Sunday, December 14, 2008

Decongesting Bangalore

100 Feet Road is an important road in East Bangalore.

On one end, it connects to:

  • CMH Road - a heavy business and commercial road
  • Old Madras Road - infested with tremendous traffic including trucks on their inter-city sojourns

On the other end, an ambitious, but fairly ugly, flyover connects it to:

  • Airport Road - erstwhile clogged, but no longer as clogged due to the shifting of the airport
  • Domlur Road - usually sees free-flowing traffic due to lack of solid commercial establishments and signals
  • Inner Ring Road -an important lifeline a few years ago, it seems to be reaching its peak capacity

Surrounding 100 Ft Rd lie the important residential areas of HAL, Domlur and Indiranagar. 100 Ft Rd itself has a history of being a residential district. But over the last few years, it has grown commercially. Long-time residents of the area have sold their houses to companies who promptly establish a consumer interaction point (also known colloquially as ‘shop’).

100 Ft Rd is not very wide, with two smallish lanes on either side of the divider. It sees fairly high traffic, and a lot of stationery traffic as well, thanks to all the establishments, including educational and medical. As a result, traffic moves quite slowly and buses have a torrid time negotiating their way through the road. Poor and irregular maintenance of the road has left it badly potholed and scarred.

Now that the airport has moved to the opposite end of the city, a fairly large traffic headache for the commuters and the government has been removed. This is the perfect time to take a long hard look at the surrounding areas and see how they can be developed. The new hotspot for infrastructure development is North and North-West Bangalore, but there is much that can be done with already developed areas in East and South-East Bangalore.

Bangalore, or any Indian city for that matter, has never woken up to the glory of a parking building. If an apartment building puts ten times the number of people on the same area, logic would dictate that a parking building would put a similar number of vehicles on the same area. So, considering that we have a traffic explosion and have to counter the parking problem, shouldn’t parking buildings be the way to go? Three buildings dedicated to parking should be installed near the 100 Ft Rd-Airport Road junction, the 100 Ft Rd-CMH Road junction and at the other end of CMH Road near Ulsoor. This way, people who want to explore 100 Ft Rd and CMH Road won’t have their cars getting in their way or others’ way. However, this does call for alternative means of transportation that are specific to this area.

Taking a leaf out of the walking nature of Brigade Road and Commercial Street, a similar culture should be fostered in the 100 Ft Rd area. People have to be taken out of their polluting cars and put on to non-polluting bicycles. Install bicycle parking bays in front of each store on the road; in fact, make it mandatory for the store owner to install it. There should be no place to park a car on the road, except in the parking buildings designated for them. There must be a separate bicycle lane that is divided from the road, not just by paint but by a divider, so that cars cannot stray into that lane and the bicyclists will be safe to cycle at their leisure. Of course, motorcyclists will stray into the bicycle lane, and only two things will deter them - awareness and heavy fines.

A counter argument would be that elderly people and disabled people cannot bicycle their way around. A simple enough solution is available, and they are called golf carts; electrically powered vehicles that move at a sedate speed (which is the speed normal traffic in this city moves at anyway) and do not pollute. People who cannot bicycle can get into these carts and be ferried around by an employed driver. It will operate like a bus service and will travel from parking building to parking building, picking up and dropping passengers along the way. A golf cart can be expected to pass you by every few minutes.

The footpaths and pavements in front of the stores will now be empty since there will no longer be cars parked there. This gives tremendous opportunity to do something that can serve a purpose. Benches will have to be installed so that people can give their tired legs some rest. But apart from benches, your imagination is the only thing that can limit what you can do with these open areas. Open a little open-air café. Plant some greenery. Install street art. The options are endless.

However commercial 100 Ft Rd might have gotten, it is still home to a large number of citizens. They might complain that with this new system in place, they would have trouble getting their vehicles into their respective houses. Again the solution is fairly simple. They will be issued a monthly or yearly parking stub for a nominal fee; they will park their vehicles at the parking building and use the golf cart service to and from home. Today, they anyway park their vehicles on the footpath in front of their house, viz. they are using public property for personal use and are not paying for it. For the few people who do park their vehicles at home, it is a small price to pay for an overall betterment in their surroundings. Also, without a vehicle at home, they would enjoy more space and would be inclined to use non-polluting modes of transportation like bicycles, the golf cart system or just plain walking to get to nearby places.

Such a dedicated effort into renovating the way people move around 100 Ft Rd and CMH Rd will show its results in the government’s treasury in a positive way. As of now, the government earns no money from the burgeoning commercial activities that go on in this area, except maybe for some fixed ones like licenses and fees. By building the three parking buildings, it will earn heavy parking fees as opposed to the negligible parking fees it collects now from paid parking on CMH Rd. The parking attendants will not be put out of a job; they and some more will be required to man the parking buildings.

It is always easy to charge the commuter for renting the bicycles and for using the golf carts, but the commuters will not take too kindly to that. Firstly, you are forcing them to park inside the building and then charging them for it. Then you charge them for the bicycles and the golf carts they are forced to take because you forced them to park. So, the best thing would be to use the parking stub as a ticket for the bicycles and the golf carts. If you have rented bicycles, the details would be mentioned on the parking stub and details of the person renting them would rest with the bicycle rental office at the parking building. When you return, you return the bicycles, show your parking stub, determine everything is in order and pick up your vehicle and leave. If you choose to use the golf cart system instead, then you show your parking stub to the golf cart driver as your ticket and you can use the system free of cost. If you don’t have a parking stub, you pay the driver a nominal fee of a few rupees to use the service, or a nominal fee at the bicycle rental office to rent a bicycle.

The benefits of adopting this system are myriad. The golf cart system can easily serve as a cheaper, cleaner and quieter alternative to the autos. Hence, the roads get decongested as cars, autos and motorcycles are taken off the roads. The government earns money and goodwill. The pollution, both noise and smoke, reduces considerably. People get a little bit of exercise and some fresh air. Commercial establishments will see a spike in their business. The beauty of the area increases. This sort of local travel within pockets of the city will go a long way in aiding other modes of public transportation like the bus system and the upcoming metro system.

A similar system can be replicated in other pockets across the city, for e.g. in the MG Rd-Brigade Rd-Residency Rd-Commercial St area. When a lot of these systems pop up across the city, then they can be linked up to form an alternative mode of intra-city travel. A dedicated bicycle lane can be established that runs right through the city. Soon, people will no longer think twice about bicycling from Airport Rd to MG Rd or to Ulsoor.

The benefits will only grow with time and the entire city stands to gain through some dedicated effort on the part of the government and sensible adoption on the part of the public. This system has the potential to make Bangalore cleaner, greener and decongested, generally increasing the standard of living.

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