Ranjit Sabikhi

Principal Partner, Ranjit Sabikhi Architects

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Is It Possible To Solve Delhi’s Traffic Problems

In order to handle the transportation needs of steadily increasing population, rapid transit systems like the Metro-rail and the Bus Rapid Transit, are both essential

In order to resolve problems, and bring some sense of order and control to the existing traffic situation in Delhi, comprehensive action on a citywide scale is needed. This calls for addressing independently several different transport related problems and bringing them together in a single coordinated transportation plan for the Delhi Urban Area. The various items detailed below are all part of Chapter 12.0 Transportation in the Master Plan for Delhi 2021 (MPD-2021) notified on 31st March 2016. Detailed recommendations made by UTTIPEC also form part of this chapter. To date however no proper action has been initiated on actual implementation of these recommendations.

Metropolitan Transport Authority
As recommended by the National Transport Policy Committee in 2010 it is of prime importance to set up of a Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority, with the power to implement and enforce all transport related policies, The first task of the Authority would be the preparation of an integrated and mutually complementary multi-modal traffic and transportation plan comprising the Road, Bus Transit, Ring Railway, and Metrorail network, linking all work centers, commercial centers, and residential areas. All nodal junctions on the transportation plan will need to be worked out in detail, with properly planned space for transfer between different modes of transport. The Authority must be fully responsible for coordinating all modes of transport, and must have overriding powers to ensure proper implementation. The Authority will need to be supported by a team of traffic planners and urban designers, for the preparation of plans for all detailed components of the transportation network, set out on an accurate survey plan of the Delhi Urban Area.

Delhi's Road System

Delhi is planned on a ring-radial road pattern with a hierarchical network for regional, intra-city and local traffic. The width of existing roads is in accordance with the recommended right of way (ROW) for roads defined as National Highways, Arterial Roads, Collector Roads, and Local Streets. In the current scenario, mainly arterial roads form the network system of the city. There is a complete absence of a secondary road system resulting in the uneven distribution of traffic over large areas, and overflow of local traffic on to arterial roads, creating congestion.

Connections between colonies have not been planned to provide direct connectivity to local destinations, forcing people to come on to arterial roads to make even short local trips. The Local Area Plans make no attempt at resolution of such issues, and no detailed plans have been made for the points of connection where the different systems meet. Urgent correction of this problem by detailed planning of new link roads connecting separate colonies would help in a big way to relieve the pressure on major roads and the traffic network. Along with this it is important to take corrective action relating to badly planned junctions on arterial roads that cause regular traffic jams holding up traffic over long distances. Surgical action may well be necessary to remove existing buildings and/or other obstructions in such areas to enable the smooth flow of traffic.

Mass Rapid Transit Systems

In order to handle the transportation needs of steadily increasing population, rapid transit systems like the Metro-rail and the Bus Rapid Transit, are both essential. We must have an interlinked Metro and BRT system for moving large numbers of people across the city. New metro stations need to be located to conveniently serve all major concentrations of activity, like work centers, shopping centers and community facilities. At present this is not the case. In a major work center at ITO workers have to walk long distances to get to the metro station. Similarly in Saket, the metro station is located more than a kilometer away from the concentration of activity at the Saket District Center.

The space around all new metro stations must be adequate for the organized parking of buses, taxis and three wheeler vehicles, and also provide a link to bicycle pathways, and pedestrian paths penetrating into residential areas. These issues must be addressed, as the metro network continues to extend across the city. Lack of available space or the high cost of land should not be an acceptable argument, since the metro system is today a major public utility, used by almost 20 per cent of the city population.

Transit Oriented Development

The Delhi Master Plan proposes high density (FAR 400) mixed use development designated as Transit Oriented Development (TOD) over an area of 500 metre width on either side of the MRTS corridors. The intention is that a maximum number of people can live, work, or find means of recreation, within walking or cycling distance of the corridors and metro stations. This is a laudable concept, but almost impossible to implement except in a few outlying parts of the city. Most areas along existing metro corridors are already intensively built up and it is difficult to consolidate land parcels of 1 hectare (2.5 acres), the minimum area required for such development.

What would be helpful is the preparation of a comprehensive urban design proposal for the entire length of a selected TOD corridor along with the layout of infrastructure services, where substantial consolidation of land is possible. This would demonstrate feasibility, and initiate some real action on the proposed TOD concept. The proposed DDA / NBCC developments on isolated pockets in Karkardooma and Sanjay Lake are poor precedents, as they do not comply with the prescribed minimum FAR 400, or meet the detailed guidelines prescribed for the size and mix of residential units.

Bus Rapid Transit & Local Bus Services
Bus systems for moving large numbers of people, is an essential requirement as almost 10 lakh commuters use the bus system to travel to work. In order to provide convenient connections to large parts of the city, a separate fast moving bus system on protected corridors, linked to the metro system is necessary. The Bus Rapid Transit Systems (the BRTs) need to be planned to be located on arterial roads that have an adequate ROW, to ensure that they do not disrupt the free movement of other vehicular traffic. This is difficult to implement in most parts of Delhi, as existing arterial roads are either of inadequate width, or heavily encroached upon making it impossible to provide two separate lanes for buses within the existing ROW. In such cases it would be easier to build a separate upper level roadway reserved for BRT services, which would also permit easier pedestrian connections to development on either side. It is essential that all nodal metro stations be effectively linked with local bus services serving adjoining residential areas, planned with stops that are within one kilometer walking distance to the furthest residence.

The Ring Railway System
In the national Capital Territory of Delhi both intercity and intra-city passenger movements are being catered to by the existing rail network comprising the Regional and Ring Railway System. The Ring Rail system is currently an under utilized public transport. It is an affordable mode of transport for long distance commuters, due to its speed and low cost. However due to bad connectivity and lack of integration with metro stations, and bus stops, it is not effectively used. As part of the overall planning of the transport network this can be corrected. The railways also happen to have a fair amount of land around major ring railway stations, which can be developed to generate revenue, and provide space for connection to local bus services, taxis, rickshaws and other non-motorized transport.

Parking in Major Work Centers
The parking of large numbers of cars in major work centers, and planned commercial complexes requires the provision of carefully located multistory car parks, directly connected to access roads. Multi story car parks may be designed as part of mixed use development, with commercial space on the lower levels, to partially subsidize construction cost, and also for better integration with the surroundings. Multistory car parks however, need to be efficiently managed and controlled. Careful planning and control should ensure that all available open spaces in such complexes are properly developed, and strict action be taken to remove all vehicles parked on pedestrian footpaths or designated landscape areas.

Parking in Institutional Buildings
The provision of proper parking and circulation space is important in all institutional buildings like schools, colleges, universities and hospitals. At present the available parking space for schools is inadequate, and school buses cause major obstruction on adjoining roads. Planning authorities are proposing to further reduce the size of plots allotted to schools in new development areas. Most large schools in the city are finding it difficult to meet the need of playgrounds and sports facilities. They therefore extend playgrounds into the space demarcated for vehicular parking, and bus parking space, pushing more vehicles on to the adjoining roads. The parking of school buses on adjoining roads commonly cause serious traffic obstruction.

Similarly hospitals and health facilities do not have adequate space for the parking of doctors and patient's cars. In particular there is no proper provision for the parking and safe movement of ambulances, which is an issue of importance. These factors have not been taken into account before permitting hospitals and clinics on restricted plots, in residential colonies. A viable minimum size of plot for hospitals and health facilities needs to be worked out on the basis of safe access and adequate circulation space.

Parking in Residential Areas

With the number of registered vehicles in the city reaching close to 100 lakhs, there is an acute shortage of parking space. The problem has been aggravated both by the shortage of properly planned parking structures, as well as due to car users parking indiscriminately in all available open space. In all residential colonies where permissible construction was increased to four floors, it was with the express understanding that the ground floor would be a stilted area used for the parking of residents' cars. Although a large number of owners of residential property have taken advantage of the revised regulations, they are generally not using the stilted area for parking. Cars are parked on adjoining access roads taking over the space of footpaths, forcing pedestrians to walk in the middle of vehicular traffic. This is the current situation in all middle and upper income residential areas.

The Delhi Master Plan 2021 states:

a) Provisions relating to parking within the plot area are not normally adhered to resulting in vehicles spilling over on to the roads.

b) Lack of enforcement and inadequate policy interventions has resulted in growth of parking demand along with the growth of vehicles in the city.

c) The number of vehicles should be restricted through enforcement and pricing policy rather than increasing supply of parking.

d) Parking is a consumer commodity, not a legal right. No subsidized parking should be provided in public spaces.

e) Private vehicles must be parked on a fully paid rented or owned space.

f) Parking management must be effectively used as a tool to reduce overall demand for parking space.

To date the local authorities responsible have taken no action to implement the above recommendations.

In order to restore pedestrian footpaths in residential areas strict enforcement is called for. A beginning could be made, by charging residents a monthly parking fee for the ownership of cars in all parts of the city. For every car parked on public space outside the residential plots, the parking fee should be ten times higher. This would be a deterrent to the large number of cars owned by individual residents. If residents do not have space within their plots to park the cars that they own, on the basis of detailed planning joint arrangements can be made, for the parking of vehicles within reasonable walking distance. Such residents should be required to bear the cost of development and maintenance of these parking areas, and also pay the higher charge for parking on public space.

Areas of low income residential concentrations, are also not free of parking problems, and the issue is actually more serious. Access roads are narrow in many cases being less than 10 ft in width, providing bare minimum space for pedestrian access. Residents in such settlements struggle across parked bicycles, motorcycles, and even cars, to reach their homes. In almost all such areas as a result of uncontrolled unauthorized development the original planned layout has lost meaning, and chaotic conditions prevail. This calls for corrective action, both in the interest of the safety of pedestrians, and for access by ambulances, and fire tender, in case of emergency.

Pedestrian Pathways

35 per cent of commuters in the city walk to work but pedestrian footpaths are steadily disappearing and there are no safe alternative walking spaces available. According to the Delhi Master Plan the right to walk safely is a non-negotiable condition for which some of the steps recommended are:

a) All roads must provide proper footpaths as per street design regulations.

b) All pedestrian facilities should be barrier free for universal access by all persons with reduced mobility including those with hearing and visual impairments.

c) All impediments/encroachments shall be removed from footpaths all over the city, to create safe walking environment and encourage more people to walk.

d) Provide safe street level crossings at every 250 mts maximum distance along roads. Crossings may be signalized or traffic calmed to reduce vehicular speed and increase safety.

e) Major work centers where large numbers of pedestrians emerge should have enhanced facilities for pedestrians.

f) The planning, design, implementation and maintenance of pedestrian routes and facilities need to be prioritized.

The restoration of safe pedestrian mobility in all parts of the city is a matter of prime importance and needs to be given top priority. The recommended steps if implemented will bring about a major change in the urban environment, but calls for proper planning, and enforcement of a ban on all encroachments on pedestrian footpaths across the city.

Strict enforcement to restore safe uninterrupted access, along with the provision of proper pedestrian footpaths is of particular importance in all residential areas. Wherever driveway setbacks within plots have been provided, or a stilted ground floor has been built for parking, it is imperative that residents park their cars within the plot area. All adjoining footpaths need to be restored, and cars parked across walkways should be heavily penalized, or forcibly removed. All area outside individual plot boundaries is public land, and this must be restored for public use, the priority being safe pedestrian movement.

Bicycle Network
Bicycle and bicycle rickshaws provide useful transport for short and medium length trips. Bicycle tracks however need to be safe and clear of all fast moving vehicular traffic. At present bicycle tracks have been provided in only a few areas alongside major vehicular roads, where they are not safe, and are of short stretches subjected to frequent stops at all road junctions. Data shows that approximately 35 per cent of the Delhi population own bicycles but only a fraction use them for commuting purposes because of lack of continuity and safety. So far no real attempt has been made to plan a larger and continuous bicycle network for the city. The topography of Delhi happens to have a large connected network of nallahs and rainwater drainage channels, which can easily be developed to provide continuous bicycle tracks. The network could also be planned to pass through Delhi's several parks and open spaces, along with the large number of archaeological ruins, scattered across the city. Such a connected system would attract large numbers of commuters, and also become a tourist attraction. The development of a cycle network along the nallahs, would help clean up areas which are currently being extensively misused as garbage dumps, and convert them into additional assets as linked parkways.

Strict Enforcement of Transport Rules and Regulations
All efforts at finding effective solutions to control traffic will be useless without the strict enforcement of traffic rules and regulations. In addition to the extensive problems created by the poor planning of the road system in all parts of the city there is the prevalent issue of poor driving skills. Drivers of all kinds of vehicles lack proper understanding of the rules of the road. Not all of them have valid driving licenses, and many of them do not know how to drive properly. It is quite clear that driving licenses have been obtained without having passed proper driving tests. This problem is so widespread that it is necessary for the authorities concerned to take effective action to overhaul the entire process of driving tests, and issue of driving licenses on a broad scale across the country. Taking corrective action in individual states would be pointless, as it is not possible to penalize drivers coming in with licenses issued from other states. This problem is not restricted to the poor and uneducated, but is equally prevalent in the educated well to do drivers, of expensive cars. This is something that can only be corrected by strict action like the confiscation of licenses, and heavy penalizing of errant drivers.
Strong enforcement of safe driving rules also calls for the proper training of the traffic enforcement officials - the local police force.

Despite the passage of more than a year since the notification of revised guidelines relating to transportation in the Delhi Master Plan 2021, problems related to issues like parking, the planning of space around metro stations, and the provision of a proper system of pedestrian footpaths, and bicycle tracks, are still being debated and talked about on a daily basis, without any real corrective action having been taken. In order to prevent further deterioration in the currently chaotic traffic conditions urgent action should be taken to set up the Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority as promised by the central government in 2010, to formulate holistic transport policies. The local government and the PWD are intending to build 60 new pedestrian overbridges in different parts of the city along with a number of new vehicular flyovers. All of this is being done without the preparation of a comprehensive coordinated transportation plan for the total Delhi Urban area, which is shortsighted, and likely to create complications that will be more difficult to resolve in the future.

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