Carfree Day in Mumbai

On November 27th, 2011, I attended a Car-free day event in South Mumbai, India. It was organized by a 38 year old activist named Kalpesh Parekh and his Greenmile Foundation. They spent over nine months getting the necessary permits and sponsorships to close down a few major streets in South Mumbai to automobile traffic. Their goal was to stage a large bike-a-thon and walk-a-thon to draw attention to Mumbai’s traffic problems and promote bicycling and walking as alternatives to driving. Between 400 and 500 people registered, and paid a small fee to participate in the event which got support and sponsorship from a local TV station (Bindass), a local radio station and several local businesses. The organizers lent me a bicycle so I could ride in the 20km bike-a-thon and also experience riding in normal Mumbai city traffic.

Mumbai is a city of 21 million people on the Arabian Sea. Its climate is hot and humid and every year it gets hit by monsoons severe enough that many roads and city sections get completely shut down. It is the home of India’s film industry (“Bollywood”) and one of many Indian cities that have grown as a consequence of the technology boom that began in the 1990s. It is a city of extremes—extreme wealth, extreme poverty, extremely crowded public transportation, horrific traffic jams and extremely bad air quality. In many places there are no sidewalks, just a line on the pavement where pedestrians are supposed to walk. Rush hour is a thick mixture of pedestrians, cars, scooters, motorcycles, buses and other vehicles, all fighting for any small advantage. At times, it is so crowded, they barely move forward. It can take an hour to travel just a couple kilometers across a bridge, slower than a person could walk or ride a bicycle.

Currently 2 million motor vehicles use just 2000 kilometers of streets and roads in Mumbai with 300 new cars being added every day. Mumbai has one of the highest traffic densities in the world with over 750 vehicles per kilometer.

Amidst all this traffic are a great number of bicyclists. Some people use bicycles to commute to work but, more than anything else, bicycles and tricycles are used to deliver basic goods and services. Bread, spices, milk, bottled water, cooking gas, newspapers, printed material, groceries and just about anything you can imagine is delivered by bike. Most of the bicycles are heavy, all-steel work bikes made by Atlas or Hero (India’s two big bicycle manufacturers). It’s not unusual to see an entire family or group of 3 or 4 people riding one bike. Riding a bike in South Mumbai is like riding a roller coaster or playing an adrenaline-inducing video game. You have to pay attention and flow with traffic or the game ends quickly and you get run over.

The Greenmile Foundation sponsored Car-free event is part of a growing green transportation movement in Mumbai. In February 2010, residents of the Bandra neighborhood farther north successfully closed off a long coastal street (Carter Road) and staged everything from bike races to dance and yoga classes in the street. They repeated the event in 2011. There was also a “Tour de Mumbai” in February 2011, the city’s first professional cycling race, organized by Union Cycliste Internationale, the Cycling Federation of India and ID Sports.

This latest Greenmile Car-free event was like a city bike or walking “tour”, something that’s common in Europe and the U.S.A. but rare in India. It featured a 20km bike-a-thon and 10km walk-a-thon. Prizes were given for the first, second and third place finishers but the event was less of a race and more of a celebration and reminder of what the city’s streets could be like without cars.

At 8am, riders and walkers gathered in front of Victoria Station in South Mumbai. After a few brief speeches by organizers and a government minister, a flag was waved and we were off. Though the turnout was lower than Kalpesh had hoped for, it was a fun event and people of all ages participated. I rode and talked most of the way with a local film maker named Rafeeq Ellias. At one point a reporter asked him why he was riding in the event and he replied with a slight smile, “Bicyclists and pedestrians in India are treated worse than homosexuals.” It was nice to actually be able to look at the city as you rode through it, rather than having to worry about whether some car, bus or truck was going to run you down. At the finish line, there were prizes, speeches and lots of photographs. With a little more organizing effort and sponsorship this event could grow to thousands or tens of thousands of participants. Kalpesh’s dream is to spread this event to other Indian cities and create a national cycling event like the Tour de France. He also wants to bring a bike-share program to Mumbai and do other things to promote cycling, walking and alternatives to cars. Automobile use in India is rising at an alarming pace. If we’re going to have the slightest hope of reducing global climate change and environmental degradation, we must beat back auto-centric development in countries like India and China. In addition to helping develop India’s public transportation sector, we would do well to support local activists like Kalpesh, or the KBS Foundation in Bandra.

For more information and photos of the event, check out—


- by Andy Singer

This article has first been published in La Décroissance.


  1. Tereza
    Posted 16 April, 2012 at 11:03 | Permalink

    Dear Sir,

    I have participated in 10 km. Walk-a-thon during 27th November, 2011 and stood 4th but still I have not received my certificate . I met in person to Mr. Kalpesh during December, 2011 and he promised me to send it by courier as soon as printing is over. Again I have contacted him during January, 2012 but so far there is no reply. Please send it to me.
    Thanking you,
    Yours faithfully

  2. carbusters
    Posted 19 April, 2012 at 18:03 | Permalink

    Dear Tereza,

    We just have been sharing this event thanks to a friend who was also in Mumbai for the event. Nevertheless, we don’t have any connections and contacts with the organisers of the event.
    We wish you all the best,
    Carbusters team

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