July 02, 2024

What We Learned From India’s Cycles4Change and Streets4People Challenges

With ITDP India’s wrap-up of the India Cycles4Change and Streets4People Challenges earlier this year, the team took a look back at the origin. and impact of the two programs. They also offer five key lessons from the experience to inform similar efforts to transform and redesign urban streets.

This article was originally published by the ITDP India team. Read more here. 

Four years. Three steps — Test, Learn, Scale. Two national Challenges. One mission—to support cities across India to create Healthy Streets — streets that prioritize walking, cycling, and public transport.

Amidst the chaos and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, cities saw something remarkable —people flocking to the streets to escape the four walls of their homes. Not only were urban residents reclaiming their streets for fun, exercise, leisure, and socializing, but people were relying primarily on walking and cycling to access essential goods and services throughout the pandemic.

So ITDP India, working alongside the Smart Cities Mission (SCM) and Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA), began ideating on ways to leverage this moment to get cities to create more people-centric streets that enable healthier lifestyles and mobility. Thus, the Cycles4Change and Streets4People Challenges were born.

In 2020, the Urbanlogue webinars were launched by ITDP India in collaboration with the SCM and sought to offer expertise and spur conversations around best practices for transport and health in a post-COVID world. Over 5,500 city officials in India attended these sessions to discuss key topics, including pandemic-safe public transport solutions, the need for street interventions to expand space for cycling and walking, and digital innovations for formal and informal public transport.

But talking wasn’t enough — the team needed to see on-ground action. The Challenges were launched by the SCM and ITDP India with the goal of supporting Indian cities in transforming their environments into Healthy Streets through engaging, creative, and comprehensive step-by-step processes. Cities were excited about this initiative and to the team’s surprise, 117 cities signed up to participate in these Challenges. This jump-started India’s Healthy Streets ‘revolution’ over the past few years.

Four years since the start of the pandemic, 15 cities have demonstrated exemplary efforts and innovative solutions in their Challenge journeys, and emerged as the Challenge Champions These cities pushed boundaries and implemented unique ideas across three pillars — Action (infrastructure pilots), Foundation (institutional changes like policies, committees, and cells), and Communication(campaigns, consultations, and outreach). But the true force behind the success of the Challenges were every single participating city that contributed in different ways, from testing small-scale ideas to large-scale implementation, doing whatever they could to reimagine their streets given unique contexts.

To read more about the journeys of these cities, the impressive accomplishments they have made d, and their way forward, take a look at ITDP India’s publication Transforming Lives With Healthy Streets: Unravelling The Journey Of Creating Healthy Streets In Indian Cities.


This journey, however, brought a lot of uncertainties that the core team — a six-member team doing the technical and coordination work — had to adapt to constantly. Here’s what the team learned from the intensive but rewarding processes:

  • Set the right expectations: The team quickly realized that a nationwide Challenge approach was an effective tool to mainstream the conversation about a topic — Healthy Streets, in this case. But, when it comes to implementation, cities were at different starting points with respect to their understanding, capacity, infrastructure, ecosystem, etc. So, expecting the same level of results from all of them would have been unfair. The goal was to get city officials to understand the concepts to at least start talking about Healthy Streets and the importance of prioritizing them in their cities. By calibrating the expectations, we were able to achieve this by the end of the Challenges.
  • Enable the right ecosystem: No matter how great the ambition to drive change, nothing is possible without the right kind of support. The. team saw how committed and proactive city leaders inspired action and were instrumental in getting things done. Not just that, the cities with a network of strong local partners — civil society organizations, non-governmental organizations, resident welfare associations, Bicycle Mayors, etc. — consistently surpassed expectations because of their unwavering support in driving the work forward.
  • Ensure collaboration between multiple departments: Through the Challenges, the team actively worked with the Municipal Corporation and Smart City Limited who took the lead in each city. Across the country, cities that stood out and implemented great infrastructure had one secret ingredient — engaging with multiple departments to ensure coordinated action and support for the project. Building the support and capacity of these various departments — including others like the Traffic Police and the Planning and Development Authority — is the only way Healthy Streets projects can be implemented holistically.
  • Establish a robust data collection and monitoring system:  While cities worked towards the actions expected of them through the Challenges, they faced a major gap in setting up processes for data collection and monitoring. In addition to the technical guidance and resources the team provided, supporting cities was crucial — to prioritize this action, identify a nodal staff person, and build their capacity to work with data.
  • Promote behavior change: Through the Challenges, cities were introduced to the power of campaigns. Cities went all out in hosting social media campaigns, Open Street events, and other events like walkathons, cyclethons, cycle rallies, etc. to mainstream walking and cycling among the public. But this by itself is not enough to get more people cycling. While one-off events are great for garnering public support, long-term campaigns with a lens of behavior change (like the Cycle2Work campaign initiated by some cities) are the only way to nudge people to take up walking and cycling as a mode of commute. This is also necessary to ensure the infrastructure implemented by cities are used well — infrastructure and campaigns go hand-in-hand in ensuring successful Healthy Streets initiatives.

The team at ITDP India believe that the India Cycles4Change and Streets4People Challenges are an innovative step towards the larger vision of creating sustainable cities of the future. Cities have committed to continuing their efforts by identifying their short-term and long-term goals for the next three years, including plans to allocate budgets for Healthy Streets. The team hopes to see many more cities embrace Healthy Streets and become model cities in the coming years. Just like the Challenge cities, the team also applied the Test-Learn-Scale mantra in strategizing and developing the Challenges. They tested out this new format and gathered key learnings to document the processes.

Now, the team is strategizing around the next step — SCALE. They are hoping that this format inspires other city agencies and civil organizations to get creative, both within India and across the world.


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