Building elevated roads is a case of needing bigger pants because one continues to eat unhealthy food. How big can the pant be? What's the implication of big bodies and bigger pants in the long run? asks Sathya Sankaran.
Elevated road on Hosur road. Pic. source : skyscrapercity.com
What's the problem?
Work commute is taking a hit with traffic congestion on the roads increasing. Since the problem is on the road, the solution has been to increase it and remove perceived obstructions like signals, pedestrians etc from the line of sight of the car to increase speed.
One can draw an analogy to an obese person taking on too much comfort food because it feels good and now he/she needs bigger pants. He/she fails to notice that this is potentially fatal in the long run with illness and diseases in the medium term.
What are the implications?
The implications of this road capacity journey is dire. All capacity leads to a net addition to congestions, pollution and carbon footprint. The capacity addition is finite and we are crossing the limits every time. Microclimate changes including heat from motors and loss of green cover make the surface miserable for everyone, making them get into the comfort of closed air-conditioned places, thereby increasing the heat and polluting compounds transferred into the atmosphere. It a vicious cycle. Bengaluru is among the top two cities in the country affected by this.
Call to action
Internalise this solution. Stand for supporting it in your daily interactions with other people, Sign the petition so we can tell this to the powers that be.
Experts have spoken
What are the potential solutions?
Build barricaded bus lanes on existing carriage way and increase frequency to three minutes headway on east west north south corridors so maximum traffic can move on them. Buy articulated buses or replace with Trams trains to increase carrying capacity per trip all on the surface. Barricaded lanes need to start with wider roads like ring roads and highways like Bellary, Tumkur and Airport roads which already have the bandwidth and carry regular commuters.
Commission suburban trains to the Airport from electronic city, along the IT corridor and segments like Ramanagara/Tumkur to whitefield. This can catalyze heavy traffic movement on tracks which have uninterrupted right of way and can be done on existing train tracks so the expenses and speed of rollout can be very less. The challenges are for the state to sit with Indian railways and make this happen. It requires dedication and commitment. All metros in India have it and are benefitting from it. Only Bangalore does not. Why?
Private transport disincentive Implement paid parking and let congestion be a natural disincentive for switch to public transport. Private transport disincentive is extremely critical to public transport adoption. There is no other alternative as proven world over.
Reengineer the current at grade to have uniform carriage way and remove chicken necks with proper merging distances and traffic channelization strategies. There will be a need to address obstructions at chicken necks alone which may be troublesome to acquire. But if the plan is presented, eminent domain on smaller properties is better than spoiling the entire city with projects which don't solve problems.
Build sidewalks and cycle tracks on arterial corridors. It's a much neglected but highly beneficial infrastructure which makes everything work better. There is a huge population in IT cities who are young, fancy cycle commute and public transport but we are deliberately underinvesting in these and not steering it in the right direction
Buses and tram trains to areas not covered by commuter rail
My city, Portland, Oregon in the United States, stopped building freeways over 40 years ago because they are the most expensive, damaging and least effective solution to the problems posed by growth. Portland's focus on good transit along with inexpensive improvements for cyclists and pedestrians has worked to reduce pollution and traffic deaths as well as supporting a booming economy despite doubling in population during that time.
- Rex Burkholder, former Councillor in Portland's Metro Regional Government, now an author and a strategic advisor for urban affairs
What are the incentives?
There is no incentive for long term thinking right now within the citizenry, business and political class. Most people end up trying to solve the pressing problem without realizing the long term impact. How do we get to deferred rewards which are more beneficial in the long run? Who is responsible for thinking about it and making everyone go towards it? Where is that leadership?
Politicians give in to pressure for immediate solutions to mitigate backlash and remain popular. Most medium and long term solutions like public transport, pedestrian and cyclist friendly streets have taken a back seat due to the need to fix road bandwidth issue. It has always been a catch up.
Why do a series of short term stop gaps end up getting done?
Because it does feel comfortable in larger pants for a while. You will get relief for a few years but Induced demand is a well proven concept in transportation. The more road capacity you build the more it attracts vehicles, new ones. It has been shown that the added lanes get full in as little as 5 years. Is it worth building all that for just a 5 year relief? In fact even in the Mecca of cars, California’s Department of Transportation (aka Caltrans) has admitted to the futility of increasing lanes in a brief called “Increasing Highway Capacity Unlikely to Relieve Traffic Congestion,” compiled by UC-Davis scholar Susan Handy.2 US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx “...we now have the clarity of many decades of hindsight,” he said on a call today. “Unfortunately instead of connecting us to each other, highway planners separated us.”3
What does this lead to?
A better city with a better quality of life and sustainable transport.
Predictable and reliable commute
No road rage, swearing, stress etc.
Better air to breathe
Walkable public spaces and active communities
Lesser dependence on fossil fuels and lower fuel import bill
Frequently made arguments:
“Bangalore isn’t Amsterdam, ok?”
Not yet, and it's not like Amsterdam is from Venus or Mars, they are also people from planet earth like you and me. It's not just Amsterdam, now almost all countries are making the switch to sustainable modes and tearing down elevated highways
Not long ago, we wanted to make Bangalore another Singapore remember. We also want to mimic other countries by building fancy interchanges for cars like trumpet, clover leaf etc, large elevated highways, metro, bullet train etc, why not walking and cycling like Amsterdam?
“Long-term solutions take time. We need to alleviate issues now.”
There have been no investments in long term solutions like bus lanes and commuter rail. There haven't even been any positive moves in that regard. Bus lanes and commuter rail can be deployed faster than the pillars can come up. Also the elevated highways aren't really solutions that can be considered temporary that can be used to alleviate sufferings. It takes a huge toll on the cityscape and environment, we are better off biting the bullet and making the long term and medium term solutions work. The construction itself will be so painful that the alleviation at the end of it will be useless.
“India has tried stuff like bicycle lanes and BRT. All these projects have failed.”
They take time and need to be given the proper time to mature. Also they have been done in small measures, these don’t work unless there is scale and full commitment. Also, it's not like the current road building is actually working. It’s failing everywhere all across the world.
No public transport incentive has worked anywhere without a commensurate private transport disincentive. Across the world, parking is prohibitively expensive and congestion charges are levied to get people to give up the car addiction. Compared to here where parking is free and you are being pampered with road space again and again, why would you even bother with public transport?
I get it, but I just need the jam on my way to work to clear up now
Sorry, it's only going to get worse if you actually try to build your way out of it. And the relief after the pain is going to be short-lived. If you don't buy that bigger pant today, you will stop eating that junk tomorrow. The politicians will be long gone, it's you and your kids who will be left holding the mess. You need to get on the public transport diet, the car comfort food will only get you killed the longer you stick to it. Why do you think cities are tearing down elevated freeways, it's not because they have nothing else to do.