Pune: A confused city

I was riding on a bus which was trying to find a route through two-wheelers, cars and poor pedestrians through the core city area of Pune hoping to reach our destination in time. It was early morning and we were already facing heavy congestion. I was reading the Times of India (dated 5th Nov. ’09) and an article titled “Traffic Dept. turns its attention to Peth areas” caught my eye since it came as a pleasant surprise: it talked about “congestion charges” for automobiles!

Yes, according to the article, the PMC traffic department is thinking about charging congestion charges in the central core city of Pune. The plans also include a ban of two-wheelers entering some parts of the core city area. They have also started giving thought to making Peth areas into a walking plaza and turning them into Pedestrian friendly streets. According to Deputy Commissioner of Police (Traffic), Mr. Patil, the roads been used right now in the core area was planned almost 300 years ago, according to the need of the people at that time. Now, the same road is used by around 50 lakh people and 25 lakh vehicles. The population density for people as well as vehicle has increased but there is no proper management, leading to great amount of congestion. Due to increase in population and “outrageous” increase in number of vehicles there are two major problems: first is parking and the second is heavy congestion. The parking space in these areas is really inadequate and more than that there are no proper footpaths leading to a very dangerous challenge for pedestrians. People squeeze in between the traffic to find their way to reach to their destination. The other thing the authorities are thinking about, according to the article, is banning of free-parking. They are planning to implement higher parking charges on roads in Peth areas which will increase in a telescopic manner with time. The parking lots will also include free bicycle stands and adequate space for auto-rickshaws and provision for bus-stops. PMC as well as Traffic department are planning to widen the existing footpaths in the Peth areas for safe movement of the pedestrians.

In contrast to the above article, there was a news item in the Indian Express on 6th of Nov.2009 about “No green signals for 10 flyovers in city”. I was sitting in the office and read the article twice to make sure I had read right. On one side, the Times of India article suggested that there was hope of improvement for today’s transport problem in Pune, and on the other, this article took away that hope. Reading the two articles, it was very clear that the root cause of the traffic problem has not been understood by the authorities. While some talk about “congestion charges”, walking plazas, and a pedestrian friendly city, others talk about building new flyovers!

The article on 6th Nov. 2009, lamented the delay in 10 proposed flyovers: Simla Office junction to Sancheti, Nal stop, Yerwada (Parnakuti), SNDT to Balbharati, Dhairi junction on Sinhagad Road, Saswad junction on Hadapsar Road, Railway overbridges — at Ghorpadi, Handewandi, Junna Bazar and Engineering College, due to a failure in speeding up the formation of PMRDA. However, it is now well accepted that solutions such as flyovers that encourage use of personal motorized vehicles and discourage use of public transport or non-motorized transport do not help to solve the problem in the long run, but only make it worse, because it attracts more vehicles onto the streets.

So, one set of authorities talk about congestion free streets and pedestrian friendly city and the other talk about building more “flyovers”. The former essentially tries to restrict and discourage use of private motorized vehicles in order to promote a sustainable means of growth, while the latter directly encourages use of more private motorized vehicles – thus the two are totally contradictory to each other and we cannot have both. If we want the city to be pedestrian friendly and tourist-friendly to show off its ancient charm, there should be facilities to walk around in peace and enjoy the city’s heritage. Just adding more roads to the city will never achieve this and in fact make the problem worse. So, we at Parisar strongly believe that the first proposed solution will take the city in the right direction, while the second will take the city backward as far as environment-friendly, socially equitable transportation is concerned, and will lead to a degradation in quality of life overall.

Kanchan
Parisar