Corridors above, chaos below

Below the viaduct of the city

Did someone say sustainable mobility options to decongest Bengaluru roads? Throwing all such talk totally out of the window, the city has been promised a massive, 95-km network of elevated road corridors. Crisscrossing the city, this Rs 15,825 crore behemoth is now burdened with magically ridding Bengaluru of all its traffic woes. In one go!

The project was originally proposed by H D Kumaraswamy in his last stint as Chief Minister in 2006. But it took some drawing room shape in 2014, when elevated stretches across the corridors were worked out. The State budget has now earmarked Rs 1,000 crore for the current year. Priority one is the 23-km North-South corridor linking Central Silk Board with Hebbal.

Limited utility

So, what exactly pushed the government to defy the prevailing mood against flyovers of limited utility? Why this rush to build mega concrete structures that have in the past repeatedly proven to aid only private, personal transport? These questions loom even as the Karnataka Road Development Corporation Limited (KRDCL) is entrusted the project execution task through hybrid annuity.

The project cost is huge, and as consultants to government admit in private, the potential for corruption is equally big. “A minimum of Rs 5,000 crore will go in kickbacks,” says one. But to understand how this project manufactured legitimacy, check this argument put forth in 2014: The elevated corridors would aid public transport because the private vehicles could be pushed up and the roads underneath freed for buses and pedestrians. Urban mobility experts wasted no time in dismissing this argument as ‘bizarre.’

Faulty assumptions

The assumption is this: People will leave their private cars at home and use BMTC buses once they are convinced that the public service is faster and reliable. But can buses be fast when they cannot take the elevated corridors? As the experts point out, public transport buses will have to stop at regular intervals to pick up and drop passengers. Bus stops on elevated corridors go against common sense.

Clearly, the corridors are then designed to aid only motorised personal vehicles that can breeze past chaotic roads underneath. Will roads below be decongested? No, says motorists, mobility and traffic experts unanimously. The city’s 73 lakh vehicular population will touch the one crore mark soon, a figure big enough to cram every inch of space, both elevated and underneath.

Tara Krishnaswamy from Citizens for Bengaluru (CfB) puts this in perspective, when she explains, “Today’s devilish congestion still prompts about 1,900 new vehicles to be registered ‘daily.’ Instead of levying heavy taxes on private vehicle ownership to relieve a choking city, imagine building 100 kms of elevated roads for their benefit! It is like a lung cancer patient being gifted a carton of cigarettes.”

Public transport alternatives

Tax-payer’s money diverted to pamper private transport could have been used to boost public transport instead. “A minuscule fraction of this (Rs 15,825 crore) can develop more roads at grade level, including the peripheral ring road, with alacrity. Plus pavements, cycling lanes and walk signals to encourage non-motorised transport for shorter distances,” Krishnaswamy points out.

But this can happen only if there is a drastic change in the government’s transport policy. “The State, by pushing ahead with this project, is reiterating that its policy is to move vehicles and not people. Moving people implies better footpaths, cycling paths and more. The government is now saying, come with all your private vehicles, and we will try to accommodate you,” says civic evangelist and urban planner, V Ravichander.

This, he says, is totally unsustainable. “Bengaluru has 0.7 private vehicles per person. Mumbai, which has more than double this city’s population has only 0.3 private vehicles per person,” he informs. Building more infrastructure to boost road capacity and by implication more private vehicles is simply not the way to go.

End point congestion

The elevated Hosur Road flyover could be a test case to gauge how such projects work in terms of traffic decongestion. Commuters headed to Electronics City from Madiwala say the ride/drive on the elevated section is a breeze. But it could take over 20 minutes to just get onto the flyover from Madiwala side during peak hours. More time could be lost at the toll booth. This often negates the net saving in time.

But the State sees it differently. As an advisor to the government contends, traffic congestion will not reduce even if more buses are added and Metro corridors expanded. Boosting road capacity through elevated corridors is the only option, says the advisor. Incidentally, the same argument was put forth when roads were widened across the City. The new lanes carved out of footpaths were filled up by motorised vehicles in no time.

By design, elevated corridor pillars take up at least two lanes on the roads below. But, as existing corridors show, service roads are not developed to compensate for the loss in road width. On several stretches, the service roads are either non-existent or are in bad shape. A network of elevated corridors could follow the same path, virtually negating any capacity increase advantage.

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Corridors above, chaos below

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