The year gone by was one step forward and two steps back on the traffic and transportation front.
The positive moves were allocation for suburban rail with some services being rolled out, completion of more metro lines, approving more buses, allocation for bicycle sharing services and budgets for more tendersure roads. But it also was marked by some crazy decisions, like flyovers in Shivananda circle, Koramangala, JC road, hundreds of skywalks and Pod taxis. All of these moves appeared to be frantic approval of every proposal that came by, hoping something will fix the congestion, instead of a planned move towards a strategy. A strategy that should accept, that we can never remove traffic congestion if vehicles continue to get added to the roads, but only decide which modes will have congestion and which ones will not. Prioritising mass public transport and sustainable modes like walking & cycling will make sure spot fixes, like flyovers and personal transport, are relegated to the back burner.
With more transport options being made available to public, the integration between them became worse. BMTC didn’t know where the metro commuters came from, BMRC didn’t care where they went to. The feeders failed to work and the commuters started clamouring for more parking to get to the metro. BMRC plonked pillars eating into carriageways, like tumkur road, reducing bandwidth on many roads. Simple things like connecting the metro stations seamlessly via walkways to nearby TTMC, Bus terminus or Railway stations were overlooked. While Tendersure was being extended to more arterial roads, walking to public transport remained a challenge in the neighbourhoods. Local projects like cycle tracks in HSR layout and footpaths in Sanjaynagar remained a non starter. At a time where massive projects use precast technologies, we are curing concrete on the roads for 21 days. All these fire fighting solutions to fix issues temporarily calls for an empowered Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMTA) which will plan long term transport strategies, and unlike master plans, accomplish what is planned. The National Urban Transport Policy by JNNURM recommended that every metropolis have an UMTA. A toothless BMLTA was formed in 2008 for Bengaluru to get central funds and not necessarily for planning better. UMTA continues to be recommended in the new policies, for funding transport projects, by the center. Yet, it does not exist for our city, because we are used to putting band aid after the bleeding starts. Even then, the bandaid comes with inferior glue rendering it useless very quickly.
2017 also saw the tabling of the Revised Masterplan for 2031. Various calculations have put the compliance to the earlier masterplan at approximately 14%. With such poor compliance to the masterplan and the outcomes on the ground only getting worse, it was appropriate to question the entire process of preparing and executing the plan. The current master plan has decreased open spaces, commercial and industrial spaces by massive percentages in many planning districts despite population doubling. This can cause more transportation and resource distribution problems, causing one to question the vision and essence of the masterplan, including the competency of the agencies involved.
2017 was also a year where more people realized, not just that something needs to be done about the traffic congestion, but that a large part of the problem lies with them. Of course this number is still a minority, because most people still think traffic is the handiwork of someone other than themselves, that the government alone will solve, and they need to do nothing about it.
2018 should be a year of transformation in mindsets we should work on individual responsibilities towards the common good. More people should think how they make transportation choices and choose more sustainable modes as often as possible. They need to share the road with the more sustainable modes like walkers and cyclists with responsibility and care. It’s also an election year. Whichever government comes to power it should ensure the setting up of an empowered UMTA to support the sustainable choices that the people make and make it worth their while. All the individual agencies, both government & private, providing various transportation options need to cooperate to make the system work seamlessly.
Personal actions of people coupled with integrated thinking from government will make 2018 a year that makes progress towards long term sustainable outcomes and transform livability in the city
Sathya Sankaran, Co-Founder & Tactical Urbanist