Rediff.com  » Business » Forget smart cities, India must first make existing ones livable

Forget smart cities, India must first make existing ones livable

By Anjuli Bhargava
Last updated on: April 23, 2015 13:57 IST

Here's what the government should do to make our cities better - work out a plan to manage the traffic situation and make public transport more attractive.

Image: Most Indian cities are grappling with heavy traffic. Photograph: Kamal Kishore/Reuters

All of last month, newspapers have been full of news about pollution levels in Delhi and how we are losing years of our lives due to the air we breathe.

The expats in India have been warned, sales of air purifiers are on the rise and I'm sure hardship allowances of diplomats in India will go up.

Even the early morning walks at LodiGarden - as one of our columnists has informed us - are no longer as fresh as they felt before.  

If the Cabinet looked beyond its noses and Lutyens' Delhi, it would quickly see what a menace the traffic in the city has become - this despite the Metro taking a huge load off the roads.

Start at 9 a m from Gurgaon and try and reach Noida or Greater Noida. It is easier and faster to reach Mumbai, which is 1,433 km away - aerially, of course.

Traffic snarls in New Delhi during peak hours. Photograph: Reuters

Senior government officials need to take a ride crossing south Delhi during peak hours for a reality check on what can happen and how long and frustrating it can be.  

Driving within Gurgaon - the MillenniumCity - has become a challenge.

As the city tries to regulate its ever-increasing traffic, roads are made one way and back the other way without any warning.

Cybercity - the hub of corporate Gurgaon - resembles a large construction site, with uneven large craters (akin to the moon, I suspect) on the road.

There are forks and U-turns that everyone regularly misses.

Traffic jams on a water-logged road in Bangalore. Photograph: Reuters

Cars are often backing up into a steady stream of traffic as they realise they have missed some turn or the other - they are so poorly sign-posted, if at all.  

The traffic situation in several other cities - be it Bengaluru, Pune, Hyderabad or Kolkata - is steadily deteriorating as well.

Traffic peak hours in all these cities are dreaded and cases of road rage are no longer unheard of even in these relatively less aggressive cities.  

I have a few suggestions that focus on Delhi but can easily be extended to other cities.

First; make it more attractive for people like us - who own the majority of the cars - to minimise the use of personal vehicles and increase the use of public transport.

Passengers sit on a platform at a railway station in New Delhi waiting for their delayed train to arrive. Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

As things stand, road space is hogged by car owners, leaving little room for cyclists and pedestrians.

I know public buses and taxis are not an option for the relatively better off but the metro is a very viable option if one plans and sticks to non-peak hours.

Of course, it won't take all the cars off the roads right away (since most of the work and meetings will happen during peak times) but it will be a start.  

For this to work, two things need to happen. One, you need a Metro station within one km of most locations.

The Metro network - which is currently around 200 km - needs to go up at least threefold.  

Second - and this is key - car owners have to change the way they think.

Commuters await their chance to board the Mumbai Metro. Photograph: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

The Metro is not only for people like "them".

As someone wisely said, a society is wealthy not when rich people travel in cars but when they use public transport.

If Cherie Blair - former British prime minister Tony Blair's wife - could use the London Underground to commute in the city, there is no reason affluent Indians - and indeed Indian politicians' wives to begin with - cannot do the same and lead by example.  

Once the metro coverage expands, the authorities can limit access to certain areas by making it prohibitively expensive, like cities such as London do.

This works like a congestion tax for cars that move into the city at peak hours.  

There are other methods that cities have adopted - enforcement will remain the challenge - like designated days for even and odd number-plates.

This forces citizens into some kind of car-pooling even if they have cars with both even- and odd-numbered plates.  

While what I mention is just common sense, there is no dearth of expert advice on better management if someone has the will to implement it.

So, even as the Cabinet and our ministers sit down to put the final touches to their plan for smart cities, I have a request. Forget smart, just make them livable.

 

Anjuli Bhargava
Source: source
SHARE THIS STORY