Last updated: 25 May, 2022

The Galaxy: A pedestrian-based city (1968, 2003-5, 2015)

Walking distances in Auroville

THE GALAXY: A PEDESTRIAN-BASED CITY

At the first open session of the “Collaborative Planning Workshop”, AVI sponsored, the overwhelming request was for eco-city mobility. Other requests followed, in tune with basics of the Galaxy, conceived fifty years ago as an eco-city when there was none. Significantly, I did not know most of those attendees; were these people living here we would have quite a different city was my sad conclusion.

Ultimately there is no other problem but consciousness. The Galaxy itself – the true thing, not a convenient patch-up – could be built in seven years, a visiting team from TERI (the green buildings branch of TATA, whose system of green evaluation is recognized internationally) told us. As for mobility, over the years well-thought attempts have been made, plans are ready to be implemented, BUT... Here are a few.

In 2003 Helmut, senior Auroville architect (Savitri Bhavan, Grace), submitted the following:

Towards a motor-free city

Car-free cities will probably become the norm this century due to energy constraints. It seems appropriate, therefore, that Auroville should be willing to take a lead in this. But how can we design Auroville as a city which could function without cars and motorbikes?

Search for new urban mobility

The last 50 years have shown that the car cannot remain the instrument of urban mobility without adversely affecting the city. Cars and other motorized vehicles are the cause of serious environmental, social, and aesthetic problems. Among other things, they kill street life, foster urban sprawl, contribute to noise and air pollution, and are inefficient users of scarce energy resources.

Better alternatives are available. Most European cities now have car-free areas in their centers, and everywhere these are in the process of being expanded. In fact, a completely car-free city is possible, as successful examples like Venice demonstrate.

Car-free Galaxy plan

In 2001 Mr. Hans Billinger, a traffic planner who lives in Stuttgart, Germany, told some Aurovilians that he considers the structure and proportions of the Galaxy plan ideal for a car-free culture: all areas of the city are within 5 or 6 minutes walking distance from the Crown Road. The outer ring road could take motorized traffic and connect with centralized parking areas there. Onward travel would be by bicycle or public transport via the radials and along the Crown, which could become the backbone of a public transport system (buses, tramways, or monorail). The Crown Road is 4 kilometers long. Assuming an average speed for the public transport of 16 km/hour (including stops), the Crown Road can be circled within 15 minutes. If only one bus would be circling constantly, and one walks to and from the bus, it would still be possible to reach any point in town in less than 30 minutes. 

Pedal-power within the city proper

Inside the outer ring road area, transport of people and goods would be by pedal-power (there will be a network of pleasant cycle and walking paths) and electric-powered vehicles: they would not overpower the streetscape because they are quiet and slow (in September 1965, Mother noted that electrically-powered vehicles with a speed not exceeding 15 km/hour would be used for transport in the city). Doctors, ambulances, and other emergency transport could enter, of course, with any type of vehicle.

Parking at outer ring-road

This raises the question of what would happen to our cars and motorbikes. If we feel like keeping them, they would only be used for transportation outside the city area and could be kept in secure parking areas or garages along the outer ring road. Exceptions would be made for taxis carrying people with a lot of luggage or sick and elderly persons.

Also located on the outer ring road will be large storage yards for accommodating supplies while awaiting dispatch into the city.

Special atmosphere

A pedestrian-based city would have a special atmosphere. The architecture would be different from that of auto-centered cities, providing a 'closeness' found in towns before the advent of the automobile. There will be visually-interesting passageways, as well as urban spaces based on a human scale.

Is Auroville willing to show that another way is possible?

This ideal plan cannot, of course, be established immediately. Major construction activities in the city will continue for a long time to come and, as yet, Auroville lacks the means to substitute non-polluting transport for the diesel-fuelled brick delivery lorries and various vans that deliver goods. But if we are agreed upon the aim of creating a pedestrian-based city, then we can begin outlining steps towards its implementation.

At present, there are about 500 million automobiles in the world (of which there are some 100 in Auroville), and the numbers are increasing almost exponentially: for those who don't own one, particularly in the developing world, the car remains the badge of prosperity and modernity. Can we tolerate the noise, danger, and global climate change that more and more cars will bring? Or is Auroville willing to show that another way is possible?

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In February 2005 Auroville’s Future (now renamed TDC) announced the following:

Helmut Schmidt in consultation with Mr. Billinger, a German traffic specialist, had produced a basic concept document on Mobility for Auroville. Building on their studies this document re-interprets the information in order to create a set of design guidelines, as indicated and endorsed by the chief architect, Mr. Roger Anger. Final implementation will be based on further detailed technical studies, such as Road levels, plinth levels, and other considerations.

... Based on this network of roads and pathways there will be provided municipal shuttle services that will be accessible within reasonable walking distances from any point in the town. This collective transportation service will also connect to the service nodes on the outer edge of Auroville’s Green Belt.

Traffic system

The Auroville Master Plan envisages the street as a common space for all. Wherever vehicular movement is permissible within Auroville itself it will be restricted to approximately 15 km/h, a speed indicated by the Mother.

• All fast-moving vehicular traffic will remain outside the city limits.

• All of Auroville’s traffic systems will be provided and managed by the municipality.

• Auroville will provide the most energy-efficient, non-polluting, user-friendly modes of mass, and individual, public conveyance systems.

• There will be no other private or independent traffic systems inside the town.

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Forwarded by Peter (VIC) in 2015, the following draft was debated and approved by the task force on mobility; Helmut and Chandresh were also part. Sauro (at that time in L'Avenir) even suggested to me a location for the multistory car parking, somewhere behind the Unity Transport, in the service area. But the Working Committee, which had appointed the task force, shelved our proposal and nothing happens ever since.


Inside Auroville City Area mobility for Aurovilians
and guests in Auroville guest houses.

1. Cycle rental
100 cycles are now available for daily/weekly rental at the Visitors Centre.
A buy-back scheme is in place for those who want to have a cycle for more than a month - they can buy a new cycle from Aurovelo, we will buy it back from them when they leave.
Next steps: expand the rental fleet by purchasing more cycles and basing them at Guest Houses, ensuring each Guest House has enough cycles easily available for their guests.

2. Two-wheeler rental
Start a rental fleet of electric mopeds, based at guest houses.
Discontinue the illegally-operated TVS moped rentals - particularly the one operated from the Town Hall by cash transaction - which are illegal because they are neither registered nor insured for commercial rental purposes, i.e. with yellow plates. Electric mopeds do not require registration or insurance.

3. Shuttle Transport within the city area.
City Transport was started to help guests reach their guest houses from the Visitors Centre and to provide an accessible transport option to Aurovilians who do not want to use either a two-wheeler or have to call a taxi.
It has succeeded in filling a niche part of the overall transport requirement - there are a number of Aurovilians (typically single, a certain age, female) who use it regularly.
It has also helped reduce auto-rickshaw traffic in the city area.
It was envisaged as a pilot or precursor of a fleet of free electric hop on-hop off shuttle vehicles plying regularly and frequently over city area routes and on-call so that Aurovilians' need for individual independent transport would be reduced.

Next steps: two more vehicles and a budget for their running costs so that we can start providing free transport within the city area.

(approximately Rs.3.5/4.00 lakhs per vehicle and Rs.30,000/- per vehicle per month running costs).
Future next step: solar electric tramway (see below)

4. Construction of a car parking garage in the Service Area so that resident car owners do not have to bring their cars all the way in to the city area to reach their homes (would reduce the need for parking spaces in the residential zone too). This would need to be combined with a dedicated shuttle vehicle to bring passengers to and from the garage.
It would also be combined with an Auroville taxi stand so that the taxis do not need to come for pick up and drop-offs within the city area - people would reach to and from the taxi stand by the shuttle vehicle.

Inside Auroville City Area mobility for day visitors.

1. Solar electric tram project
Facilitate whatever is needed (project funds, skilled engineering staff/volunteers) to materialize the pilot project for running a solar electric tram. This is planned as a shuttle for visitors between the Visitors Centre and Matrimandir (to replace the vehicles which presently take the elderly/handicapped). Once it is up, running, and tested, it can be expanded further, to Solar Kitchen, Crown Road …. etc)

2. Cash sales within the City Area.
Remind and insist to all units with premises in the City Area that there are not meant to be any cash transactions within the city area.
This applies to both cafes/eateries and units selling products.
The Visitors Centre is the designated place for visitors to be able to purchase Auroville handicrafts and produce, and for day visitors to find something to eat.
Cafes/eateries inside the city area are meant to be for the use of Aurovilians and guests staying with guest card/Aurocard.
If we would observe this it would considerably reduce the traffic generated by day visitors on two-wheelers or in cars going directly to showrooms or cafes within the city area.

Guided Tours within Auroville
Review the growing practice of taking day visitors on guided tours within Auroville.
We need to re-establish a common understanding that Auroville is not a place to be visited in a tourist/sight-seeing fashion.
The best way for people interested to find out more about Auroville has always been to stay for a few days and take the time to look around.
It is to be noted that more and more internal destinations that are visited by such guided tours are actually asking for payment to show groups around.

1. We need to reflect on the meaning of this - are we now commercializing our Auroville experience? in a place where there is to be no exchange of money?

2. Checkpost Procedures
Review and strengthen the checkpoint procedures for allowing day visitors vehicles into the City Area. At present Aurovilians insist on the checkpoint being opened if they are accompanying visitors: this is to be discontinued – surely it is up to Aurovilians to set a good example and follow the agreed format for day visitor groups.

Inside Auroville City Area mobility for goods traffic

1. Open the long envisaged link between the Industrial Zone and the Kottakarai-Alankuppam tar road to enable goods/courier traffic to reach the industrial zone without having to come up through the Visitors Centre checkpoint and past the Matrimandir/Town Hall.

The presently feasible route is through Windarra Farm to Kottakarai Plaza, north along the new section of the ring road, east up the Verite radial to EcoService, then turn left to join the CSR-Auroshilpam road.

 A posting by Paulette on Auronet, 3 December 2020

Walking distances within Auroville

NOTE. The mobility plan by architect Helmut and Billinger traffic planner, approved by Roger Anger and Aurofuture (now TDC) in 2005, is attached - split into two because the file is too heavy.

Download 2005_Mobility_Approved_By_Roger__Part_1_.pdf
Download 2005_Mobility_Approved_By_Roger__Part_2_.pdf

Read also:    https://auroville.org/contents/5152
"Raising the bar on mobility and urban planning"