Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Thursday, April 22, 2010

urban transport - skewed priorities

city transport improvement is usually dominated by road expansions, flyovers, ring roads, etc.
very low impetus is given to public transport (even the famed metro railways that is coming up in many cities dont add up to any significant numbers).

it is usually a simple enough set of reasons:
1. lot of money to be pocketed in road projects and moreso in the maintenance.
2. policy makers never use public transport.
3. the influence of the car/bike manufacturers lobby.

and even less importance is given to the walkers, cyclists (pedestrian in fact means third class).

kalpana sharma details this mayhem over at infochangeindia.

The investment pattern in roads and transport in our major cities clearly illustrates the lack of prioritisation of public transport. Mumbai is probably the best example. In the 1960s, Mumbai had one of the best public transport systems. It had buses, trams and the suburban railways; only very rich individuals could afford private cars in those days. Hence, most people used public transport.

Over the years, this system has not been strengthened at the required pace. Trams were phased out as they were seen to take up too much road space, and roads have become home to the burgeoning population of private motor vehicles. Most of the investment in the last two decades has gone towards making life more comfortable for these private vehicle owners. Roads have been widened and flyovers built, including a spectacular sea link that has only recently been opened to a couple of bus routes. In other words, every effort has been made to make travel easy and smooth for those riding in private cars, even though they constitute a small minority of Mumbai’s total population.
but, there have been some inspiring examples from south america. bogota for instance has a splendid biking route network and bus rapid transit system.
recently, paris had also invested heavily in a novel biking solution.
and just now, the US is starting to make some noises talking about equality of rights between pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

will these winds of change hit our shores?
BRTS is being tried in a few cities with some mixed but promising results - delhi, ahmedabad, pune.
every big city has their metro rail project under construction. though i suspect that the delhi success will not be replicated in other cities.
delhi did not have a public transport system at all and the metro filled up that gap admirably. chennai has a good bus system, mumbai has a great train and bus system, bangalore has a decent bus system.
instead of a new metro rail transport system, the focus should have been to strengthen these existing facilities instead of creating a competitive system.
but again, metro rail projects are big money projects and allows significant lining of pockets.

these starts have to be exponentially expanded:
1. the public investments have to be heavily in favour of mass transport systems and non-motorised systems.
2. simultaneously, private vehicle ownership should be heavily taxed (a la singapore). at least those who are buying the second and third vehicles.
3. demarcating vehicle-free zones in high volume/high density areas like t.nagar in chennai, dadar in mumbai and connnaught place in delhi is an option.

hold it.
looking at the overall scenarios, if the population of the cities continue to explode, none of the above will work. and in fact, these factors may exacerbate the explosion.
so parallel and heavier investments will need to be made to stabilise migration, aka improve our agriculture.

that is another discussion...


Vanessa said...

To share some things I like in US,

1. pedestrian always has right of way at crosswalks.
2. Sign Boards like, Share the road with bikes (that is bicycles)
3. Bike lanes on almost all major streets. More common in CA and rare in Texas.
4. Special consideration for disabled pedestrians eg. Stop right away if you see a pedestrian with a white cane/ guide dog. Keep engine running as a blind person cannot see you and needs to hear your engine to be aware of the stopped car.
5. There is a city in Masachussets which gives bonus to employees who regularly bike to work. (This was geared towards the anti-obesity campaign in fact.)
6. Have heard of many people failing the drive-test because they did not yield to a pedestrian. Now of course, this is possible because number of cars is more than walkers.
7. Streets are walker friendly with appropriate slope for strollers etc. at intersections, signals for walkers. Most buses have a bike rack on them. So if a bus-stop is far, you bike there and get on the bus along with your cycle.

Now with all this, we expect more people to walk/ cycle. But that does not happen :(

The one slogan of most state Motor vehicle departments is "Driving is a privilege, not a right" I kinda find that impressive.

Gee... that was a long comment! hope its not longer than the post itself. :)

csm said...

people may need to be forced into bikes by forcing them out of cars.
from the us example, mere encouragement will not work.

Vanessa said...

Going by your earlier post, forcing people out of cars might not be that far.

Vanessa said...

btw, did you know that MG road in Pune was made a walking plaza for weekends? I remember this from early 2007. I don't know if it continued later.

csm said...

did not hear about the pune story yet.
there is similar stuff currently happeneing in ahd. it is creating a child friendly city and details are on

Vish said...

The Ahmedabad BRTS is the most successful. Delhi is coping.