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Will this SoBo walking plan work?

Pedestrian management proposals for the city’s central business district, while an urgent need due to the high density of walkers, have always run afoul of environmentalists and residents who fear loss of open spaces and heritage of the area. A new plan, however, is set to change that.

mumbai Updated: Nov 16, 2011 01:49 IST
Sayli Udas Mankikar

Pedestrian management proposals for the city’s central business district, while an urgent need due to the high density of walkers, have always run afoul of environmentalists and residents who fear loss of open spaces and heritage of the area. A new plan, however, is set to change that.

Called the ‘Esplanade project’, it envisages an elevated walking platform near major hubs like the Churchgate railway station, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) and Flora fountain, which will give pedestrians easy access to open spaces like the Oval, Azad, Cross and Cooperage maidans.

Cars will go through short underpasses at these busy crossings, thus reclaiming the roads for a walking plaza, which will create 51 acre of additional public open space. The project, if approved, will cost about Rs 492 crore and will be completed over a period of two years.

The proposal will be put up for public view from November 18 to November 20 at Horniman Circle, and is under the consideration of the state government empowered committee on the ‘Mumbai transformation’ project.

“The project is an outcome of many months of research and deliberations between urban planners, civic authorities and citizen groups, with the aim of providing better public spaces for the large population that walks into the business district every day. The exhibition will give them an idea about the possible transformation, and will help create public consensus,” said Brinda Somaya, managing director, Somaya and Kalappa consultants, an architecture firm.

Somaya, along with Shivjit Sidhu, principal architect at Apostrophe A+uD, also an assistant professor at the University of Florida, say the project will lead to better traffic management, connectivity for pedestrians and access to maidans, and will help maintain the heritage character of the area.

“At present, when you come out of either CST or Churchgate, you either take the subway or end up jaywalking. The subways are unsafe and are not handicap- or senior citizen-friendly. Besides, walking across roads is not pleasant with hundreds of vehicles coming onto you,” Sidhu said.

The project involves placing concrete pre-casts a few meters higher than the existing road level. “We will create depressions into roads. The underpasses outside stations and roads between maidans will ensure that vehicular traffic goes underneath, creating walking spaces above. The utilities are mostly under pavements, which we will not touch. But we have figured out how those running between the roads can be diverted,” Sidhu added.

“We have worked out ways in which we can make the project sustainable — small shopping areas [on the walking plazas] can be floated on public-private partnership basis,” Somaya said.

The project seems to have got the nod from greens and citizen groups, who have opposed such proposals until now. “We agree with this plan because it creates a lot of open spaces and maintains the character of the maidans. Previous plans talked of creating artificial forests and making people walk through subways, which is not beneficial for pedestrians,” said Nayana Kathpalia, trustee of Oval trust.

Narinder Nayar, chairman of NGO Mumbai First and a member of the empowered committee on the ‘Mumbai transformation’, said that the committee has been mulling such a project for sometime now. “This project is pedestrian-friendly and has taken into consideration a lot of traffic management issues. They have thought of its financial feasibility,” he added.