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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 19, january 16-31, 2010
Road-widening no answer
for increasing traffic
(By a Special Correspondent)

The city is witnessing a continuous effort at increasing road space. Private properties are being taken over, albeit after market value payments, trees are being cut, slums and roadside shops are being evicted, and pavements are being removed. All this in an effort to make things comfortable for those in vehicles – both public and private. Is this the best route to take? Will the quest for wider roads really end? Will we end up having only roads in the city with nothing on either side and still have a completely chaotic traffic system?

All over the world, cities have woken up to the fact that increasing the quality and availability of public transport is the only option to handling traffic woes. International studies have shown that a bus system can move 40,000 people in each lane in an hour while a car system can move only 2000. In a densely populated city like ours the ratio only increases. Today, flyovers are being recognised as hindrances to the smooth flow of traffic and are being demolished. But unfortunately in India, and in Chennai in particular, these are perceived as the panacea to end all traffic problems. In reality this is not so and the traffic bottlenecks only shift to the ends of the flyovers. The service roads beside the flyovers are so narrow that they are practically unusable and whatever space was once occupied by pavements are usurped for placing utility services and widening the service lanes. Government last week announced a drive to remove and relocate utilities that are on pavements, thereby freeing space. But what pedestrians are afraid of is that these freed pavements may soon be sacrificed for widened roads. It would be no exaggeration to say that these pavements have stayed in place only because of the utilities on them.

Another serious issue that plagues most roads is parking. Most roads in the older parts of the city were planned and developed when cars were a rarity. Today, all these roads are chock-a-block with cars. Government, after having turned a blind eye to most buildings not providing for adequate car parking space, has finally come up with a directive in the past few weeks that builders will have to show proof of adequate parking space in order to have plans approved. It should, however, be noted that this approval will be given on the basis of there being adequate parking available for the chief tenant of each residential property. But what about properties where a tenant has more than one vehicle and offices where there may be several employees with vehicles? And what about the vehicles of visitors? In fact, what is adequate parking space for any building in today’s Chennai?

Government is also moving towards tighter controls over private parking lots that are being operated on a commercial basis. The officials of the Corporation have been asked to enlist the private parking lots in the city. These will then be assessed as regards their suitability to operate as such and then be issued trade licences. Owners of such parking lots will have to submit details of what fee structures they follow, and what fire safety measures and security arrangements they have in place. The fee structure will need to be approved by the ward committee of elected councillors and the parking lot will have to be approved by police and fire safety personnel. In the meanwhile, Government’s efforts at getting its multi-level parking lots off the ground in T’ Nagar and Broadway have not met with much success.

Perhaps it is time for Government to seriously look at a two-pronged approach to freeing road space. First is to improve the availability of public transport. This, with measures such as the proposed Metro, the MRTS and other services is receiving attention. But that attention must equally be focussed on their being interlinked. Secondly, it would be necessary for some kind of a disincentive for use of private vehicles. Cities such as London have already implemented such a scheme. In a city like Chennai where use of public transport is looked down upon and most people consider cars to be status symbols, it may be even more important for such disincentives being put in place. But with a city that is claiming to be the Detroit of India, is it possible to have such charges?


In this issue

Will bigger be better?
Road-widening no answer for increasing traffic
When the RK Math put down Madras roots
A collection well past its prime
Historic Residences of Chennai - 34
Other stories

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