The killing streets

To reduce the number of accident victims, we need to change our approach to decongesting roads, increasing safety and providing mobility to our pedestrians

Updated - September 28, 2016 02:41 pm IST

Published - September 22, 2016 07:14 pm IST

With nearly 15 million people crammed in 434 sq. km, the city of Mumbai is one of the world’s most populous urban areas. Five national highways pass through the Mumbai Metropolitan Region; three arterial roads connect the island city with the suburbs, the MMR and the highway system: the Western Express Highway (WEH) from Bandra to Dahisar, the Eastern Express Highway (EEH) from Sion to Thane, and the Sion-Panvel Expressway. In Navi Mumbai, the Palm Beach Road–Thane-Belapur stretch similarly connects north and south.

The region has approximately 1,900 km of roads on which, as of March 2014, there were more than seven lakh private vehicles, 56,459 kaali peeli taxis (as of 2005), and 106,000 auto rickshaws (as of May 2013).

Not surprisingly, the region also witnesses a high number of road accidents every year. Data from the Mumbai traffic police has reported an average of 570 fatalities annually over the past five years. Of these, almost 60 per cent are pedestrians and almost 30 per cent are motorcyclists.

How can we better protect our people and bring down this figure?

A city that walks, but privileges cars

First, two home truths about Mumbai: one, our road-use model disregards the needs of the majority of users; two, it puts the onus of safety on road users themselves.

It’s true that there are an ever-increasing numbers of private cars, taxis and autos on the roads. But, as per the Comprehensive Transportation Study for Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMRDA 2008), walking is the primary mode of transport for 52 per cent of Mumbaikars. Of the remaining 48 per cent, 78 per cent commute via public transport — trains and buses — and of these, at least 90 per cent walk to bus stops or train stations.

But yet we continue to build high-speed roads and other facilities: since 1999, in a bid to ease congestion, Mumbai has spent over Rs. 20,000 crore to build over 60 flyovers, the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, Eastern Freeway, Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road (JVLR) and the Santacruz-Chembur Link Road (SCLR). For a majority of Mumbaikars, these roads are all unsafe by design; in a city that lacks basic provisions for pedestrians like footpaths and controlled speed limits, flyovers, viaducts and freeways only worsen their predicament.

Think about this as well: how many bus routes use these high-speed overpasses?

Ironically, even some private vehicles — two-wheelers, which tend to be entry-level vehicles — are barred from using some of these super-roads: several motorbike and scooter accidents happened in the months after the Mohammad Ali Road viaduct (also known as the J.J. Flyover) opened for traffic prompted the police to ban them from entering it. The Eastern Freeway also bars two-wheelers.

This is a method of penalising the taxpayer for want of a better solution.

Or, to put it another way, here are facilities built with public money that exclude a majority of the public from benefitting from them.

Flyovers benefit five per cent of Mumbaikars

Flyovers are viewed as a solution to traffic congestion, but despite their proliferation, the problem has largely remained unresolved. Because they favour cars, and only 10 per cent of Mumbai’s population owns cars of whom only 3 to 5 per cent use them for their daily commute.

There is enough empirical evidence from around the world that shows that providing for cars and car-based travels is not the answer to unclogging city roads. A study by the Texas Transportation Institute (2006) showed that building additional road-miles increased car travel.

It’s clear: we need to change our approach to decongest roads, increase safety and provide mobility in our cities.

Global best practices

Street design has changed as a science, from highway-centric designing to building for people.

Design manuals in cities like New York have shifted focus to the equitable distribution of road space. From July 2006 to June 2009, New York has constructed over 320 km of bicycle tracks. In Delhi, the UTTIPEC design guidelines also convey some good practices in street design; however, we are yet to see how this translates into implementation.

The Indian Roads Congress Code 103 provides good detailing on footpath design, the use of bollards (short, sturdy pillars) that prevent traffic from entering an area, and other traffic-calming measures. The manual includes street design elements appropriate to the context, rather than focusing on roadway design guidelines. The Indian Road Congress is the apex organisation of highway engineers in India.

In Mumbai, the JVLR and the SCLR now provide much-needed east-west connectors. The Eastern Freeway carved out one more north-south artery. But these roads completely dismiss or ignore altogether the needs of pedestrians and other vulnerable road users. We need to actively work to ensure that such ergonomically unsound roads aren’t constructed and street design principles are taken into account while building new roads.

How can we make our streets safer?

To build safer, more pedestrian-friendly roads, several cities around the world have adopted the ‘Vision Zero’ approach to road safety.

This approach emerged in Sweden; it is based on the principle that human life must take priority over all other traffic challenges such as congestion, speed and road capacity. It departs from conventional road safety thinking by advocating a joint responsibility for safety between road users, the traffic authorities and road departments. It accepts that to some extent, human error is unavoidable, and that transportation and infrastructure systems needs to be designed to ensure that such errors do not result in fatalities.

Among some of the solutions it envisions are the building of adequate footpaths for pedestrians and ensuring they are not encroached upon; better planned junctions and turns; a lower speed limit for vehicular traffic and decongesting the roads and sidewalks by eliminating free on-street parking etc.

Slower roads

Instead of speeding up our traffic, we need to slow it down. Yes, this sounds counter-intuitive; please hear us out.

Recently, an advertising campaign for road safety in New York (a city that adopted Vision Zero) explains the relationship between speed limits and accidents: It shows that a pedestrian is hit at 40 mph (64 kmph) has a 70 per cent chance of survival; 30 mph. (48 kmph), survival rates improved to 80 per cent. This figure is borne out by research: Rosen and Sander (2009) found that a speed limit of 30 kmph. significantly reduces the risk of fatality.

Well-designed roads are accessible and easy to use universally, that includes the most vulnerable of our population. Ask these questions: can an 80-year-old cross a road safely? Could an eight-year-old use it unsupervised? Could a person with disability navigate them without assistance? The 40:40 concept — all roads inside a city should be less than 40 metres wide and traffic speed should not exceed 40 kmph — can successfully achieve this.

Mumbai traffic lanes are around 3.5m wide. Experience from New York City indicates that reducing general traffic lane width from 3.5m to 2.75m can minimise speeding considerably. Two lanes of 2.75m in either direction yield an 11m roadway for private vehicles. Three lanes (two lanes in each direction, and an overtaking lane) of 3.5m. each should be reserved for high-speed, high-throughput Bus Rapid Transit. A further 10m designed for pedestrian footpaths and cycle tracks completes the road section. In other words, a good level of traffic can be accommodated within a 32m-wide road, even while incorporating Bus Rapid Transit lanes.

Similarly, inner streets can be designed as 20m-wide roads with a speed limit of 20 kmph. And 10m-wide neighbourhood streets designed for 10 kmph traffic would be environments where cycles, people and cars can co-exist safely.

How does one do this in a city like Mumbai, which already doesn’t seem to have enough roads?

A place for urban design

Traffic speed can’t managed through signboards with speed limits or CCTV cameras.

Instead, we must design roads that ensure the desired speed. In areas of high pedestrian movement, we can use urban design reintroduce calming elements such as speed bumps, barriers, chicanes, or sharp bends designed to create obstacles, lesser kerb radii, raised crossings and reduced lane widths that slow down vehicle speed, and protect footpaths and bicycle lanes that safeguard vulnerable users.

Such interventions are easily doable in Mumbai. We at WRI is working closely with the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) to design and implement these ideas on a pilot stretch in Kurla, on the congested LBS Marg.

MCGM’s staggering Rs. 3,000 -crore budget for road maintenance is adequate to work in this direction across the city. Priorities can be major roads (like S.V. Road and L.B.S. Marg), roads which see heavy traffic caused largely by public transport (like the Andheri-Kurla Road) and locations near railway stations and bus depots.

Smart junctions (and minimise jaywalking)

Accident data from Indian cities, and cities around the world, indicate that pedestrians are the most vulnerable road users and the make the most number of fatalities. Investigations also show that a significant number of these accidents take place at intersections and at mid-block crossings.

Accidents occur at ‘conflict points’. Conflict points are locations where the vehicle and people movement trajectories intersect. An analysis of the Nitin Junction on the Eastern Express Highway, done by WRI along with the Thane Municipal Corporation in 2015, showed 64 conflict points on this road.

Through design interventions, we observed that these conflict points can be reduced to 16, reducing the overall risk by more than 400 per cent.

This indicates a clear requirement to focus on roads that pedestrians can cross, rather than just wider footpaths. Streets should not be designed with open, wide intersections; narrow roads that are easy to cross and mid-block crossings that provide the shortest and most direct path can easily be designed on a 40-m road.

Urban design can also reduce the troublesome random crossing of streets by pedestrians. Wider streets should be designed to minimise the need for pedestrians to run across. The use of pedestrian refuge islands, bulb-outs (extensions of footpaths), direct and shortest crosswalks, all will facilitate safe pedestrian movement.

Make parking expensive

Parking management is the easiest form of congestion pricing which does not require huge investment or technology upgradation.

Parking rates in Mumbai are among the lowest in the world, and we pay only a fraction of what most world cities charge for parking. If the virtually-free parking spaces in South Mumbai are made much costlier, then this will discourage daily car usage for work trips and also free up precious street space for pedestrians and other public places.

The roads around Horniman Circle, Regal Circle and Kala Ghoda are consumed by parking, as is space under flyovers. These could become iconic pedestrian plazas of the city. A few initiatives to turn areas under flyover into public parks has yielded beautiful results.

Completing the grid

The problem with our current road network is that it has many loose ends, bottlenecks or disconnected bits. Major roads connect to reach other through minor neighbourhood-level streets, making them cater to thoroughfare traffic. New, well-maintained bridges and viaducts descend into narrow, potholed streets. The (questionable) benefits of these structures speeding up traffic gets lost as soon as one gets off them.

This problem is particularly evident in our east-west connections between the EEH and WEH, and on either side of the railway lines. Rather than constructing new north-south connectors — like the proposed Coastal Road — we should focus on augmenting east-west connectors and eliminating bottlenecks.

Prioritising public transport

Bus transport gets the short shrift, struggling through congested roads as cars zip by overhead on flyovers. This, as we said before, means that the majority of our citizens are discriminated against even though our taxes pay for those facilities.

Bus Rapid Transit on all major arterial roads like the SV Road, Linking Road, the EEH and WEH, JVLR, SCLR, LBS Marg, and will ease traffic considerable and reduce conflict.

About the authors

WRI works closely with MCGM Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai as part of the Bloomberg initiative for global road safety. It is one of six partner institution which provides technical support and advocates safer systems, safer mobility approach for safer roads across India, with the aim of achieving zero casualties by 2020.

Madhav Pai is India Director for the WRI Ross Centre for Sustainable Cities. His notable successs in urban transport systems in India include iBus in Indore, BIG Bus Network in Bangalore, Raahgiri in Delhi and Gurgaon and Transit Oriented Development in Hubli and Dharwad, among others. He has co-written Bus Karo, a guidebook on bus operations and planning. He is a civil engineer, with a Master’s in Transport Planning from the University of California Berkeley.

Binoy Mascarenhas is Manager, Urban Transport and Road Safety at WRI India Sustainable Cities. He leads WRI’s road safety programme in India and is responsible for managing road safety projects in India, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. He also leads WRI’s sustainable urban transport work in the Mumbai region. He has Master’s degrees in Urban Planning from CEPT University, Ahmedabad, and in Economics from Gokhale Institute, Pune.

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