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Friday, October 18, 2013

Flyovers of fancy

I have been meaning to write about 'class-ism' in Indian urban planning for a while now. In a nutshell, this is how it works: We deliberately invest a lot more into private transport - which supposedly* favors the elite - and willfully under-invest in public transport.

I first noticed this when all these flyovers started popping up in our cities about 10-15 years back. It was a step in the right direction, sure. I mean, our cities are tearing apart so bad that any transport infrastructure is well received. However, the tragedy was that for a full decade or so after we entered the flyover boom, everyone only focused on the flyovers. No one really cared about public transport systems like metro rails or BRTS. Thankfully that's changing a bit now, with metros coming up in about a dozen cities, and several tier 2 cities experimenting with the BRTS. And yet the tragedies remain - of an elitist mindset which mindlessly favors private car users. Some examples below.

1. JJ Flyover in Mumbai is off-limits for motorbikes. The JJ Flyover is a 3 km long elevated road which avoids congested parts of South Bombay and saves 15 minutes of travelling time at least. Bikes were banned on it a couple of years back, ostensibly to prevent biker deaths arising from speeding. Really? Can't we just have better speedbreakers on the sharp turns? The real reason seems to be that (we) car guys want to cruise down that nice stretch of road without having to deal with buzzy bikers.

2. Mumbai's new Eastern Freeway is off-limits for truckers. This new 11 km long entirely elevated road provides an alternate exit point from the city's commercial center in the south, to the mainland in the north. Thing is, one of India's largest ports, Mumbai Port, is also in the Southern part of the island city. As of now, truckers exiting the port have to crawl right across the city to reach their destinations. The freeway would have been ideal for truckers to get a quick exit because of its proximity to the port. Heck, most of the freeway was actually built on port trust land. See map below. The dark yellow line going all the way north is the new freeway. Bang next to the entry point is the port (red area in the South). And yet the freeway was only designed for cars.

3. Most Kolkata roads are now off-limits for cyclists. 
While most cities in the world are encouraging cycling, the Bengal government is doing its best to keep "them annoying cyclists" off the roads! Couple of links here and here.

These are just a few examples of our faulty mindset. The hoopla over the Bandra-Worli Sealink in Mumbai also comes to mind. Did you know that traffic on this bridge has actually fallen in the last 4 years? This Mumbai Boss article also talks about the Sea Link and some of the megalomania / elitism that ails our urban planning. When will we realize that encouraging private car usage on constrained roads will only lead to disaster for our cities? I have some thoughts on what is wrong with Mumbai's local train network, and how it could be improved a lot with a little effort. Will try to write on that shortly.

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