Urban renewal: lessons from near and far

Both an advanced economy like Singapore and a growing city like Indore have admirable models

July 15, 2014 02:14 am | Updated November 16, 2021 06:59 pm IST - Chennai

Not long ago, Chennai’s urban planners had said the city was planned a lot along the lines of Singapore. The recent rains that felled many trees in Chennai are an ominous sign of things to come during the northeast monsoon that begins in October. In this context, it would be worth the while to see just how different the island nation maintains its road infrastructure.

During the course of a recent media visit to Singapore, this reporter spoke to William Kwong, senior road admin, Land Transport Authority, who outlined the various levels of maintenance work the government there does to ensure that all of its assets — roads, flyovers, bridges, pedestrian facilities, expressways and even bus stops – are periodically inspected. The inspections themselves are categorised. Road inspections, for example, include walking inspections, safety inspections and special inspections. The bottom line is: nothing is taken for granted.

It is not that roads in Singapore do not suffer from any of what we see in Chennai, be it cave-ins, potholes or cracklines. They are just attended to very promptly.

They also use the latest technology to constantly ensure that the safety of road users is at the centre of their planning. For example, a ‘sideway force co-efficient routine investigation machine’ is used to collect continuous ‘skid data’ from the roads to identify which sections of the road have inadequate skid resistance.

Though there is a lot to learn from Singapore in terms of urban infrastructure, the key lesson could be just the emphasis the government there pays towards its “assets” — its roads, its water and other civic infrastructure.

While several corridors are being talked about for the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS), transport activists rue the city has missed the bus. Even small cities like Indore and Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh have gone ahead and launched the BRTS, whereas Chennai, where the roads are bursting at their seams, is lagging behind in giving a fillip to its public transport.

For instance, any visitor to Indore would immediately notice a dynamic and well-used BRTS corridor having a route network system catering to all sections of society.

Buses are colour-coded to ensure easy recognition of routes.

A retired official of the Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC), who had planned to create a BRTS corridor on the Rajiv Gandhi Salai from Madhya Kailash to Mahabalipuram, said he has lost hope of any such facility coming to the city in the context of the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) getting almost scrapped by the Central Government.

Citing a news item where there was no mention of the Rajiv Gandhi Salai in the new corridors proposed by the Chennai Corporation and Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority, he said that the road was identified to be economically viable for BRTS. The retired official said that unless the Chief Minister took a personal interest, the BRTS would never see the light of the day.

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