Less roads, more pavements make sustainable, workable cities- March 7, 2012

I am not a transportation planner or an out-and-out socialist, but I do understand that it is totally unfair to have auto-centric cities when the majority of citizens use public transport. It enrages me to see this happen in Indian cities, where authorities pander to the middle classes and the rich, spending massive amounts on road widening and freeway building at the cost of shrinking and disappearing pavements. Then politicians go with a begging bowl back to the common man, who takes the bus and walks and cycles, to ask for votes when election time comes round!

Governments are supposed to work for the LARGER good and take decisions for the long-term benefit of the city. Indian cities have no real sense of community and there seems to be a complete disconnect between what passes for community and the guys who decide what’s good for the city.

I came across an interesting blog that described the community-centric development of Oviedo in Spain.The city has worked with ‘equality for pedestrians’ as an objective and actually reduced the width of roads and widened pavements in the last few years. At traffic lights, the yellow light shows a pedestrian crossing, to warn motorcar drivers that they need to watch out for people still crossing the road before they press on the accelerator! Small interventions can go a long way in improving safety and quality of life!

Another really cute initiative is the biker bus that makes the journey to school a safe, fun and eco-friendly experience for Dutch kids. See the happy contraption here!

There has been a movement to remove urban freeways in the United States and other nations. Freeways, built for faster movement of cars, have sliced through communities, displacing people and destroying entire neighborhoods for decades. Some cities have chosen to close their freeways down to create walkable spaces and seen economic revitalization as a benefit. Manhattan’s West Side Highway, that collapsed in 1973, was never replaced because citizens opposed plans for a new, bigger freeway. Instead, citizens got a waterfront park and bicycle paths they value much more. No one missed the freeway; traffic actually reduced. In Seoul, South Korea, the city’s only freeway was covered up and converted into a park. Bus ways were created instead!

In India, we continue to build freeways, widen roads, swallow pavements, charge ridiculously low parking fees even in prime market areas, continue to neglect public transport- we do this at the cost of our cities and our lives! But when ‘community’ means only Facebook pages and no grassroots connect, when no one asks the ordinary man what he needs and when politicians continue to be fascinated by solutions the West has already discarded, something is super wrong! Worse, the man riding the bicycle is sent the message that he must aspire for a scooter, then a car, rather than any attempt to encourage his already eco-friendly mode of transport.

We need to make changes to our lives. We need to convert automobile trips to ones made on public transport, at an individual level. We need to demand better public transportation from our governments. We need to carpool more. We can do so much; yet we sit by and believe our small changes won’t matter, so we can continue to not try. We vote for change but we have no means to ensure our demands are met. We are a democracy without teeth not because politicians are bad (yes, they are, but that is another story), but because we have not woken up!

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5 thoughts on “Less roads, more pavements make sustainable, workable cities- March 7, 2012

  1. What an incredible post this really is ! Totally floored by the post on the whole. I know that you are what-you-are but then this is going beyond that. Integrated knowledge is what impresses the reader here. Wow !

    I did a project couple of years back on urban transport systems(Engineering days et al ). But it was highly mathematical and a lot of fluid dynamics. I wondered then, what truly do the “people” need there and are there any universal solutions which can be applied blindly. And, who it is that we are actually trying to benefit.

    The beauty of post is that you have used your technical knowledge without being geeky at the same time ! Very impressive. Will be coming around for more every now and then :) Thank you for the post.

      • I do not know really. But I do not feel constrained for sure. In mathematics we are taught about knowns and unknowns and endeavours in life are also governed by the same equation. It is the journey from known to the unknown. However, most of us are reluctant to shed the known in the process and that terminates the pursuit. I guess, I was ready to … :)
        People ,who know me, are subconsciously guided by the degrees I have or the work I did and even the awards I received. So, in effect they do not evaluate my writing but the whole plethora of things that does not matter as far as the post is concerned. This attempt at anonymity is to mute all that :| I just want a fair trial :P ( Fundamental Right it is :) )

  2. I’m not a architect nor an urban planner, but new urbanism and walkable sustainability is a passion of mine. I agree, that we rely on our cars too much. I’m a minivan mom who averages about 50 miles a week just driving back and forth from my kids’ school. If I try to walk to the store here in Dallas, I would more likely become road-kill. If I had my way, I would walk and ride my bike almost everywhere and every neighborhood would be self-sustainable.

    Thank you for sharing your thought and insight.

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