Insisting that Chennai must give up building flyovers in favour of large investments on dedicated bus lanes, cycle tracks and pedestrian walkways, New York Transport Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said: “Investments made by city administrations must improve the quality of life of residents”.

“The strategy of making it as easy as possible for cars to go as fast as possible has outlived its usefulness. Prioritising public transport is going to be the hallmark of a great city in the 21st century. And Chennai has a real chance to leapfrog past the mistakes that western cities committed,” she added.

Speaking to The Hindu on Tuesday, after a series of meetings with State government officials here, Ms.Khan said that Chennai must also seriously consider implementing a Bus Rapid Transit System. “A priority bus lane is the mark of effective cities. Buses move more people, so they should get more priority than single persons driving by themselves. It is very important and it can be done quickly and inexpensively.”

Sharing New York's experience, which until 2007 recorded the lowest public transit bus speeds in the United States, she said that introducing a Select Bus Service that operated on a dedicated lane has given “great returns”.

“The dedicated bus lane has increased ridership by 30 per cent and has an approval rating of 98 per cent among New Yorkers,” Ms.Khan said.

Chennai is a very exciting city, she said. “But there are traffic and growth challenges. It is really important for the city to take a different view of how the streets are used. We were able to close down traffic flow into Times Square and turn into a pedestrian plaza. Chennai must do the same in areas such as T.Nagar. There is incredible energy in the streets here, but the city has to protect pedestrians. A network of bicycle tracks also needs to come up.” In New York, once walkways and cycle lanes were installed, the number of people getting injured or killed in road accidents dropped by over 30 per cent.

New York City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden, who accompanied Ms.Khan, said that the city must also do something about the rivers that are “polluted beyond words”. “They have to be reclaimed for public use. In New York, we have built 328 acres of waterfront parks. Now, for the first time in decades, New Yorkers feel it is a waterfront city. It has really made a difference.”