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Micro Solutions to India’s Macro Problems - Part 6 - Healthy Solution for Traffic Woes
Growth Boost, Traffic Solution and Individual General Health Improvement in a single package!
The previous blog in this series was about how our railway network can contribute to green energy production. Besides power, India faces many other macro issues – all needing innovative thinking, and, in my view, micro solutions, if we are to emerge as a ‘smart’ nation.
GDP, Traffic and Health are undoubtedly topics on more lips than any other these days. They are Macro problems India is facing, without viable solutions anywhere on the horizon. Voices reach a crescendo when these issues are debated in the media as well as in private spaces. Cleary, these concerns hold the attention of the common man as well as the intellectual, in these economically turbulent times.
So, can these three diverse concerns be addressed in one single package? Or is that a simplistic and naïve aim?
As a Bangalorean, my favourite topic is, of course, Traffic. Those who live here have, for the most part, learnt to be resigned – since the fellow citizen is as much responsible for these woes, as is the government.
China’s crash, currency weakening, etc. have had effects, that have tarnished the sheen the current government was beginning to acquire, and there seems to be a desperate need to kick start something so that the picture starts looking less gloomy.
And, of course, obesity, lifestyle diseases, pollution related conditions, are a concern for urban living – no matter where you live!
I have this principle that I follow – maximum gain minimum investment – be it my daily work or my view of the larger picture. While driving through the choked roads at crawling pace, during the hottest period of the day, I happened to catch sight of a metal bridge being erected next to the Yeshwantpur railway station, that had my principle poking its head up through the diesel fumes…. Could this, be a micro solution to some of India’s macro problems?
What if we had such bridges – more like corridors – all over the city? Maybe, these corridors could crisscross the city, covering major traffic areas?
What purpose could they serve – you’d ask! You’d say – look at the skywalks they have built in some places – there is hardly a dozen people walking through them at any given time. You’d say – it would be just a waste of public money!
And how, you’d ask, even with the wildest of imagination, could one say that these could boost growth, improve health and reduce traffic – all in one package?
So, let us now explore the idea….
Let us visualize corridors like the skywalks, crisscrossing the city. These would be covered and about 6 to 8 feet wide – wide enough for, say, two bicycles going in opposite directions to pass each other. This also means that there is enough space for 3-4 people to walk abreast. Let us also visualize, that the entry to these skyways is restricted to pedestrians and non-powered two wheelers.
Let us say that entry to these skyways is free for pedestrians. Entry for self owned non-powered two wheelers could be nominal – say 5 rupees. This is just to encourage more people to adopt walking and cycling as alternative means of transport, instead of using vehicles running on fuels.
Now, the way we visualized these skyways, they crisscross the city. So, travelling to different parts of the city would mean using the same concept that we use while traveling by public transport like buses or the metro. However, in contrast to the roads below, this space would be relatively less polluted. They would also be more streamlined and less congested. Also, since the surface would be metal, pothole menace would simply not exist. Walking or cycling would be easier than it would be, on normal roads.
A person, entering this tunnel could move around the city, safely and without fuel driven vehicles, at a fraction of the cost he pays today – walking or cycling in perfect safety, without the fear of being mowed down by a rash bus driver!
For any idea to be viable, there are several factors that need to be considered. All the components within the system have to be easily available and cost effective.
So, let us now see the components of this system:
- The Skyways
- Cost of building
- The users
- Cost to user
Only if each of these components could be made sustainable, would a project like this succeed.
The Skyways: This component needs to be built by the government / municipalities and would be categorized as infrastructure building. The buzz word these days is the need for government to start spending on infrastructure building to kick start growth. As the visualization is for a metal bridge type of structure, projects like these in all cities where vehicle population exceeds a pre-decided number, would definitely give a boost to the metal sector, which has been languishing for some time now.
If a standard dimension could be fixed for such structures, precast sections could used to speed up the erecting of skyways. This would, in turn, generate enterprise, as well as employment, for sourcing the elements needed for such structures.
The building of the skyways, therefore, would take care of three important areas for the government – increasing spend on infrastructure, boost to enterprise and more employment. And, since we have hundreds of cities that could be pulled under this umbrella, this project can be envisioned to serve these three areas for the next 8 to 10 years.
Cost of building: This would probably be a factor for the government or municipality, but I am sure there are many ways of funding these projects. I wouldn’t venture to outline those here, as I have little or no knowledge of the costs, or source of funding. Looking at the construction of the metro in Bangalore, leads me to believe, that this is not something that is beyond the means of the government.
The Users: The next component, the component that could make or break these projects, would be the users. Adoption, therefore, would be an area that would require a lot of push. Users would need to see, the benefits and the ease, of this mode of transport, to become active users.
Indians are thrifty by nature and are often vulnerable to the Buy 1 Get 1 Free syndrome. This aspect of their nature could be the one major factor that could be the reason for such projects to succeed. The multiple benefits that could be highlighted to lure the first users could be the ability to travel at 1/10th of current commute costs. Another could be freedom from messy traffic. And, as an afterthought, health benefits of walking and cycling.
Usability: For any new idea to be adoptable, ease of use is a crucial factor. It would be obvious, that in this system, distances are a negative factor, and this one negative, needs to be effectively addressed to ensure adoption. It would be highly wishful to think that people would adopt walking or cycling for commutes as large as 15-25 kilometers. Even the cost factor reducing to 10% would not be sufficient incentive for the changeover. And, for this reason, such projects cannot be expected to replace all traffic.
However, easing point to point travel, involving shorter distances, which, today, for lack of comfortable / easy / convenient methods, leads to the use of powered vehicles, could be the major source of adoptability. No struggling through traffic, no search for parking spaces….
Another negative, even for the more adventurous, who would be willing to take the challenge, would be the need for an additional vehicle – a bicycle. Bicycle maintenance, puncture mending, chain replacements – all the usual headaches of owning a bicycle, could discourage people from using these skyways.
This one is a bit simpler to tackle. Just as buses have bus stops where they wait for a bus, cycle stops could be part of the system, where, like car rentals available today, cycles could be made available on rent, to users. Instead of owning and maintaining a bicycle, users could make use of these point to point cycle rentals. And, of course, allow competition among the bicycle providers to ensure price and quality control.
A third negative, that is relevant to places like Bangalore, where gradients are the norm, an innovative travelator solution could be thought of, as an added incentive. These travelators could be installed where commuters have to move on an upward slope. Upward slopes tend to discourage people from cycling. If some innovative minds could devise a method of powering these travelators, using (maybe) footfall energy captured from the movement of users moving in the corridors, even this negative could be overcome in cost effective ways. Imagine a futuristic skyway, with travelators running without power!
Cost to user: The user expends very little in terms of money, especially when compared to the cost of traveling by car or rickshaw. Bicycle renters could fix a point to point rental and offer bicycles for as little as Rs. 10 as the rent for a 5 km distance. Considering that three people traveling in an auto for a distance of 5 kms pay about Rs 100, paying Rs. 30 for three bicycles would be a good incentive for most people. And, if upward gradients were taken care of, even the less fit could attempt the journey without fear!
On a side note here, if the providers became smart, they could offer bicycle pillion rides for those who cannot ride themselves! They could offer weekly passes, monthly passes, pillion services, geared bicycles, pre-booking….
The options, if one cared to look, are many, and the scope, enormous! Bicycles cost a fraction of powered vehicles. They do not cost much in maintenance either. I am sure, if a system like this were to be set up, there would be sufficient number of people in undertaking a business of rental bicycles to service these skyways.
Maintenance: This is an area that will affect the long term success of such a venture. The cost of maintenance would depend on the material used and the finishing given at the time of construction. As a lay person, the only maintenance I can visualize is the painting of the metal surfaces and lighting requirements for after dark hours. This is, again, not something I would care to comment on, as I do not know enough about maintenance of metal structures.
Human nature is such, that as long as something looks new and shiny, they cooperate in keeping it pristine. This could, therefore, be another employment generation avenue.
Looking at all the components of the system I can visualize, it seems like an idea that can work towards addressing traffic woes besetting people in metropolises, increasing government spending on infrastructure to boost the economy and promoting better health for individuals by way of exercise.
And to top it all, the roofs of these corridors could be ideal spaces for capturing solar energy! The captured solar energy could be used to light the skyways with clean energy, power the travelators at times of low footfalls, and, considering the sheer area that would be available for panels, even supply energy to the grid!
The consumption of fossil fuels would reduce a little! Bicycle demand would increase – helping that industry! The benefits, to individuals, as well as society would go way beyond the visible…..
The only thing that could create a hitch in such a system would be the last mile connectivity. But I have enough faith in the Indian mindset, to be sure, that someone, somewhere, would be enterprising enough to solve that problem!
Think about it – would such a system not make cities ‘smart’ in innumerable ways?