Pune, like most of the growing cities in the country, is grappling with the ever-increasing problem of road congestion, pollution, accidents and a steady deterioration in the quality of life.
To deal with these problems of traffic, the city has in the last two decades on a road building and road widening spree, besides erecting flyovers. But the traffic problem has only got worse. We now have the rush hour stretching to three hours in the mornings and another three to four hours in the evenings. Journeys that took less than 20 minutes in the past now take almost an hour and the delays are not surprising when you consider that over 650 new vehicles (cars and two-wheelers) are registered at the RTO every day – this means an annual increase of 2.5 lakh in the number of personal vehicles in the city.
Is it any surprise that every day it gets more and more difficult to maneuver through cars, motorbikes and scooters trying to beat the red signal or attempting to rashly overtake each other? And are you still surprised when you just can’t find an empty slot to park even in the smaller lanes and the less busy roads?
The reason is really quite simple – and so is the solution; but only if we are ready to throw away the “old and outdated” ideas now rejected the world over.
So let’s see what the “crux” of the problem is.
It is not the potholes, the undisciplined drivers, the jaywalkers who cross anywhere they want to or even those daredevils who insist on driving in the wrong direction. The root problem is the growing mismatch between the road space on one hand and the number of vehicles on the other. There are just too many vehicles fighting for space and the problem can only be addressed by either enormously increasing the road space or by substantially reducing the need to bring so many vehicles on the road.
The old way was to build more, more and even more roads with the hope that they will accommodate all the additional vehicles comfortably and thus reduce congestion, delays and pollution. Unfortunately, building more roads, widening them or building flyovers and elevated roads has not solved the traffic problem anywhere in the world. On the contrary, more and wider roads and flyovers have made the congestion worse as wider roads attract more traffic and ultimately excessive vehicle traffic threatens, damages and even destroys the city’s unique built (historical buildings) and natural heritage (rivers, lakes, hills etc)
The alternative to this – which is called the “sustainable option” – is what has successfully worked in many cities around the globe. This relies on reducing the number of vehicles on the road while improving mobility options for the majority of people through an adequate, efficient, affordable and reliable citywide public transport system that can carry much higher number of commuters in less than one fourth the space and with far less pollution and energy consumption per passenger. Such a public transport system also requires excellent pedestrian facilities (like good and wide footpaths) because majority of commuters access public transport on foot.
But merely putting in place a good public transport system is not enough. Along with it, the city should have great facilities for cycling, which meets the “door to door connectivity” needs for journeys of 7 km to 10 km. This will contribute a lot towards improving the city’s mobility.
Finally, even with an excellent public transport and good non-motorised transport infrastructure, a city needs to put in place strong disincentives discouraging the use of personal conveyance except when unavoidable. This can be achieved by removing free parking from all roads, substantially increasing the parking fees and creating car-free areas and creating car-free areas and taking a policy decision to stop constructing expensive and useless flyovers that worsen traffic congestion instead of solving it.
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