On April 2, the Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) announced that Church Street would continue to be vehicle-free on weekends until May 31. This is part of the Church Street First initiative, which bars vehicular movement on the 750-meter-long stretch that is largely filled with restaurants and stores. While many businesses welcomed the move, a number of residents living on Church Street were unhappy with the extension.
The residents raised concerns such as their movement being restricted during the weekends and that the street has become unsafe, among others. Minati, a resident of Deauville Apartment on Church Street said that the no-vehicle on weekends rule has restricted her from having people over as the Marshalls stop people from using motorised vehicles on the street. â€śMost of us are senior citizens in the building. Our relatives can visit us only on weekends and are mostly of the same age as us, how is it fair to ask them to walk such a long distance at their age,â€ť she asked. Finding parking near Church Street becomes hard during the weekend, so people are forced to park quite a distance away.
Minati also said that domestic workers and drivers arenâ€™t able to reach the apartment as two-wheelers werenâ€™t allowed on the street.
Other residents further said that the street gets packed on weekends, with crowds of people hanging around and even reports of fights breaking out. Minati questioned how safe it was to walk on the street. â€śThere was an incident of a woman being harassed on Church Street while she was returning home late. She had to walk because vehicles arenâ€™t allowed,â€ť Minati said.
Shakuntala Jain, a resident of Ghar Apartments on the stretch said that senior citizens have to walk a lot if they wish to step out during the weekend. She added that even delivery executives refuse to come to their street since they have to park far away and walk. Her husband, Bimal Jain, said they couldnâ€™t get plumbing services done over the weekend, since the Marshalls were not letting people bring their vehicles in. He further said that it was impossible to get medical tests done at home, as the laboratory technicians have a hard time finding parking near the street.
The residents said that DULT had promised that ambulances would be allowed to enter in case of an emergency on weekends. But some of the residents are still unsure if help would reach them in time. â€śWhat if we need medical care urgently? How will we get it?â€ť Minati asked.
Virina Subbaiah who lives in Daffodils Apartments said there was also the issue of garbage being thrown on the street. â€śWe were told that drinking on the street wouldn't be allowed, however, when we go for our morning walks, we find a lot of empty liquor tetra packs lying on the street. This is unacceptable,â€ť she told TNM.
DULT had also said that all residents would be given passes for their vehicles. However, since the initiative was inaugurated in November 2020, passes have only been issued for four-wheelers according to the residents. They said that repeated attempts to reach DULT officials yielded no results.
Meanwhile, shop owners on Church Street have mixed opinions regarding the Church Street First Initiative. While there are permanent shops located on Church Street, on weekends other vendors are allowed to set up stalls on the pavements.
An employee at Blossom Book House said that they have seen an increase in business since the initiative began and hoped it would continue. Rajesh Harjani of PlayPort Store also expressed his happiness over the initiative. â€śThe street is lively and it is nice to see families and friends walking together. Our store puts a stall outside and people do come inside and buy from our store,â€ť he said. The pandemic had halted business and he said the initiative has given it a little boost. â€śHowever, it would be convenient if they [DULT] had specific parking lots for essential services or for delivery executives of Zomato, Swiggy etc,â€ť he said. He added that increased patrolling post 7 pm would also assist in instilling a sense of security.
On the other hand, some shop owners said their regular customers have stopped coming since the initiative began. They said that many of their regulars have not visited as they canâ€™t bring their vehicle into the street on weekends and it is hard to get parking nearby. â€śA lot of my customers have not been visiting the store. DULT did not consult the business owners on the street, nor did they consult the residents living in the area. They just extended the initiative. For whom did they start the initiative? We are also stakeholders,â€ť said Adinarayana who owns a clothing store on the street.
The Church Street First initiative was launched by the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board and Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) along with DULT in November 2020 and was aimed at curbing pollution in the area. It was supposed to end in February 2021. However, it was extended till March and on April 2, DULT announced that the initiative was to be extended till May 31, 2021.
Officials were unavailable to comment when TNM reached out.