Point Blank: Walk-up call, Church St style

Point Blank: Walk-up call, Church St style

Now caught in a maintenance trap, the upgraded Church Street still has crowds flock in droves. It just proves this: Nothing like a pedestrian-first approach to show just how to get out of those gridlocked roads and cut a smart, alternative path. Can the city’s Brigade Road - Commercial Street shopping hubs take the same route to sustainability?

For the record, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has its plan ready. And that includes the Museum Road. Before the polls invaded the public sphere, the Palike had announced its intent: To develop these roads under TenderSURE (Specifications for Urban Utilities and Road Execution). The basic drawings were in place. So was a vision.

Improved vibrancy

A pedestrianised city centre is really the way forward, contends Ashish Verma, Associate Professor of transportation engineering at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). Worldwide, particularly in European cities, all the city centres are being transformed this way. “It improves the vibrancy of city centres and businesses. For Indian cities, it is important that the commercial hubs are made walking-friendly.”

Traders on Brigade Road and Commercial Street are worried that customer numbers will dwindle once vehicles are curtailed. But the big turnout on Church Street, which now even has a parking ban, tells a different story. Having suffered long during the delayed construction period, businesses here are looking up thanks to increased footfalls.

Businesses flourish

Make mobility in the city centre more enjoyable, and people will just walk in. That is the experience worldwide, Verma points out. “Businesses flourish when that happens. But it also needs a behavioral change. When people experience it, they will realize how comfortable it is to walk or cycle without conflict with motorised transport,” he explains.

Picture Commercial Street during shopping peak-hours. The street swarms with walkers, struggling to find their way around slow-moving cars and SUVs. The narrow footpaths are occupied by bonnets of parked cars jutting out. Now picture a pedestrians-only street with occasional electric trolleys reserved for the weak and senior citizens ambling past happy walkers.

Maintenance woes

But however picturesque this might look, poor maintenance can ruin it all. “The maintenance of Church Street is very bad. A standard operating procedure is necessary. You cannot leave it to the pourakarmikas. The road records close to one lakh footfalls. You have to keep it clean,” says Naresh Narasimhan, the architect behind the Street’s upgrade. 

Design-wise, the cobbled stone pathway of Church Street cannot work for Brigade Road, he notes. “This Road needs through traffic. It needs asphalt and not cobbled stones as they slow down vehicles. Church Street too should be fully pedestrian only between 5 pm and midnight. Vehicles parked in offices should be moved out with manual regulation.” 

BBMP officials say they have already prepared Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) for both Brigade Road and Commercial Street. Tenders are to be called, but that will depend a lot on the next government.

BBMP plan

On the Palike’s agenda is this: Renovation of the existing footpaths, creation of new walking areas in the light of the high footfalls, and a total redevelopment of the narrow Commercial Street. Parking bays will be minimized considering the misuse of such bays by both shopkeepers and building owners. Experience has shown that their vehicles are parked for long hours, triggering more traffic jams.

But the proposed upgrade goes beyond pedestrianisation. An ambitious thrust on aesthetics has a grand transformation of the Brigade Road – Residency Road junction to mimic the look of Times Square in New York. Early in March this year, the Mayor Sampath Raj had unveiled that plan to reflect Bengaluru’s growing stature as a world city. “There should be something to celebrate that,” he had said.

Parking tussle

Upgradation is fine, but it should not be at the cost of parking, says Brigade’s Shops & Establishments Association Secretary Suhail Yusuff. “This road has high-end shopping outlets. The person who has money but no time parks and goes away. The person who has time has no money. No shopkeeper parks at the automated parking slots. The system works fine here,” he elaborates.

Yusuff wonders why are people encouraged to walk on the roads as Church Street shows. “There is the footpath for them. Why teach them the wrong things. We are totally against the parking ban there. As vehicles are increasing, the need is for the road,” he reasons. Walkability, he says, should be restricted to the footpath and not beyond.

Commercial Street

But traders on Commercial Street want the pedestrian-first model to be replicated there. “We want this Street to be upgraded under TenderSURE. But the traders here don’t want the work to be delayed like it did on Church Street. Let them take the development work during off festive season,” says store manager Sanjay Kumar.

They are open to a ban on parking provided alternate arrangements are made available. Road stretches near Ulsoor Lake have been identified. To make accessibility easier, shuttle vans / buses to and from Commercial Street could be an option. This, if the plan translates to action, would mean a definite boost to walkability.