With the number of vehicles increasing sharply and parking space vanishing rapidly, it is critical that we discuss and work out parking solutions that are workable and affordable
Parking is such a pain! We rarely hear this being uttered nowadays. Why is this? Does it mean there are no parking woes? Or that the problem has reached such proportions that people may have accepted they have to live with it?
People are innovative in finding solutions. The first thing they do is to employ a multi-utility driver. Arm him with a mobile phone-lady professional drivers are almost unheard of, so the word "him"-and relieve yourself of the pain of parking by passing it on to him. How does the driver tackle his "pain"? He is a benevolent person and readily shares this with his co-drivers and pedestrians, and sometimes even gives the towing contractor and the cops the opportunity to make hay while the pain is acute! There is, in a true sense, an equitable distribution of "pain due to parking woes".
The other innovation that car users adopt, essentially the self-driven ones, is to park the vehicle on the roadside kerb with one part of the car on the footpath, irrespective of how wide the footpath is, leaving space barely enough for a dog to pass by. If it is not self-driven, then "the driver has just gone for his chai, will be back in two minutes" is what one has to digest. Since traffic cops rarely walk on footpaths, they do not invoke the rule against parking on footpaths, unless you as a citizen make a noise about the encroachment. But, of course, to prevent the entire car mounting the footpath, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) has set the tone by installing stainless steel bollards on footpaths along entrances to properties, an innovative detail that is being copied by other civic bodies. But car users get over this by simply parking their vehicles right across the entrances, encouraging pedestrians to walk down the road carriageway. (You might call it an unwritten "let's share our spaces" understanding between pedestrians and vehicle users!)
There's another interesting innovation-park and ride. You drive the vehicle to the point where, if you are early enough, you will get some space for the vehicle in the shade for the better part of the day, then hop on to a taxi to complete the remaining part of the journey, saving money on fuel, keeping the car in running condition, postponing employing a driver and saving on parking charges too!
In metros like Mumbai and Delhi, park-n-ride is getting official sanction. Where projects need heavy investment, can they remain without being promoted? In Mumbai, for example, the MCGM is considering building underground car parks in the "South Mumbai CBD" to accommodate less than 2,000 cars.
There is another incentive being actively proposed, to permit providing additional saleable built-up area for new building proposals, to the tune of 30-50 square metres for every single car parking space provided in the "public parking space (pps)" by the developer. This would mean that so long as you keep on providing large quantity of public parking space within your plot, you get to build that much more "saleable property" at a premium rate. The potential of exorbitant returns for the developer can well be visualised. Would such "public parking proposals" be of any value in the real sense?
There is another angle to this "pps" scheme. Other than getting parking space, is MCGM going to get any monetary benefit from the space so developed and sold at the premium market rate, besides the untold problems caused due to inadequacy in overall infrastructure facilities? How is MCGM going to fund the upgrading the overall infrastructure status? Will not providing such a large amount of liveable space, lead to an increase in the population to an unacceptably high density, rendering every infrastructure, including parking space, to an unacceptably inadequate degree?
If then, parking is such a pain, how should this be addressed?
Hypothetically, if we assumed that there are no personal vehicles plying on the roads, would we then have parking problems? The roads would then have enough width for pedestrians, cyclists, non-motorised vehicles and efficient public road transport, and that means BRTS (bus rapid transport system). People would be able to walk short distances comfortably and safely, little longer distances by cycle and in combination with feeder buses, use BRTS and suburban trains for longer distances. This "utopian" situation would go a long way in our battle against noise and air pollution, global warming and climate change. Should we not make an intelligent attempt to address the problem and work towards attaining the "utopian" condition?
I propose a scheme which may be debated over by all stakeholders that would help evolve a workable and acceptable policy.
One of the good things about the latest Coastal Regulation Zone Regulations (CRZ-2011) is that it places a cap of 2.5 on the FSI, whatever the incentives that MCGM provides as developmental facilities. This means that no developer can build unlimited amount of "saleable, liveable space" simply by providing large quantity of public parking space in the property, though 2.5 itself is high in comparison with the 1.33 prevailing in the island city. But, it cannot be increased to 4 and as found on some plots, much more than 4. It is hoped that this will keep a check on the already high density of population.
Like neighbourhood playgrounds or recreational grounds have been planned in the Development Plan for Mumbai, there must be a scheme for providing neighbourhood parking plots of sufficiently high capacity and universal design, unlike the cr2 car park where one cannot take SUVs, and the mechanised Akruti Car Park on Bhulabhai Desai Road, to enable people to park their cars safely at low parking fees. These plots should be located in such a way that there will be no location in Mumbai that is more than 500 metres from any of these parking lots. Combine with this, two more initiatives. The first is that any new or redeveloped plot, under CRZ-2011 redevelopment, must not have any parking space other than for emergency services. Second, allow no roadside parking.
There are some problems with this, no doubt, like how to manage during the monsoon. But the positive outcome of this is that (i) efficient public transport will be accessible at distances closer than the car park, enabling car addicts to consider switching over to public transport for normal commute and use personal vehicles for occasions as needed; (ii) walking and cycling gets space contributing immensely towards the battle to save the environment, and (iii) space available within plots for children and elderly to happily and safely spend their time close to home.
Aren't we looking for improving quality of life for all? Among other things, looking at parking from a different perspective is key to achieving that objective.
(The writer is a civil engineer and transportation analyst. He is on the government of Maharashtra's steering committee on BRTS for Mumbai, as well as the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority's technical advisory committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also a member of the Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority. He was a member of the Bombay High Court appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). While he has been an active campaigner against noise for over a decade, he is a strong believer in a functioning democracy.)