Gurugram needs to create infrastructure for pedestrians, not motoristsUpdated: Sep 30, 2019 23:38 IST
When I heard the news that the Rapid Metro is facing an uncertain future due to financial losses, a lot of mixed thoughts crossed my mind: That the project was ill-conceived, that it didn’t cater well to the city’s real traffic needs, that there were vested interests involved, etc. But one overriding thought was: Will the urban planners learn a simple lesson that one needs to think twice before building any new infrastructure in the city?
When planned, the Rapid Metro was to be the pride of Gurugram, the crowning glory of its majestic Golf Course Road. Investments were first made to build it and then to sustain and promote it. However, it could never get enough ridership to make itself sustainable. The Golf Course Road itself today is neither here nor there. On one hand, it has no room for the movement of pedestrians or cyclists. On the other, it does not assure of hassle-free driving experience to car owners given the frequent traffic congestion at its tail-end.
There are other examples of ill-thought infrastructure decisions. We don’t think twice before chopping off the green belts on both sides of the road for the sake of widening the road. The moment you widen roads, more cars occupy and choke up the road, making a mockery of the exercise. The traffic situation becomes the same in no time. The real loss is of green vegetation that is so very crucial for the city. Besides, we need to fix the real problem (of restricting private traffic on roads) head-on, and not please ourselves with quick-fix solutions in the interim. As experts say, road widening is akin to loosening our belts to accommodate our larger waist size! Attack the root cause, the flab. Do not resize the belt.
Another bad decision has been to build foot overbridges on city junctions where they were not needed. Some of these high structures remain unused and are poorly maintained. In fact, it is not a rare spectacle to see motorcyclists and cyclists using them as a short cut rather than pedestrians. People on foot (especially elderly) find climbing up and down the stairs too cumbersome. In the evenings, another issue is that these structures become desolate places and therefore unsafe. Pedestrian subways too remain unused for the same reason.
Underpasses that get waterlogged and flooded in rains due to lack of proper drainage are another nuisance. They need to be well-lit, well-maintained and have proper signage. Initially, due to lack of information, people even use unidirectional underpasses for moving from the other side. This can have disastrous consequences. Speed-breakers too need to put at the right places. Besides, infrastructure, such as multilevel parking has failed in some cities like Chandigarh. So, one needs to undertake a complete feasibility study before constructing such massive structures.
The basic problem with our city’s planning is that more and more capital infrastructure is being planned, allocated and invested for cars, and continuously less and less for public transport, cyclists and pedestrians. We need to reverse this trend. After all, we have to move people not cars and the majority of people on our roads are not car-owners but those who use public or non-motorised modes.
Also, each time the solution does not necessarily lie in creating “hard” infrastructure. Sometimes innovative “soft” solutions such as geometric improvement of road intersections, improved design, reducing encroachments, improving markings on roads, traffic and road signage can help achieve greater all-round mobility and safety of all users. Besides using policy interventions such as de-incentivising car use, innovative parking policies, congestion pricing, creating low carbon emission zones and introducing vehicle quota can also work wonders. Other “soft” solutions include operational improvements such as better traffic management. Still, others include bringing behavioural changes in citizens.
Let’s not forget that a city does not become modern by fast-lane road networks or massive zig-zag flyovers. It becomes modern when its infrastructure caters to all. Next time, when we think of building new infrastructure in the city, let’s think twice. Do we really need that capital investment? Can we not divert a small part of that investment in making pavements across the city? It’s high time we focus on simple solutions that cater to all citizens.
(Shubhra Puri is the founder of Gurgaon First, a citizen initiative to promote sustainability in Gurugram through workshops and research books)
First Published: Sep 30, 2019 23:38 IST