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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XX No. 4, june 1-15, 2010
Road widening is NOT
the answer for City’s traffic
(By a Special Correspondent)

The Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) has announced that 125 roads in the city are to be widened to enable faster vehicular movement. To start with, it has identified 25 roads that require immediate attention. This has become a routine exercise in Chennai and is at best a knee-jerk reaction to the worsening vehicular density in the city. However, road widening cannot be the panacea for this problem. What is required is a holistic approach that looks at traffic chaos as a consequence of faulty planning, mixed zoning and poor parking facilities. That unfortunately is lacking.

Are these parking space rules followed?

  • Compulsory parking spaces to be provided for all dwelling units exceeding 807 sq.ft (75 sq.m) in plinth area.
  • One car space to be provided for each 75 sq.m or part thereof, leaving aside the first 75 sq m.
  • For dwelling units between 40 and 75 sq.m in area, one two-wheeler parking space is to be provided for each family.
  • For shopping complexes, one car park space to be provided for area between 50 and 100 sq.m.
  • For every 50 sq.m or part thereof exceeding 100 sq.m, one car park space to be provided
  • In the case of office buildings, whether intended as private, semi-public offices and public offices, one car space for every 100 sq.m of floor area or part thereof has to be provided. However, for computing the actual parking requirement, only 75 per cent of the total plinth area is taken into consideration.

In March this year, the CMDA released the findings of a study on traffic speeds in the city and this showed that from an average of 30 kmph in 1992, vehicles today move at less than 20 kmph. Some areas such as Kodambakkam clocked average speeds of less than 15 kmph. Rather than analysing why this is happening, the CMDA has decided to take the easy approach of widening roads which is, at best, a short-term measure and will prove a futile exercise in the long run.

The root cause of traffic congestion lies in the mixed zoning laws that have been implemented in Chennai from 1975 onwards. This has today resulted in a scenario where multistoreyed office blocks and commercial establishments are permitted to be built just about anywhere. Schools, offices, restaurants and clubs are permitted to come up in narrow cul-de-sacs and, subject as these are to peak traffic and parking loads at specific periods of the day, they contribute significantly towards the slowing down of traffic in the neighbourhood. It is quite clear that while sanctioning these establishments, no thought is given by the authorities on the possible impact they can have on the neighbourhood and its residents.

That this problem is only intensifying can be gauged by the fact that two congested areas of the city are currently in the middle of massive construction projects. The first is Mount Road which is witnessing a number of multi-storeyed commercial complexes coming up on the stretch between Nandanam and Guindy. The other is San Thomé where, in the vicinity of Quibble’s Island, a number of major projects (like luxury hotels) are on-going. Once these are completed, there will be untold chaos on the roads that lead to these areas. But none of this has been thought about and permission has been given for these developments.

Another crucial factor that affects traffic movement is haphazard parking. While this is conveniently blamed on careless motorists, it is a direct consequence of builders violating laws with impunity. The CMDA rules for parking are quite clear (see box) and stipulate ratios of parking spaces to built-up areas for residential and commercial buildings. But none of these is really put into practice. If only they were, we would be seeing relatively smaller shopping malls, with larger parking spaces and not the other way round. As for residential complexes, almost none of them plans for visitors’ car parking. These vehicles are expected to be parked on the roads outside the buildings and they consequently clog the roads even more. In the case of commercial complexes, it is a well-known fact that several of them violate parking norms and contribute to the degradation of the surrounding areas in abundant measure.

The Government has been making vague noises about multi-level parking lots in the city. But these have been planned in areas that are full-up and attempts at hijacking parks for this purpose have met with protests. In not one instance was a multi-level car park thought of even when the rapid commercialisation of the area began and was still at a level when it could be handled and controlled. Consequently, not one of the planned parking facilities has become a reality.

Chennai, according to CMDA statistics, adds a thousand vehicles to its roads every day. Can road-widening alone be a solution to the problem? Can property owners be asked repeatedly to give up their lands? Is it not the responsibility of the authorities to see where the problem really lies? Unless these questions are seriously looked at and some long-term vision emerges, we are only heading for more grid-locks in the city.


In this issue

Road widening is NOT the answer for City’s traffic
River basins, not stretches, should be looked at
Travails of city bus travel
Adyar Poonga gets ready for the public
Historic Residences of Chennai - 43
Other stories

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