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Chennai wins award for streets

Pantheon Road (before)

Pantheon Road (before)  

Surprised? It’s true. The Chennai Corporation has bagged the Best Non-Motorised Transport Project award for its Street Design Project. The author looks at just what has been revamped and how

We couldn’t believe it either; that a city whose infrastructure seems to be collapsing should actually win something. But apparently, change is happening at a slow-as-snails pace. In 2012, the Chennai Corporation (CoC) adopted the Non-Motorised Transport (NMT) Policy, which shifted focus from flyovers and concrete jungles to redesigning streets and enhancing pedestrian infrastructure. The efforts have been recognised at the recently held Urban Mobility India conference, organised by the Ministry of Urban Development.

Over six million trips a day are made on foot and by cycle in Chennai. The NMT policy guarantees that 60 per cent of the city’s transport budget is dedicated to walking and cycling initiatives. It hopes to eliminate pedestrian and cyclist deaths by 2018. Ruchita Bansal, Programme Officer, Clean Air and Sustainable Mobility Programme, Centre for Science and Environment, says, “Indian cities already have a high share of NMT and public transport users, as high as 60 per cent in Chennai but the share has gone down drastically in the last 30 years due to lack of quality control.”

In 2012, CoC began reclaiming road space from chaotic traffic, unregulated parking, and haphazardly placed utilities to create wide, continuous, and accessible footpaths. With city-based organisations such as Chennai City Connect (CCC) and Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) providing technical and coordination support, work is complete on 26 streets. The next phase will extend the project to about 65 more streets in areas such as K K Nagar, Anna Nagar, and Purasawalkam, among others. Raj Cherubal, Director-Projects, CCC, says, “The first phase aimed at implementing high-quality footpaths along 55 bus routes. Redesigned footpaths ensure streamlined traffic, designated parking spots, and ample walking space.” Next task: the NMT working group plans to revamp roads along the Metro Rail corridors to ensure last mile connectivity for commuters.

Not just cars

Did you know that car users account for only 6 per cent of Chennai’s road space compared to 30 per cent occupied by pedestrians and cyclists? Aswathy Dilip, ITDC, says that the primary changes the new plan has made includes creating wide, continuous and accessible footpaths; relocating obstructions such as electrical boxes and garbage bins; creating safe cycle paths; and streamlining motor vehicle traffic. She says, “The existing carriageway of many roads of varying widths resulted in some sections becoming bottlenecks because of merging lanes. The new street designs maintain uniform widths and streamline traffic.” Europe too was plagued by cars 40 years ago and has gradually moved to reclaiming the city for its citizens, says Durganand Balsavar, urban architect. Despite the high car ownership in Germany or Singapore, most people use public transport and cycles.

The new footpaths have been designed according to Indian Roads Congress’ revised guidelines. They not only ensure continuous and unhindered walking but reduce conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles. The Corporation has enlisted architectures to prepare detailed street designs taking into account topography, pedestrian and vehicle traffic. Says Kavitha Selvaraj, CRN Architects, “The NMT policy calls for a shift in the way we think about our roads. There has to be a comprehensive right-of-way approach and not just repairing road surfaces. We have started a Street Design Workshop at the School of Architecture and Planning to sensitise engineers who do road works at the ward level. The public too must ensure that footpaths in front of their homes are free of ramps, private gardens and parking.”

Phase 2 next

The second phase is due to start this month. It will see 29 roads being revamped including Sidco Main Road, Dr. Ambedkar College Road, and Purasawalkam High Road among others. What’s crucial is implementation. And ensuring that it is complemented with good parking management systems. CoC is working on integrating transport modes and creating cycle tracks along canals. “Creating space for vendors should be part of the road redesign project too,” says Raj. The policy has some drawbacks, as Ruchita points out: “The policy doesn’t set any targets to increase NMT and public transport share. Factors such as traffic congestion, increasing vehicular volume, parking, public health and air pollution have to be taken into account.”

One can only hope that the policy will be sustained and Chennai can set an example for other cities to follow. . As Durganand says, “A strong focus on public transport with seamless travel from home to destination can transform our cities.”

Roads Revamped

1. Mahatma Gandhi Road

2. Besant Nagar 2nd and 7th Avenue

3. CIT Nagar 1st Main Road

4. Whites Road

5. Conron Smith Road

6. Pantheon Road

7. Whannels Road

8. Police Commissioner Office Road

9. Gandhi Irwin Road; Halls Road

10. Ethiraj Salai

11. Casa Major Road

12. Blackers Road

13. Mahalingapuram Main Road

14. South Usman Road

15. Greams Road

16. Sterling Avenue

17. Tank Bund Road

18. Anna Nagar 4th Avenue

19. Kathipara Road

20. 70' Scheme Road

21. Kavignar Bharathidasan Road

Mission 2018

• Allocate 60 per cent of transport budget for NMT infrastructure

• Build safe and continuous footpaths on at least 80 per cent of streets

• Increase the share of walking and cycling trips to over 40 per cent

• Eliminate pedestrian and cyclist deaths

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 12:57:09 PM |

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