Sarika Panda Bhatt, urban planning expert, World Resource Institute
India’s national urban transport policy has an underlying message: Cities are for people, and not vehicles. This is a very strong and progressive tone, but somehow the same is not implemented on the roads.
A majority of the Indian cities still focus on building more roads, flyovers and
expressways resulting in massive congestion.
A classical example in Gurgaon is National Highway-8.
According to the transport language, national highways are non-urban roads, i.e., they start from the periphery of the city and connect it to the rural areas or other cities/states. But in case of NH-8, it acts as an urban arterial road, even though 70% of the trips in Gurgaon, including non-motorised transport and motorbikes, are banned on this highway.
In many progressive cities of the world there is a concentrated effort to avoid these urban expressways and wherever these eyesores have been built, they are being torn down, especially those that cut through the city. This is because these minimised use of land space and reduced the quality of life for city residents.
A case in point could be Manhattan’s West Side Highway, an elevated freeway along the Hudson, which was collapsed and closed in 1973. When it was closed, 53% of the traffic that had used this freeway simply disappeared. Instead of replacing the freeway, the city added new medians — a waterfront park and a bicycle path.
Another is in the city of Seoul in South Korea, where the authorities removed the Cheonggye freeway — the one major freeway that cut through the centre of the city — in order to stimulate the economic revival of central Seoul’s Dongdaemun district.
What we can learn from these examples is that although demolishing the expressway would be too radical, one can definitely reconsider the design. We can reserve two lanes in each direction from mass transit and we could be a bus-based system like what they have done in Istanbul.
This will also address the long-term-capacity issue of the expressway, thereby rationalising the space and giving a safe environment to non-motorised transport.
We should create adequate pedestrian crossing facilities that are safe and secure. Tolls should either be removed or mechanised to ease traffic along the expressway. If people save time at the toll, they will not cause accidents in a rush to reach their destination.