The Pondy Bazaar Pedestrian Plaza in Chennai's T Nagar locality has created a buzz among citizens and vendors. This is the first such plaza in the city and was inaugurated by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami on November 13. Developed under the Smart City Mission at approximately Rs. 40 crore, the 800-metre long plaza extends from Thanikachalam Road signal to the Pondy Bazaar Police Station.
Busy streets with vendors every few metres were always a common sight at Pondy Bazaar, but the new Pedestrian Plaza has given the market a makeover. Street vendors have been shifted into a building, called the 'platform shop owners business complex', which was commissioned by the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC). Wide footpaths and parking spaces have replaced the chaos caused by traffic at the shopping hub.
The police have temporarily made Pondy Bazaar a one-way road to facilitate the smooth movement of traffic along the stretch. CCTV cameras have been fitted on street lamps and police personnel are posted every 100 metres to oversee security in the shopping hub.
Now, Pondy Bazaar even has designated seating areas, where shoppers can catch a break from their shopping excursions or wait for their cabs or autos once they are done.
Under the Smart City Mission, five battery-operated shuttle carts have been provided to ferry passengers along the stretch. Customers can avail the facility free of charge as they visit stores between Big Bazaar and Panagal Park. Smart Cycles stands and facilities for children such as monkey bars, see-saws and games complete the list of amenities that are available at the plaza.
The plaza, which was commissioned to enhance customers' shopping experience, has elicited mixed reactions among shoppers and vendors alike.
Harini, a frequent shopper at Pondy Bazaar, told Indianexpress.com that the seating area has made her commute via cab aggregators simple and easy.
“The building was constructed to keep the place neat, but in a couple of months, I think vendors will start setting shop on the footpaths and make it a mess”, she added.
Echoing her views were college students Akhila and Nivetha who lauded the pedestrian plaza initiative. They were however, apprehensive about traffic since they were positive that the narrow road in Pondy Bazaar would give rise to traffic snarls during peak hours.
“I do not know why they have built this plaza. There is no need for such huge footpaths. It looks like a park more than a bazaar," said Vijay, another shopper at Pondy Bazaar. Despite his views, Vijay appreciated the use of shuttle carts and said that they would be extremely useful for pregnant women and senior citizens while travelling within the plaza.
Shopkeepers at the Pedestrian Plaza, however, had other views. Seven years ago, vendors from T Nagar had been evicted from the streets and forced to set up shop at the business complex in Pondy Bazaar, a move which had resulted in heavy losses. The three-storey building houses 630 shops today.
“The scheme is a good one but its usage lies in the hands of the people. As far as sales are concerned, it is a loss for us," said Peter, a garment shopkeeper. Peter said that two unions from Usman Road and five from Pondy Bazaar had been transferred from the streets in T Nagar to the building in Pondy Bazaar.
K Arasu, a flower seller at the complex, said the plaza was a good initiative for citizens who used to face difficulty in finding parking spaces earlier. “Seven years ago, they moved us into the building. Sales have become quite low since then and with the Smart City project, sales are bound to take a plunge”, he said.
Echoing the vendors' opinions are Radhika and her daughter Nirupama who visit Pondy Bazaar once a month to make purchases. Radhika said she has been coming to Pondy Bazaar since her childhood and remarked that the place held several memories for her. “Visiting the plaza is not as enjoyable as it was during our childhood, when shopkeepers used to sell their wares in the lap of nature. With vendors having been shifted inside, we cannot access all the shops here. Most customers find it difficult to climb the stairs inside the complex and visit the shops”, said Radhika.
Radhika added that despite the availability of parking spaces, parking inside Pondy Bazaar was still an issue and added that the one-way stretch was only adding to a longer commute.
After the Pedestrian Plaza at Pondy Bazaar, there are talks of similar streets being implemented in other prominent locations in Chennai.