'Without encouraging walking, public transport will not be a success'

'Without encouraging walking, public transport will not be a success'

'Without encouraging walking, public transport will not be a success'

Lee simply removed the free way to bring back the river and constructed beautified pedestrian walkways, shifting the displaced traffic on to a Bus Rapid Transit System. Among the Indian metros, Bangalore in particular has witnessed the birth of chaos and it no more is the place that boasted of being termed ‘garden city’.

‘Bangalore needs many a Lee,’ comments Lalita Sen, professor at the department of urban planning and environmental policy, Texas Southern University, USA. She is currently the co-chair of the Accessible Transportation and Mobility standing committee of the Transportation Research Board.

Lalita was in the city to take part in the ‘conference of tranportation research group of India’ and spoke to Shivakant Menon of Deccan Herald on what the problems Indian metros face are and also how they fare compared to cities in western world. Before any question was put to her, Lalita asks, “Where are the footpaths in this city? There are no pedestrian walkways in a metro which calls itself urban. It is astonishing how little importance is placed on the most important mode of transport – walking.”

What made urban development planners in the US place importance on walking?
There were movements such as ‘the complete street’ started in 1993 in Portland and ‘the safe pedestrian’.

Most of the people there have realised the importance of walking which is eco friendly, sustainable, healthy. Residents here do not even walk 500 metres. The people in metros of India have to address the issue of lack of safety for pedestrians and come up with master plans for their cities including safe, clean pedestrian walkways.

So, is lack of walking in Indian cities a problem created at the policy making level or due to reduced awareness among residents in urban cities?
One has to blame both the parties. Without a basic plan to develop pedestrian walking infrastructure, people are not even given the choice to be able to walk. In India, social status symbol plays a key role in deciding whether one walks or buys cars.

Awareness should start at school level in text books to promote cleaner modes of transportation when the child grows up. People do not realise that they can be much happier and stress free if they walk for a while every day. Unfortunately most of the people in metros here spend a lot of time commuting between their work place and home. There is also absolute disregard for the physically and visually disabled in Indian cities. Without encouraging walking, public transport will never be a success.  

There are many projects underway in Bangalore to expand / widen roads at the cost of felling trees. Have cities in US faced problems due to expansion of roads?
Yes surely. Where I live which is Houston, flooding during rains was a common issue because there is no green cover which can absorb the rain water. It is impervious for rain water to reach water table beneath which is not happening in Indian cities now.

Tree felling for road widening has been internationally condemned as it makes no sense in the long term. The story in Seoul is a good example as the river is now a hub for social activities promoting tourism and there is no sign of any congestion, more importantly pollution.

One primary concern I have of Indian cities is that here, engineers and builders only look at ‘big’ projects. What they fail to understand is that unless the smaller projects are built, the big ones fail to sustain themselves.

Lalita who was in the dark on road widening projects in Bangalore which felled 100 year old trees, fumed on hearing them (such as Sankey and Suranjandas road projects)

Who is the authority which gave the project a go ahead? File law suits against them. Get them out of power. Throw the Mayor out of her seat. Protests in the States are so strong that after the 1960s there have been few or nil decisions which were hasty by the government. There are interstate highways which are standing half way through the work due to protests. Universities and schools can make huge impacts. Get a volunteer lawyer and go at the decision makers.

There is much talk on how the metro will relax congestion. Do you believe it is possible?
Absolutely not. The very reason for a metro is killed as there is lack of planning. There is also lack of co ordination between two ministries or departments within the government.

The metro officials did not bother to give an answer when they were asked about lack of pedestrian walkways along its station areas. They said it is not their job but the municipality’s. Also, from what I saw, there has been no study on where to place the stations. It is not close to residential areas which is what is primary to any metro. Metro is a self killing initiative if it does not bother about facilities outside its stations.

Is there a simple and direct solution to recreate metros in India?
Well unfortunately it is difficult to go back to the past. The future needs to be planned in such a way that even 20 years later, citizens in India do not find infrastructure and facilities a hindrance to their so called ‘quality of life’. The issue is not of design but of enforcement. 

Corruption is a major issue when it comes to such matters. In the US, corruption is probably prevalent at the highest level that it does not affect the common man there.

Experiments have proved that mice in a small cage eventually fight and kill each other. Whereas, put in larger cages with more space for mobility, they live without much problem. Humans have started reacting the same way. Policy makers should keep this in mind.