IN-DEPTH

Con­trary to pop­u­lar opin­ion, el­e­vated cor­ri­dors are not the way out of the con­gested roads and jammed bottlenecks of ei­ther the na­tional cap­i­tal, or any other city plagued with traf­fic woes. DNA tells you why

DNA (Delhi) - - FRONT PAGE - Shivam Ra­jin­der Kaushik cor­re­spon­[email protected]­dia.net

El­e­vated cor­ri­dors will not help de­con­gest jammed roads in cities plagued with traf­fic woes. DNA tells you why

Es­ca­lat­ing air pol­lu­tion lev­els, crum­bling pub­lic in­fra­struc­ture, in­ef­fi­ciency in es­sen­tial ser­vices and the ex­tra­or­di­nary man­hours ex­pended in sim­ply mov­ing from A to B are some of the so­ci­etal costs of heavy road con­ges­tion. Delhi is no ex­cep­tion to this.

An IIT Madras study in 2017 es­ti­mated that con­ges­tion costs due to pol­lu­tion and pro­duc­tiv­ity losses amounted to Rs 54,000 crore in Delhi in 2013 alone. Pr­erna Vi­jay Me­hta, Lead, Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment at the World Re­sources In­sti­tute In­dia, said that on an av­er­age, Delhi traf­fic moves at 45 per cent of road de­sign speed. Road speeds hover at around 5 kilo­me­tres per hour dur­ing peak hour, which is about the same as walk­ing speed. Un­for­tu­nately, the num­ber of ve­hi­cles has been ris­ing at an alarm­ing rate.

Delhi alone adds more ve­hi­cles on a daily ba­sis than Mum­bai, Kolkata and Chen­nai com­bined, re­sult­ing in choked roads all over the city. Given pre­vail­ing con­di­tions, Me­hta urges a “log­i­cal in­crease in the num­ber of ve­hi­cles”.

To re­duce con­ges­tion, the Delhi gov­ern­ment has pro­posed an El­e­vated Cor­ri­dor along the Mehrauli — Badarpur stretch, which would pro­vide both ad­di­tional road space for ve­hic­u­lar traf­fic as well as new Metro con­nec­tiv­ity for com­muters. This is presently in the ap­proval stage, and sim­i­lar projects have been pro­posed in other parts of the city. Prima fa­cie this may ap­pear to be an at­trac­tive op­tion, but are el­e­vated cor­ri­dors truly the right in­stru­ment to de­con­gest the city?

Bit­ter pills

Pro­fes­sor Sewa Ram at the School of Plan­ning and Ar­chi­tec­ture’s Depart­ment of Trans­port Plan­ning, finds that pub­lic trans­port has not man­aged to keep pace with the ex­pan­sion of the city and de­mand is “be­ing met by pri­vate trans­port whose car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity in terms of pas­sen­ger per hour is lower. This has re­sulted in pres­sure on the road based sys­tem and thereby, all the roads are op­er­at­ing at crush load.”

For ex­am­ple, the Gu­ru­gram ex­press­way is func­tion­ing at one and a half times its max­i­mum de­sign ca­pac­ity. Buses too, are in­ad­e­quate to meet pas­sen­ger de­mand. In­ci­den­tally, some of the cor­ri­dors of metro ser­vices are of­ten filled be­yond ca­pac­ity at the ini­tial sta­tion it­self.

Dr OP Agar­wal, CEO of World Re­sources In­sti­tute In­dia and au­thor of the Na­tional Ur­ban Trans­port Pol­icy, pointed out that “af­ford­abil­ity has been the prime con­cern in pub­lic trans­port in In­dia and this has meant that other is­sues have taken a back seat. Al­though, this ap­proach may have been ap­pro­pri­ate at the time to meet the needs of eco­nom­i­cally weaker sec­tions”, a lack of com­fort in pub­lic trans­port acts as a de­ter­rent to those who can af­ford al­ter­na­tive means.

Ac­cord­ing to Me­hta, ur­ban car cul­ture also plays a role in driv­ing con­ges­tion. Even though cars are viewed as as­pi­ra­tional, they tend to be driven daily to places such as lo­cal mar­kets, which could or­di­nar­ily be vis­ited on foot. She at­tributes this to a de­cline in a sense of com­mu­nity and de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of pedes­trian in­fra­struc­ture.

Traf­fic as a gas

In the 1960s, econ­o­mist An­thony Downs stud­ied the ef­fect of ad­di­tional road space on high­way con­ges­tion in his ‘Law of Peak Hour Ex­press­way Con­ges­tion’. Sim­ply stated, he the­o­rised that con­ges­tion would rise to meet max­i­mum avail­able ca­pac­ity. This phe­nom­e­non is some­times re­ferred to as ‘Gen­er­ated De­mand’ and had been ob­served as early as the 1930s in de­vel­oped coun­tries. The ad­di­tion of road space leads to a low­er­ing of ‘costs’ to drive along this route, re­sult­ing in an in­crease in de­mand and thus, any gains will be short-lived be­fore re­vert­ing to a state of heavy con­ges­tion.

Ram too stated that, “As more cars en­ter a stream of traf­fic, driv­ing speeds re­duce and this leads to con­ges­tion. To ad­dress this, au­thor­i­ties in­ter­vene and pro­vide ad­di­tional road space as in the case of the el­e­vated cor­ri­dor. Cars would then be able to travel faster only for some time, and then again into en­ter into cy­cle of con­ges­tion.”

Me­hta con­curs that traf­fic ex­pands much like a gas and oc­cu­pies any space that be­comes avail­able to it, sug­gest­ing that “try­ing to fix con­ges­tion by build­ing more roads is like try­ing to re­duce obe­sity by wear­ing big­ger clothes”.

Agar­wal ar­gues that the place­ment of the cor­ri­dor is it­self prob­lem­atic. Mehrauli, be­ing an en­try point to South Delhi, will likely in­vite more traf­fic from the sur­round­ing ar­eas adding to the traf­fic bur­den, “… which the city’s re­main­ing pub­lic road sys­tem is in­ca­pable of ser­vic­ing”. He adds that a con­ve­nient rule of thumb is that roads should oc­cupy 12-15 per cent of the geo­graph­i­cal area of a city. On ex­ceed­ing this range, there is “usu­ally a much stronger case for en­cour­ag­ing the use of pub­lic trans­port rather than pri­vate ve­hi­cles”. A De­cem­ber 2018 re­port by United Res­i­dent Joint Ac­tion (URJA) and In­sti­tute of Ur­ban De­sign­ers, Delhi, places this fig­ure at 22 per cent, which is the high­est in the coun­try.

If such in­fra­struc­ture is to be built, Agar­wal rec­om­mends that it could be more suit­ably placed be­yond Badarpur and would be “more ef­fec­tive in re­duc­ing the in­flow of traf­fic from sur­round­ing ar­eas not des­tined for Delhi”. Pro­fes­sor Ram sug­gests that there may be some merit to plac­ing the el­e­vated cor­ri­dor in care­fully se­lected sec­tions along al­ter­na­tive routes such as Ashram to Dhaula Kuan.

Ad­di­tional de­mand

Higher de­mand to drive leads to a higher de­mand for park­ing ser­vices. Since each new ve­hi­cle oc­cu­pies on av­er­age three ded­i­cated park­ing spa­ces — one each at home, at the of­fice and in mar­ket ar­eas, Me­hta calls for a deeper anal­y­sis of “road geo­met­rics”

and a broader ur­ban plan­ning per­spec­tive in de­sign­ing road re­lated in­fra­struc­ture. Agar­wal adds that the av­er­age pri­vate ve­hi­cle is parked for 95 per cent of the time, lead­ing to short­ages of pub­lic road space and adding to con­ges­tion along road­ways. Since Delhi has one ve­hi­cle for ev­ery two res­i­dents, and this is ex­pected to only worsen, al­ter­na­tives need to be pur­sued to pre­vent such per­ma­nent dead­lock of the streets.

Mixed sig­nals?

Due to the pres­ence of il­le­gal con­struc­tion, road ex­pan­sion is not al­ways fea­si­ble. This is es­pe­cially true for the Mehrauli — Badarpur route, and has prompted au­thor­i­ties to ex­pand ver­ti­cally. It is also true that el­e­vated sys­tems do present some cost ad­van­tages and a rel­a­tively pain­less way to add to ex­ist­ing road area.

How­ever, as per Ram, “a clear def­i­ni­tion of the ob­jec­tives of the cor­ri­dor must be es­tab­lished and the ca­pac­ity must be de­fined in terms of pas­sen­ger car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity in­stead of ve­hi­cle car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity”. Even so, the ben­e­fits of ad­di­tional road space in curb­ing con­ges­tion will be short lived and re­vert to what Ben­jamin Sch­nei­der calls a “self­lim­it­ing equi­lib­rium”. How­ever, there are some cases where this has not shown any ben­e­fits at all due to ve­hi­cles in­dis­crim­i­nately

switch­ing be­tween junc­tions us­ing the el­e­vated cor­ri­dor.

Cit­ing the case of NH48, Ram re­marked that “it has failed to im­prove the con­ges­tion sit­u­a­tion by not ac­count­ing for ex­ist­ing mo­tor­way traf­fic ap­pro­pri­ately”. Aditi Veena, an ur­ban ecol­o­gist and ar­chi­tect added that the DND fly­over is a prime ex­am­ple of fail­ure of road ca­pac­ity to im­prove con­ges­tion. Al­though driv­ers main­tain a rel­a­tively high speed on the DND, heavy con­ges­tion re­mains a per­pet­ual fea­ture at both en­try and exit points.

Sup­port­ing both Metro and pri­vate trans­port in this project seems “para­dox­i­cal” to Me­hta, and “com­mu­ni­cates a mixed sig­nal to com­muters”, by in­cen­tivis­ing pri­vate ve­hi­cles and thus, de­ter­ring the use of pub­lic trans­port. In her view, pub­lic agen­cies “are yet to pri­ori­tise their ob­jec­tives” and should avoid con­struc­tion of “an en­gi­neer­ing mar­vel”, which would prove self­con­tra­dic­tory.

Ram sug­gested the ex­ten­sion of this idea to a 3-tier sys­tem sup­port­ing pri­vate ve­hi­cles at the low­est level, with ad­di­tional tiers for Metro lines and bus traf­fic in se­lected por­tions. In this way there will be “dou­ble pri­or­ity” given to pub­lic trans­port along with un­avoid­able road based sys­tems, since “it is not pos­si­ble to meet com­plete de­mand only by Metro or by road based sys­tems.”

In­no­va­tion

Agar­wal sug­gests that city trans­port sys­tems should be or­gan­ised keep­ing in view that the “max­i­mum num­ber of com­muters should move in the least num­ber of ve­hi­cles”.

A thirty-seat bus oc­cu­pies ap­prox­i­mately 1m square road space per pas­sen­ger. On the other hand, a per­sonal ve­hi­cle of­ten fer­ries only a sin­gle pas­sen­ger but would oc­cupy ap­prox­i­mately 3m square. It is clear how this con­trib­utes to con­ges­tion. It is es­sen­tial that Delhi and other ma­jor cities be­gin re-ori­ent­ing them­selves by en­cour­ag­ing pub­lic trans­port, non-mo­torised trans­port and greater pedes­trian mo­bil­ity. The el­e­vated cor­ri­dor’s pri­mary ef­fects would be un­able to de­liver on any of these counts.

Pub­lic trans­port

Most of the Delhi metro and Mum­bai has a twin-track sys­tem, which can sup­port more trains and would prove more agree­able to an ex­pan­sion of ser­vices. He strongly ad­vo­cates for “ra­tio­nal­is­ing of in­ter­changes to en­sure seam­less multi-modal trans­fer”, to im­prove the ease of com­mut­ing across the city.

Shared mo­bil­ity ser­vices, such as those of­fered by Ola and Uber, have rapidly be­come a part of the trans­port-mix. Agar­wal ex­pects that in the com­ing decade, car own­er­ship will be vir­tu­ally un­nec­es­sary due to ex­ten­sion of shared mo­bil­ity models to mini-buses, which would fa­cil­i­tate in­tra-city trans­port at the touch of a but­ton, be avail­able to cus­tomers at short no­tice, ad­just to small de­vi­a­tions in routes and pro­vide com­fort­able seat­ing. Such a ser­vice would have a lower road-area foot­print per pas­sen­ger, while mak­ing mul­ti­ple trips in a day and pro­vid­ing a safer, more com­fort­able en­vi­ron­ment as com­pared to pool­ing ser­vices to­day.

How­ever, he adds, “This would re­quire suitable amend­ments to the Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles Act (1988)”, which only al­lows con­tract car­riages or stage car­riages to ply as buses.

Mo­bil­ity

Bo­gota and Copen­hagen have both been recog­nised glob­ally for en­cour­ag­ing a broad shift to Non-mo­torised trans­port (NMT). In the In­dian con­text, Bhopal in par­tic­u­lar has taken sig­nif­i­cant strides in this di­rec­tion with its Lal Sadak ini­tia­tive.

Un­for­tu­nately, Me­hta says that last mile con­nec­tiv­ity has re­mained rel­a­tively ab­sent from the dis­course on plan­ning in In­dia. This has re­duced the ac­ces­si­bil­ity to pub­lic trans­port ser­vices. Gaps in these ser­vices have been filled in­stead by an ar­ray of ac­tors such as e-rick­shaws. The pro­vi­sion of feeder ser­vices is a large part of mak­ing pub­lic trans­port more vi­able for com­muters. Agar­wal rec­om­mends that use of the Metro ser­vices could also be tied-in with a free park­ing op­tion.

Con­ges­tion

Heavy con­ges­tion is not sim­ply a prob­lem on the larger roads. Most res­i­den­tial ar­eas were de­signed keep­ing in mind sin­gle car park­ing. Gur­preet Singh Bindra, Pres­i­dent of the Vas­ant Vi­har Res­i­dent Wel­fare As­so­ci­a­tion, says the neigh­bour­hood strug­gles with con­ges­tion due to its prox­im­ity to ma­jor road­ways and 16,000 stu­dents, who come to schools in the area daily.

Bindra pointed to school-traf­fic poli­cies, which were suitable two or three decades ago, but are now in ur­gent need of up­dat­ing as well.

An ad­di­tional con­cern has been the fre­quent change in land-use, which makes ef­fec­tive traf­fic man­age­ment all the more dif­fi­cult. To ad­dress these is­sues at a neigh­bour­hood level, the RWA com­mit­tee has com­mis­sioned noted traf­fic ex­pert, Ro­hit Baluja, to over­see the col­lec­tion of rel­e­vant data and the “carv­ing out of an in­ter­nal traf­fic pol­icy”. This is a work in progress and the RWA will be shar­ing the les­sons of this ex­er­cise with the Delhi Traf­fic Po­lice.

Mixed-use plan­ning within a ‘com­pact city’ set­ting could be a so­lu­tion, and has been the ‘tra­di­tional phi­los­o­phy’ to re­duce travel dis­tances. How­ever, such a shift would re­quire a thor­ough un­der­stand­ing of traf­fic dy­nam­ics in and around the neigh­bour­hoods.

There is no quick fix for con­ges­tion. This would re­quire a multi-decade plan and a host of sup­port­ive poli­cies to­wards ef­fec­tively re­duc­ing this. What we do know for cer­tain is that not do­ing so would prove rather costly.

Full re­port on www.dnain­dia.com

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