A time to rethink the BRT system
Envisaged as a project in the interest of public health and road safety, the BRT system has several pitfalls
Recent reports indicate that the Government is thinking of introducing more Bus Rapid Transit Systems (BRT) in Delhi as a solution to the problem of traffic congestion. By doing this the present government will only be repeating the mistakes of its predecessor. One only has to visit the existing BRT from Moolchand to Ambedkar Nagar (and the adjoining colony roads which people use as a thoroughfare to avoid the BRT) to experience first hand the horrors of this system. The BRT was constructed by destroying ‘wide pedestrian pathways, wide cycling lanes, (which also acted as a safeguard for pedestrians) and huge trees. These trees provided shade, oxygen and controlled the overall temperature. Pedestrians and cyclists are little benefitted from this ‘sophisticated and scientific’ transport system. The wide pedestrian and cycling paths exist only on paper. In practice these are narrow, unsafe, unusable and used by motor cycles. Moreover, the absence of trees has resulted in scorching summer temperatures. Consequently, cycling and walking have become difficult and tedious.
Introducing additional BRTs amounts to further reduction of pedestrian paths in the city in favour of vehicular roads. To put it simply, roads cannot be widened at the cost of pedestrian paths on account of several pertinent reasons. Countries like UK have streets, where the pedestrian paths on each side are wider than the road (for e.g Oxford Street in London). This facilitates the habit of walking which i n
turn is crucial for physical wellbeing. Physical inactivity is as harmful as smoking and according to WHO the fourth largest cause of deaths globally. Incidentally, India is the diabetes capital of the world and more than 60% of deaths are due to non-communicable diseases. Hence we should have systems in all facets of life that discourage sedentary lifestyles. This is one huge argument that goes against the existing BRT system. The emphasis in India should be to create environments which promote physical
activity in daily living.
Spaces and infrastructure that integrate physical activity with the daily routine and lifestyle of the average man is the hallmark of every intelligent urban design plan. So before considering any road design, the interests of pedestrians and cyclists need to be considered. We need to make walking, and cycling, safe, desirable and accessible for all age groups, including women and children.
To decrease congestion, allow built up and commercial activity to commensurate with what the roads can service. The ‘constructed portion’ should be considerably set off from the boundary. Also it is important for civic authorities to disallow illegal commercial activity and construction. Development of new cit i es and t ownships should be promoted not only with offices and factories. They should include schools, colleges, art centres, parks, sports facilities and wide (unencroached) cycling pedestrian pathways shaded with trees.
We need context- specific solutions and not blind aping of the western designs. There is no point in development if our children cannot live long enough to see the fruits of development.