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Here’s a path that can help ease the gridlock on our urban arterial roads
Urban infrastructure needs to be seen in the proper perspective-the perspective of each urban area under development. Practically every Indian city has its own characteristics and its development needs vary.
However, certain common features are that predominantly, the mode of transport is either a motorised two-wheeler or a bicycle. Public transport is a small percentage of commuting and six-seater autorickshaws and vans carry people on a shared-fare system.
However, pedestrians are everywhere, however short the distances that they may cover. This largest group of road users is very vulnerable and we will see, time to time, through this column, what sort of infrastructure is needed, its utility and financial viability.
Through this column, we will look into other infrastructure proposals and their implications to quality of life and financials. To begin with, we will focus on Mumbai.
In this metropolis, two types of statistics need to be considered when a planning exercise is undertaken. The first one gives the breakup of the modes of travel Mumbai commuters use. Around 43.8% do it exclusively on foot; 3.1% on bicycles; 2.8% by personal motorcars; 8.5% by motorised two-wheelers; 16.7% by BEST buses; 22.7% use the suburban railway network and 2.4% travel by taxis and autorickshaws.
The second gives the percentage of population residing within a certain distance from their place of work. There are 57% who reside within 3km from their place of work; 69% within 5km; 81% within 10km; 89% within 15km and 11% beyond 15km.
Road congestion can be viewed from two perspectives; one from the flow of motorised vehicles and the other from the mobility angle, mobility of people.
Although we can see that motorised personal vehicles cater to only 11.3% of the population, all resources seem to be put to this group's benefit. Since resources generated and deployed are not able to keep up with the pace of growth of personal vehicles, road congestion is a major problem.
This leads to further deterioration of the public transport system and more people join in to use personal motorised transport. Thus we feel the unending vicious cycle leading to perpetual road congestion. Add to this the aspect of aspiration of owning a personal four-wheeler.
Taking over footpath space to squeeze in additional motorable lanes is perceived as a solution. This solution has proved to be not only failing in every way but is downright undemocratic-in fact, it borders on being autocratic.
This is very well seen in the number of fatal accidents which take place, their perpetrators and the victims. The perpetrator is almost invariably the driver of a motorised vehicle-both personal and public-and the victim is almost always a pedestrian or a cyclist. There is this avoidable contempt among many users of motorised vehicles against pedestrians, bicyclists and even tri-cyclists and other non-motorised vehicle users.
The contempt is seen in the disrespectful honking we witness all the time, halting on pedestrian zebra crossings with the traffic police's active promotion to do so and parking on footpaths and entrances to properties.
Is this not a reflection of undemocratic attitudes and public facilities provided inequitably by governments in a democratic polity we claim to have adopted for ourselves?
It is an observed fact that by providing additional facilities to carry more motorised vehicles to address congestion problems, more motorised personal vehicles begin to ply on roads, thus not reducing road congestion at all, but leading to a wider CO2 footprint.
The growing number of motorised personal vehicles in use is not in the right direction either from the global warming or the climate change point of view.
What is the way out? How do we achieve mobility of people rather than vehicles? How do we lower the CO2 footprint from the transportation sector? How do we usher in an atmosphere of ground-level democracy?
For this, the second perspective has to be looked at with an open mind. This perspective says that to remove road congestion, remove the cause in itself; i.e. the use of personal motorcars and make our cities car free.
Hypothetically, if we consider this to be possible, will mobility be achieved in the real sense? Will an atmosphere of democracy be prevalent under this car-free environment?
It is a point to ponder over for the New Year and debate and arrive at definite conclusions and then move to implement the policy thus evolved. If I were to give my opinion in one sentence, I would say that in Mumbai, first provide footpaths appropriately designed and constructed, including details that meet the accessibility requirements of the Disability Act 1995, provide cycle-ways that are wide enough to accommodate two passing cycle-rickshaws or tri-cycle goods carriers, provide dedicated bus lanes, develop a Bus Rapid Transport System (BRTS) where necessary, and then allocate the remaining space for all other modes of road transport.
BRTS is necessary in Mumbai primarily because it can provide the high capacity of public transport because of which we can prevent the 4,000 annual fatalities that occur in our suburban railway system due to exceedingly overcrowding.
Walking and cycling are anyway predominant; however, infrastructure for these activities is dismal. The BRTS is a must for Mumbai so that longer distances are covered in the least time with greater safety and comfort. Unless people demand it, this will never happen.
Sudhir Badami is a civil engineer and a Transportation Analyst. He is on the Government of Maharashtra's Steering Committee on BRTS for Mumbai and on the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority's Technical Advisory Committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also a member of the Research & MIS Committee of the Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority. He was a member of the Bombay High Court appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). He can be reached at [email protected]
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