This New Year’s editorial contributed by Sujit Patwardhan focuses on his home city of Pune, India’s eighth largest city with five million people densely packed into a land area of about 700 sq. km. But despite the vast dimensions of their problems, the potential solutions are basically the same as those encountered by cities around the world that are struggling with these challenges. As Sujit reminds us, the key, the crux, the indispensable thing that will do the job is to apply the strong medicine which most cities and national governments find simply impossible to swallow: namely major curtailing of car access,parking and traffic in the city. And yet, and yet . . .
Reduce vehicles – Introduce efficient public transport
Find solution to growing mismatch between road space on the one hand and the number of vehicles on the other
Pune along with most growing cities in the country is grappling with the ever-growing problem of road congestion, pollution, accidents and a steady deterioration in the quality of life. To deal with these problems of traffic, the city has in the past two decades or so been on a spree of road building, road widening and erection of numerous flyovers.
But the traffic problem has continued to get worse. We now have the rush hour stretching to three hours in the mornings and another three to four hours in the evenings. Journeys that took less than twenty minutes in the past now take almost an hour, and the delays are growing worse which is not surprising when you consider that over 650 new vehicles (cars and two wheelers) are registered in the RTO office each day. This means an annual increase of a quarter of a million personal auto vehicles in the city.
Is it any surprise that every day it gets more and more difficult to maneuver through cars, motorbikes and scooters trying to beat the red signal or attempting to rashly overtake each other? And are you still surprised when you just can’t find an empty slot to park even in the smaller lanes and the less busy roads?
The reason is really quite simple –and so is the solution; but only if we are ready to throw away the “old and outdated” ideas now rejected the world over.
Even with an excellent public transport and good non-motorised transport infrastructure, a city needs to put in place strong disincentives discouraging the use of personal conveyance. This can be achieved by removing free parking from all roads, increasing parking fees, creating car free areas, and taking a policy decision to stop constructing expensive and useless flyovers
So let’s see what the “crux” of the problem is.
It is not the potholes, the undisciplined drivers, the jay walkers who cross anywhere they want or even those dare-devils that insist on driving in the wrong direction. These though no doubt important, are only symptoms. The root problem is the growing mismatch between the road space on one hand and the number of vehicles on the other. There are just too many vehicles fighting for space and the problem can only be addressed by either enormously increasing the road space or by substantially reducing the need to bring so many vehicles on the road.
The old way was to build more, more and even more roads with the hope that they will accommodate all the additional vehicles comfortably and thus reduce congestion, delays and pollution. Unfortunately building more roads, widening them or building flyovers and elevated roads has not solved the traffic problem anywhere in the world. Not a single city anywhere in the world has solved its traffic problem this way. On the contrary more and wider roads and flyovers have made the congestion worse as wider roads attract more traffic and ultimately excessive auto vehicle traffic threatens, damages and even destroys the city’s unique built (historical buildings) and natural heritage (rivers, lakes, hills etc)
The alternative to this – which is called the “sustainable option”, is what has successfully worked in many cities around the globe. This relies on reducing the number of auto vehicles on the road while improving mobility options for the majority of citizens through an adequate, efficient, affordable and reliable citywide public transport system which can carry much higher number of commuters in less than one-fourth the space and with far less pollution and energy consumption per passenger. Such a public transport system also requires excellent pedestrian facilities (like good and wide footpaths) because majority of commuters access public transport on foot.
But merely putting in place a good public transport system is not enough. If at the same time the city has great facilities for cycling, which meets the “door to door connectivity” needs for shorter journeys, this contributes a lot to improving the city’s mobility.
Finally even with an excellent public transport and good non-motorised transport infrastructure, a city needs to put in place strong dis-incentives discouraging the use of personal auto vehicles except for essential trips. This can be achieved removing free parking from all roads, substantially increasing the parking fees and creating car-free areas and taking a policy decision once and for all to stop constructing expensive and useless flyovers that worsen traffic congestion instead of solving it.
* This article originally appeared in the Indian Express, Pune Newsline, 1st January 2015
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About the author:
Sujit Patwardhan is a Graphic Designer and Printer by profession and a founder member and Trustee of Parisar since its inception in 1982. His designs have won several awards and featured in journals in India and abroad. He has driven Parisar’s efforts to bring issues of environment centre-stage – through citizens’ campaigns, collaborative activism with other like-minded organizations and advocacy efforts to highlight the need to ensure industrial and urban development does not lead to damage and destruction of the environment. He has served on several important planning and steering committees at the state level. Since the mid-1990s he has concentrated on advocacy for Sustainable Urban Transport Policy. He can be reached at sujit(at)parisar.org
Parisar is a civil society organization working on lobbying and advocacy for sustainable development. Since its formation in the early 1980s, Parisar has worked in a diverse set of fields such as preservation of heritage, protection of urban bio-diversity, and sustainable agriculture. Since about the turn of the 21st century, its work focuses mainly on sustainable urban transport, since it recognizes that unsustainable transport policies and systems are the foremost threat to urban environment and quality of life
About the editor:
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Bio: Educated as an international development economist, Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher and sustainability activist who has worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change, civil society and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets: The Politics of Transport in Cities | See Britton online at https://goo.gl/9CJXTh and @ericbritton