'Fighting congestion by widening a road is like loosening your belt to fight obesity' - US-based traffic engineer Walter Kulash's observation about Orlando couldn't have been more appropriate for Delhi.
To unclog the streets of Delhi, what we first need is an exhaustive and specific study to understand what clogs our roads. The city's top experts believe that instead of incremental and reactive measures such as building one flyover after another, what Delhi needs is a comprehensive transport policy.
Hindustan Times has been running a month-long series 'Unclog Delhi' and as part of the campaign, we invited the top transport and planning experts of Delhi for a brainstorming session. One issue on which all experts agreed was the immediate need for a vision document for Delhi's transport planning and an umbrella body that could coordinate with the multitude of authorities to come up with an integrated transport plan.
"Delhi doesn’t have a stated, comprehensive transport policy. It only has an operational plan prepared in 2003," said Nalin Sinha, Director, Initiative for Transportation and Development Programmes. Sinha said all transport-related initiatives in the city are taken in an ad hoc manner in the absence of a stated policy.
AK Jain, former commissioner (planning), Delhi Development Authority, said that instead of a study of Delhi’s traffic demand management, short-term measures such as creating more flyovers and roundabouts are taken to deal with immediate problems.
Sinha emphasised on the need for an umbrella body for transport planning. "In most cities with successful transport and traffic scenario such as New York and London, it is the municipality’s responsibility," he said. "In Delhi, the transport department reports to the government and is responsible for giving licenses, municipalities do not have time to handle anything beyond water and sewage, the DTC is autonomous, DDA does only land planning and PWD only builds roads and flyovers. Everyone passes the buck," he said.
The experts also believe that instead of planning just the smooth movement of cars, transport planning should focus on the mobility of more people in a faster way. "There is no road designing in Delhi. Most roads have been designed just for motor vehicles," said AK Bhattacharjee, former director, Unified Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure (Planning & Engineering) Centre (UTTIPEC).
He said that Delhi’s streets have been designed as highways, which lack all components to ensure equitable distribution of road space for all, including pedestrians and cyclists. “Of the Rs 3,500 crore budget for transport in Delhi, Rs 2000 crore goes into building flyovers. What about other transport and road infrastructure?” he said.
Strengthening Delhi’s public transport system and making it more seamless could help wean away people from private transport but what is required is proper last-mile connectivity, something the Delhi Metro sorely needs in spite of emerging as Delhi’s lifeline.
“When you have a world-class Metro in Delhi, why can’t you invest in last-mile connectivity?” said Professor PK Sarkar, head of transport planning department, School of Planning and Architecture. “Is flyover an essential requirement or do you have to see greater mobility?” he said.
Dr Sewa Ram, Associate Professor, School of Planning and Architecture, said that the issue of feeder services for Metro has been completely neglected when that and auto rickshaws should be a part of a lay-out plan. “There should be operational integration between different modes of public transport and fare integration on the principle of defined time, defined value. There is a need for a common mobility card,” he said.
“Ideally, one should spend two-third of the funds on the main route and one-third on the feeder service. What is happening is the opposite. People end up paying more on feeder services and less in Metro,” he said.
“Along Metro lines, traffic has gone up by 2-3% but away from Metro lines, traffic has seen a 9% growth rate. Mass transport has reduced traffic growth rate,” said Dr K Ravinder, senior scientist, Central Road Research Institute.
Jain said that alternative modes of transport can be used to lessen the pressure on Delhi’s roads. One such way is energising the existing Ring Railway of the city. He also said that radical innovations, such as using Delhi’s canals, which measure about 350 km, as waterways can also be looked into.