Wednesday, August 3, 2016

WALKING MALL... Any Takers in Pune?

A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars, it's where the rich use public transportation -  Mayor of Bogota

This blog is about a good initiative in another part of the country. Its about a walking mall project in MG Road, Kochi, Kerala. 

MG Road is the busiest commercial road in Kochi, the  commercial capital of Kerala. It houses numerous and famous textile, jewelry showrooms and hotels. It is the pride of Kochi city. KMRL (Kochi Metro Rail Ltd), the SPV formed for implementing the Kochi metro project is taking up many new initiatives in the city for developing a comprehensive multimodal transportation system.  One such initiative is the walking mall for MG Road.

The Proposal: The plan put forth by KMRL is to make MG Road (from Madhava Pharmacy Junction to Jos Juntionn) one way with vehicles permitted only in south- north direction. Chittor road will be used for the opposite direction traffic. Vehicles will be limited to one side of the road and the remaining space will be planned for pedestrian and non motorized movement. Walkways, cycle tracks, food kiosks, street furniture and trees are also planned. The pedestrian zone will run along the eastern side half the way, while it shifts side and occupy the western side for the other half. The plan also aims to develop multi-tier parking lots on a public–private partnership basis.

 Many have raised concerns against this plan.  Citizens are astonished about narrowing the width of MG Rd when they see widening the road as the solution to the increasing traffic. So is widening the real solution to the traffic problems??

How it works around the globe:
Cities around the globe have met increasing traffic and transportation demands through efficient public transportation and non motorized transportation. It is one of the signs for a mature and livable city. In all the developed cities, more than 50% people use public transport: Reason being it’s made highly expensive to use the private vehicles (congestion taxes, parking taxes etc) PLUS good public transportation system is in place.

City of New York is a good example. It is distinguished from other US cities for its low personal automobile ownership and high public transportation. More than 50% commute to work via public transportation and almost 10% via walking. This has made the city the most energy efficient city in the US. Broadway in New York is a major commercial street which saw huge transformation from a car intensive street to a pedestrian friendly street. Broadway was congested with vehicles, narrow pedestrian walkways resulting in unpleasant working and shopping environment until New York department of transportation decided to reconfigure it into a pedestrian friendly street. In one of the most dramatic changes to the corridor, Broadway was completely closed to vehicle traffic at Times Square and Herald Square, which created room for new pedestrian plazas and spaces, and allowed for longer signal times for vehicles at the adjacent avenues. It was found that the project improved the traffic flow, increased safety and brought in more business to the area.

Why it works for Kochi:
Kochi is the commercial centre of Kerala along with being a famous tourist centre. Given the fact that Kochi is one of the Indian cities with best public transport (bus) systems, it is imperative to take more actions towards making transportation sustainable and the city livable. MG road project should not be viewed just as a transport project in fact it is also a  city rejuvenation project.  

Once completed, Kochi metro will further add on to the public transportation facilities. Having good public transport, it is ideal to put in place policies/plans to move people from private vehicles to public vehicles. And yes, policies should be such that using private vehicles should be made difficult and only then people will shift to public vehicles. MG Rd is now facing stiff competition from other commercial centres in the north and is now the  best time for the transformation of the area to assign new functions to it. The new project would bring back the focus to MG Rd and bring more people and business to it.

It is argued by those against the plan that making MG Rd one way will reduce the business and commerce in the area. The argument itself is fallacious as  seen that wherever such transformations have happened, it has attracted more people and more business. One such example from India is Mall Road, Shimla, a completely pedestrian street, running as a good commercial road as well as tourist centre.  Copenhagen has a large downtown which is car free shopping area which is heavily used. Camden high street, London is another example.

Other than reducing congestion and rejuvenating the area, there are more benefits in the long run. 
a) Environment benefits: Reduction in air pollution, increased energy efficiency, reduction in carbon footprint 
b) Economic: Reduction in travel time, Reduction in travel cost. Increased revenue from commerce and tourism 
c) Commercial:  Increased business 
d)Tourism:  Increased tourists, a main tourism attraction centre.

Idea is good – Way forward??
Having supported the idea, I am concerned whether adequate studies are done to asses the carrying capacities of Chittor Rd and TD Rd. Also the MG road transformation should not be just for itself, but also include side streets and the area around it to suit the overall plan. This should be linked with the water metro project and there should be facilities for people who get down at the Boat jetty to cycle or use metro to reach MG Rd, Marine drive and other centers around. A tourism corridor could be planned linking these. Adequate parking facilities need to be allocated near the metro stations and area around for efficient execution of the plan. Also providing proper drainage facilities (taking into account the slope, rainfall) should be the first step for the walking mall project.

Parisar’s ‘Understanding the flyover phenomenon’ brings out some interesting facts on how the cycle city Pune became 2 wheeler city and perception of people on flyovers with over 68% percent thinking flyovers signify development!

ROAD WIDENING is never a solution to the increasing traffic; neither is FLYOVERS! Public transportation and Non motorized Transportation is the way to go!
 Anu Kuncheria