‘When it comes to infrastructure, we need simple, effective solutions’
Before spending public money on expensive civic projects, authorities should spend time, planning and examining all aspects of the projects.
A couple of weeks ago, while speaking at an event, the municipal commissioner of Gurugram talked about equity in development. He said that “lopsided investment” should be avoided and argued that instead of building a 16-lane road like Golf Course Road, the money could be used for constructing or upgrading many other sector roads. He also argued that investment in repair and maintenance, along with providing basic facilities such as footpaths on all roads, will have a far more positive impact for the residents than building one mega project.
While this may sound simplistic, this is exactly the commonsensical approach that we need to have in our cities. Therefore, hearing the commissioner’s comment was like music to my ears. I was happy that public agencies in Gurugram have finally realised the power of simple and scientific approaches. However, the happiness was short-lived, as last week the Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) started felling trees around the Huda City Centre Metro Station. The reason was that the GMDA wanted to improve traffic circulation in this area.
This is another example of how irrational decisions can impact our cities. Projects that are promoted for the larger interests of society end up doing more harm than good. Let me elaborate this with three examples on why road widening around the Huda City Centre Metro Station will do more harm than good.
Planning for whom?
On average, close to 60,000 passengers use the Huda City Centre Metro station every day. This is more than people travelling on any of the roads around the Metro station. So, while authorities always talk about improving the traffic around the Metro station, no one talks about addressing the plight of Metro users. The approach roads to the Metro station are pathetic for pedestrians. This is when the majority of people walk to the Huda Metro station. The footpaths are broken, inconsistent and often encroached upon by parked vehicles. As such people are forced to walk on the roads, exposing themselves to traffic. The only respite for these people in this smelting heat is the tree shades, and now the authorities want to take away even that as well. Therefore, the question is who should get priority on planning for the project around Huda Metro station? The Metro users who are in majority or a minority of some high-profile people who just pass by?
Will the solution work?
Traffic and transportation solutions in our cities are guided more around perception rather than technicalities. Let’s take the example of three flyovers/underpasses built recently on National Highway-8 to ease the congestion. The U-turn at Iffco Chowk is not even used by 10% of the traffic that comes on to the intersection. Instead, the road is used for parking of auto-rickshaws and other vehicles. And before one can say that these are recent projects and it takes time to develop the usage. Let’s take an example of the flyover across Sohna Road at Subhash Chowk. The agencies spent millions to construct this flyover and now after banning all the turning movements below, the flyover is grossly underutilised. Have there been any technical studies done to understand the impact of this project? Has there been any consultation done to get feedback from users? I don’t think so, because most of the time, planning in our cities is based on the perception of decision-makers rather than any technical, social or environmental concerns.
What about management?
The public agencies in our cities belive that the solution to a problem lies in a construction project. This simply means, if there is traffic, then widen the roads. If there are parking issues, then create multi-level parking lots, etc. The concept of management is missing in this approach and this is, unfortunately, the main reason why our cities are in such a mess. For example, the traffic issues at the Huda City Metro station are a result of poor management of traffic and nothing else. This includes the haphazard movement of traffic with uncontrolled parking of vehicles. The misery is further compounded by the frequent ‘trail experiment’ that happens on the location. This confuses the road user. So does replacing traffic signals with U-turns, which not only impacts the capacity but also impacts the movement of pedestrians at the intersection. Therefore, management is an important issue that cannot be neglected in managing our cities and its transportation.
The great scientist Albert Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”Therefore, if our cities can even spend a fraction of the time around thinking about the problem, we will get the solutions that are useful, contextual and functional.
(Amit Bhatt is Director— Integrated Transport, WRI India)