A thing that repeatedly strikes me about Chandigarh is how little the city’s road network has changed over the past two decades.
All roads — almost to a T — have remained of the same width and no expansion has been done, except perhaps adding a cycle track here or there and cosmetic widening at certain points. The map has changed to a little extent in Sector-17 with the overbridge coming up and a new route to Panchkula through its Industrial Area, another important addition.
Meanwhile, people who used to ride cycles have moved on in the economic value chain to cars and scooters. However, the number of cyclists has not come down with more coming in to take the space people like me vacated, way back in the early 2000s.
Be that it may be, traffic movement in the city is the one thing that has slowed down considerably.
This is somewhat of an enigma as in all other spheres of life; speed has become the king and attracts a premium.
Now, with the Punjab and Haryana high court stepping in and demanding better traffic management — especially the movement of cyclists — and increased safety, policy makers need to get their thinking caps on, and fast.
Of course, segregation of traffic and strict enforcement of lane driving can make a difference, but it is likely to be a short-term solution that would perhaps last no more than a couple of years.
Cyclists and pedestrians, in any case, have to be given their own tracks and these could in fact be raised platforms, running along the existing road with the width of the channel being just enough to accommodate a cyclist.
Even as jams have become increasingly common, there is still little discussion on widening of roads or constructing flyovers at critical bottleneck points.
For the widening of roads, a critical angle that has to be looked at is the status of the roundabouts. Shall we demolish these and just retain a few for memories’ sake? The argument is that these are part of the city’s heritage and add to the charm.
There is an appeal to the argument; even then can a sense of history be allowed to detract from the utilitarian value of a city?
For the business community, faster and efficient movement of goods and services is above maintaining the heritage status.
In fact, most businessmen would be happy to contribute to preserve the heritage of the city in a good business environment, if capital assets like roads, sewerage and water supply are taken care of.
The proposed uniform beautification of Sector-17 market is a case in point.
For the recently-formulated Industrial Policy of the city to deliver, there is no option but to increase road capacity and at scale. If we think we need two times the present road width, the administration should construct 10 times the width now.
We are fortunate enough that somebody in the system has the inclination and the time to actually monitor the quality of our lives, as in more cyclists being killed on our roads and thus flag the need to plan.