Blueprint for Sustainable Urban Mobility

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Highlighting the transportation woes of the urban population, Sudhir Badami strongly advocates the need to prioritise pedestrian and cycling infrastructure and efficient road public transport system to address mobility problems.

Transportation is one of the most contentious issues of urban living, especially in a city like Mumbai, whose vehicular population has been growing exponentionally, but its infrastructural facilities highly inadequate. It is time for aspiring candidates and political parties to start thinking of Sustainable Urban Mobility in all seriousness to improve the quality of life of the citizens. The swanky, highly capital intensive projects such as Metro Rail and Monorail, though will be used by many, and the flyovers and sea-links and freeways will cater to a very small proportion of Mumbai’s population using motorcars – supposedly launched to meet the transportation needs of the city will take a toll on the city’s social infrastructure. These projects will fail to deliver due to very high costs and long duration of implementation. An attempt is being made in this article to focus on some pertinent points for serious consideration by not only politicians and bureaucrats, but more so by the “Aam Aadami” so that he demands what is due to him. The common man, who has been shortchanged for long, needs to understand what Sustainable Urban Mobility is all about and his rights in a democratic country.

Environment management and disaster mitigation

To prevent ill effects of global warming and climate changes, it is imperative that environmental concerns should be addressed while attempting to solve transportation related problems in a city’s development. For mobility, man has found burning fossil fuel most convenient as it enables speed of travel and good accelerations. Vehicles running on electricity too have similar attributes but most of the electricity generated is by burning fossil fuel. This fact needs to be remembered when some arguments are put forth with regard to it being less polluting. Burning of fossil fuel leads to generation of Green House Gases (GHG) followed by global warming and climate change.

We spend our days waiting for the right path to appear in front of us, but what we forget that paths are made for walking, not for waiting.
– Bal Gangadhar Tilak

Disaster mitigation and management plans should be inherent in the transportation development plans. Efficient cities tend to find their own optimum levels of population densities. If this population opts for use of personal motorised vehicles irrespective of whether four wheelers or two wheelers, roads get congested. In congested roads, there is practically no room to allow for movement of emergency services such as fire brigade and ambulance, not to forget, security personnel to move at good speeds when emergency situations arise. With growing densities and population, building collapse and fires have become frequent. Stressful life also needs transportation to hospitals during medical emergencies. Thus demand on mobility of ambulances, fire brigade and security forces are ever increasing even if respective stations are closely located.

Infrastructure planning for mobility must always keep these aspects in mind and facilitate disaster mitigation and environment management.

The health-transport link

Noise and air pollution are major causes of present day stress and health problems of city dwellers. A major contributor to these problems is Transportation. Use of personal motor vehicles for daily commute needs to be curbed proactively and also by providing alternative modes for daily commute.

An overwhelming number of people walk short to medium distances. In a network of roads, there are large numbers of road junctions. People residing at these junctions as well as those who walk and reside on highly vehicular trafficked roads are subjected to considerable air and noise pollution caused by motorised vehicular traffic. It is well established that lung related ailments are on the rise. Alarming durations and levels of exposure to noise also cause adverse repercussions on health, especially on hearing, blood pressures and heart ailments.

The need of the day is to improve the quality and quantity of infrastructure for walking, cycling and road public transport, which will also improve health and quality of life of the citizens.

It is important to adopt sustainable rate of economic growth that would provide quality of life that is healthy, safe and comfortable for all sections of society not only at present but for future generations also.

Rapid economic growth is seen as means to wider employment and thereby financial independence of individuals and hence improved quality of life. While this does appear to be logical, the downside of this is aspirations of individuals also give rise to greed and consumerism. Owning a personal means of transport has become a matter of status symbol. A rat-race sets in and the desire to be ahead of everyone else takes a very strong root, so much so that one becomes impatient as reflected in anit-social behaviour like road rage and aggressive honking. Personal growth takes precedence over community growth, where one tends to disregard rules that would be beneficial to the community at large. Enhancing consumption of resources now means borrowing resources from future generations with no intentions of repayment or replenishment.

Mumbai’s Lifeline

Mumbai’s Suburban Railway System is being considered as the lifeline of the city and rightly so as it carries 75 lakh commuters daily. However it carries 3,60,000 persons per hour during peak period spread over three and a half hours every morning and every evening while its carrying capacity for a safe and comfortable commute is only 1,80,000 persons per hour, rendering the entire system unbearably uncomfortable, unsafe and inhuman, leading to rise in accidents and death of commuters. Even travelling to the station by bus or autorickshaw has become cumbersome and expensive, and walking unsafe.

Increasing carrying capacity of the suburban trains is impossible without very heavy investment, planned disruptions to the lifeline and long duration of completion.

Persons with disabilities have been completely left out while planning infrastructure. They have no access to public transport whatsoever. Access to railway platforms is nonexistent and boarding and alighting the trains is near impossible even during off peak period.

It would not be out of place to state that the suburban railway system follows unsafe practices putting commuters to risk.

Pedestrian and cyclists should be given priority

The CTS-2008 (Comprehensive Transport Study) carried out by MMRDA (Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority) states that barely 2.8 percent of Mumbai population uses personal motorcars in comparison to 3.1 percent using bicycles and 44 percent using singularly the walking mode. About eight to 10 percent use motorcycles/scooters. However, these are used largely by the middle class, which constitute a large population. These motorised two wheelers also contribute to air and noise pollution and unsafe conditions for the users as well as pedestrians and cyclists. Exorbitantly costly schemes are being considered to decongest roads and trains giving little importance to facilities for pedestrians, which 95 percent citizens use. Providing infrastructure that accommodates facilities for pedestrians and hawkers without causing hardship to either and similarly to cyclists should be given priority over\ costly road projects that are conceived to primarily cater to the needs of motorists.

While providing pedestrian infrastructure, creative ideas must be introduced to make pedestrian ways interesting and delightful. It is obvious that commercial activities get enhanced where pedestrians and roadside retailing have been imaginatively juxtaposed.

Highways and freeways

Flyovers and elevated roads as well as Eastern Freeways, Western Freeway, Sea Link or Western Coastal Road or Airport Elevated Link Road essentially give access to less than three percent of Mumbai’s population. The cost of these projects would be approximately touching Rs. 30,000 crore if not more. These facilities are practically useless to Road Public Transport.

Of the 146.5 km of Mumbai Metro Master Plan (MMMP), about 40 km is underground and 106.5 km elevated. Only 11.4 km Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar metro is expected to be commissioned soon, the work of which has taken eight years from the day the foundation stone was laid. This Line -1, which was estimated to cost Rs. 19,525 crore in 2004 and expected to be completed by 2021 is now estimated to cost Rs. 1,25,000 crore and will take not less than 70 years to complete. Further, its capacity will be barely 72,000 persons per hour (pph) while the need today is 1,80,000 pph.

The access way to Metro stations too lack planning, causing lot of hardships to pedestrians as they encroach the approach roads/walkways.

Monorail

The 20 km of Monorail, of which 8.3 km has just been completed after six years, will cost ` 3000 crore. Its capacity will be barely 6,300 pph. The entire length will take eight years to complete. Barely two months in operations, a shuttle got stuck midway and people were stranded for more than 40 minutes contradicting tall claims that in such an eventuality, evacuation work could be affected in five minutes. The original plan to have 185 km of Monorail seems to have been wisely discarded. At the provided costs, not only is the frequency low but the vibration and noise within leaves much to be desired.

Even the conceptualised “elevated rail” corridor is estimated to cost Rs. 20,000 crore and it is anyone’s guess how long it will take to implement it as it will interfere with the operations of the currently overburdened lifeline of the city. After spending such huge amounts, to what extent will it ease the city transport problems and how many people will it cater to still remains a question mark.

A recent study by Western Railway reveals that the elevated rail is also not a viable proposal as there has been a shift in population from the island city to the suburbs.

Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS), the best solution

Given the accuteness of the transport problem, is there a direction one can take that not only addresses the transportation needs of the city population but also considers environment management and disaster mitigation aspects? Yes! The answer lies in giving top priority to infrastructure design that addresses the needs of pedestrians and cyclists and enhances efficient road public transport system i.e. the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS). Study shows that the shortfall in the overall public transport capacity of 1,80,000 people per hour can be provided by intelligently designing the BRTS. Two hundred kms of BRTS can be achieved in five to eight years time and at an estimated cost of barely Rs. 5,000 crore. The bus lane can also be used during medical emergencies, fire emergencies and security related emergencies.Many cities in Latin America, China, Australia and even some cities in USA have successfully adopted BRTS for enhancing mobility.

Facilitating safe walking, cycling and making BRTS central to providing transportation infrastructure, will yield returns in terms of better quality of life, lower carbon emissions, better mobility options, improved environmental management and financial sustainability. With improved overall public transport capacity, suburban railway services running to its design capacity, will be able to provide improved services such as automatically closing doors, near level boarding and alighting and access to persons with disability.There is room for optimism in this.


sudhirbadami

Sudhir Badami

The writer is an IIT Bombay graduate in Civil & Structural Engineering. He is on Government of Maharashtra’s Steering Committee on BRTS for Mumbai and Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority’s Technical Advisory Committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also member of Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority.

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