioner spoke and then the Mayor delivered his thoughts. We were all very impressed with the Mayor’s speech. For the convenience of the Councilors in the audience, he spoke in Tamil and not only summarizes the Gehl presentation, he also reasoned why such projects – creating public space for citizens of Chennai, cycling facilities, etc. – are important, even if there is lack of compliance from the public.

The Mayor said – create a no-car, pedestrian only space, and you will find someone trying to stick his vehicle in and violating the rule. My heart sank a bit thinking that Mayor was going to argue that such projects are impractical in Chennai. This is what you usually hear in any get together of talking heads like me.

But the Mayor said, and Councilors agreed with their nods and smiles, that just because the public may not comply now, does not mean the local body should continue to say, “nothing is going to change, our people are not going to change”. We need to pilot, create awareness for such projects and keep moving forward. Including dealing with tough issues like creating wider footpaths, cycle tracks, etc. He then mentioned the Anna Nagar Cycle Track project.

There was a lunch after the presentation and speeches. Commissioner, Joint Commissioner and other officials stayed on for the lunch. I did some informal survey of among some Councilors to see how practical the presentation was. Interestingly they too felt these kinds of projects were very important. One Councilor from the Ward around Pattalam complained how difficult it was to even cross the streets near her house. Kids find it difficult to go to school, etc.

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