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Your Space: Will Pune Cycle Plan be a game-changer or another wasted initiative?

Hindustan Times has been highlighting the need for dedicated cycle tracks in Pune, once famed as ‘the City of Cycles’. Today, however, Pune ranks among the cities with highest density of vehicles. Here is what readers have to say.

pune Updated: Oct 29, 2017 18:07 IST
HT Correspondent
The environment-friendly transportation system is a much-needed initiative to be implemented by authorities.
The environment-friendly transportation system is a much-needed initiative to be implemented by authorities. (HT PHOTO)

I fully support the Pune Bicycle Master Plan. However, I have serious misgivings about whether the comprehensive master plan (CMP) will be implemented as designed, for the following reasons.

Will the master plan be a “game changer” and a key component for bringing about major changes in our traffic and transportation vision and projects? Or will it remain just one more toothless plan published with great fanfare but left unimplemented?

The background

Once known as the cycling city with high percentage of cyclists biking to work, shopping, entertainment, recreation, leisure and other purposes, Pune has seen the share of bicycle rides drastically shrink over the last several decades to a point where if the current trend continues, bicycling will only remain a part of the city’s history.

If transport infrastructure and supporting policy for bicycle promotion is taken up with earnestness and honesty, the ridership of bicycles can rise substantially. Transport planners have long known that “if you design roads and infrastructure for cars and two-wheelers, you will get more cars and two-wheelers; but if you design roads for bicycles, you will see substantial increase in bicycles ridership”. Modal shift back to bicycle is not only possible but indeed doable.

Replacement of bicycle by motorised two and four-wheelers is a worldwide trend beginning with post Second World War period where novelty, speed, apparent convenience and comfort of the motorised modes coupled with the higher purchasing power of urban population led to a surge in the ownership and use of motorised vehicles. But it didn’t take very long for many motorised cities in Europe to notice the negative aspects of car domination (and car dependence). Congestion, pollution, accidents, physical damage to the city form, destruction of communities, and economic loss caused by all the above, made worse by the tripling of fuel prices in the 1970s and mid-1990s led to a serious questioning of the personal motor car as the best mode of travel for all the citizens.

Soon, a major shift to sustainable transport began to take roots in many cities across the globe: ownership permits for new cars and area licencing scheme for personal cars in Singapore, innovation of the bus rapid transit (BRT) system in Curitiba, Brazil (1974), congestion charging scheme in London, UK (2003) and public bicycle sharing scheme – Velib, Paris (2007) are now part of the success stories highlighting the U-turn in transportation vision of city and transportation planners.

Less publicised but perhaps creating deeper long-term impact was the promotion and investment in bicycling infrastructure in Amsterdam (Holland) and Copenhagen (Denmark) as also in many cities in Germany, France, Switzerland and Italy.

Situation in Our Cities

Unfortunately, the traffic and city planning vision in most Indian cities continues along the old paradigm of unsustainability, which is — relying on bigger and wider roads, building flyovers and underpasses and creating more and more parking spaces for the least desirable mode — namely the personal automobile. This is not only undesirable if the goal is to reduce congestion, pollution, road accidents and economic losses caused by these impediments but downright undemocratic and iniquitous for a poor country like India where majority of citizens have to bear the most extreme conditions of personal discomfort and prohibitive costs when it comes to their travel mode.

These conditions have hardly changed despite the Central Government’s adoption of the National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) in 2006 which though not flawless has many good recommendations at the policy level.

In addition to NUTP, cities, funded under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) of which Pune is a part, were required to prepare a comprehensive mobility plan (CMP) with proposals in line with the NUTP. Pune city too has prepared a CMP and touts this when projecting itself as a smart and enlightened city.

However, despite these policy documents (NUTP and CMP), Pune continues to brazenly violate their recommendations when building transportation infrastructure throughout the city. It will therefore be naive to assume that recommendations of the “Comprehensive Bicycle Master Plan for Pune” will be put in practice by Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) with any seriousness or real commitment.

Pune’s Bicycle Master Plan - Serious Concerns

1)Creation of citywide cycle track network and cycle-safe streets

It is ironical that while creation of citywide cycle track network is a high priority item of the bicycle master plan, PMC has permitted gross and criminal neglect of existing cycle tracks in the city.

Some examples: Model Colony canal road had a dedicated cycle track protected by vertical tiles to prevent two wheelers/cars from entering the cycle track. Just under a year back (while PMC’s consultants were busy preparing the bicycle master plan), this canal road was taken up for concretisation, during which time the dedicated cycle track was removed and replaced by a poorly visible painted line. Now cars and two-wheelers drive and park on what was the old cycle track.

•The Wakdewadi underpass was meant for bicycles only. This was a path-breaking infrastructure put in place sometime in the 1970s, for safety and convenience of bicyclists. This has over the years been invaded by motorised two-wheelers and even cars.

If the city is unable to protect such existing pro-cycle facilities, will anyone have faith in PMC properly executing a citywide bicycle master plan?

In terms of institutional mechanisms, capacity-building and budget estimates for implementing the plan, unless there are specific targets set for officials in charge of bicycling and NMT (non-motorised transport), this will remain a mere intention and will do nothing to achieve the objectives of the bicycle master plan.

Pune Cycle Plan (Preliminary Draft)

Page 5 of Pune Cycle Plan preliminary draft gives a long list to show various assessments of current transportation plans and projects as well as numerous surveys, traffic counts and ward-level meetings. Apparently, presentations on the bicycle master plan were made in many ward offices, mohalla committees and housing societies

However, it is not clear if inputs were sought and received from the local elected representatives and if any interactions were held with them about the bicycle master plan. Elected representatives often demand arbitrary changes in traffic plans and infrastructures without adequately acquainting themselves with the provisions, objectives and vision of the NUTP or the CMP. Hence sensitising them to the benefits of the bicycle master plan for the city and its potential to reduce the traffic problems of the city would have paid rich dividends.

There are numerous examples of ill-advised interventions by political elements (elected representatives) corporators, MLAs and MLCs in transportation proposals put forward by the PMC administration. There is no reason to believe that such interventions will not be made in the bicycle master plan too.

Safety Concerns

The National Urban Transport Policy and Comprehensive Mobility Plan is full of quotes such as: “the safety concerns of NMT modes have to be addressed....Further the NUTP recommends the involvement of users in the appraisal of cycle infrastructure designs” (page 6)…It also says: “The CMP seeks to make public transport facilities available to all residents within a reasonable distance from their homes, workplaces…”

These can at best be considered as a “wish list” with no clear plan set out to show how these will be actually achieved. With the Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal Limited (PMPML) periodically increasing its fares and monthly pass charges (without improving its performance), it is steadily losing customers –so the prediction of attracting commuters to public transport is hallow and unconvincing.

There is nothing to demonstrate that the PMC has undertaken scientific and detailed alternative analysis, as recommended by NUTP for identification of a number of trunk mobility corridors for high capacity public transport systems such as BRT/monorail/LRT/Metro. The right of pedestrians and introduction of physical and fiscal measures to discourage the use of personal motor vehicles has also not got the due priority and urgency.

Is PMC Moving in the Right Direction?

Pune city is presently involved in many projects that are not in the CMP and are in fact contradictory to the vision and the spirit of the CMP/NUTP. To name a few:

A spate of flyovers (Nal Stop, Khanduji Baba Chowk, Grade Separator at the Pune University Junction, Multi-layered Chandani Chowk Flyover).

None of these are in the CMP but the PMC administration has not rejected the proposals. On the contrary, it is going along with their construction on high priority.

PMC is also defending its decision to build the riverbed road near Vitthalwadi, demolition of which was ordered by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and is planning to build several more riverbed roads, tunnels through ecologically sensitive urban forests and hills and the so-called High Capacity Mass Transportation Route (HCMTR) which is a total travesty of justice, because the original HCMTR (proposed in the 1982 Development Plan) was defined as an access-controlled public transport only ring road. In its present avatar, this road will mainly be for personal auto vehicles (with 4 or more lanes for personal vehicles) and only two lanes for BRT.

If PMC is honest and serious in its intentions to make Pune a cycling city again, it must indicate how all its good intentions, goals and objectives will become a part of the development plan (DP) to be executed in a time-bound manner. Merely including the provisions in the DP will not ensure execution as one can see from the original HCMTR proposal, which was in the 1982 DP but allowed to collect dust for over 30 years. Now that it is on the anvil and is in a totally mutilated form.

SUJIT PATWARDHAN

Founder & Trustee, Parisar

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