Transport Mobility Planning for Tier III Cities: Why is it important? (A report from Jorhat)

Article by Aditya Bhuyan

Famous urban planner and architect, Jamie Lerner, in 1972, mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, ordered the transformation of six blocks of the street into a pedestrian zone. The change recommended was far-sighted but it was heavily objected by the street merchants. They even tried to block its implementation. The pilot project worked and within days there was a visible increase in the business across the street and once reluctant shop owners were demanding an extension of the traffic-free street.

Cities across the entire World have seen an enormous increase in the number of vehicles; both two and four-wheelers on roads. India, after its economic liberalization, has seen a mass growth in the transport sector. Liberalization brought vehicles to the houses of India’s middle class and they made up the majority of the population in Tier II and Tier III cities. This has led to traffic congestion in cities, where most of them still have small roads and hazardous pedestrian space. However, vehicles should not be blamed alone altogether. The master plans of most cites of India have failed to prioritize the requirement of planned transport mobility, especially in case of Tier II and Tier III cities.  Some city planners have crafted vehicle-friendly cities but less pedestrians-friendly.

In current times, many cities have started to experiment with “car-free zones” in certain parts as traffic congestion is a major issue for its citizens. Ghent, in Belgium, has started an initiative to make itself car-free. They close up sections of the streets for several months and make them pedestrian-friendly. They have strategically placed parking plots and alternative modes of transportations such as e-bikes for faster commute while at the same time keeping it safe for the pedestrian. Barcelona, Spain have also successfully piloted in decreasing vehicular traffic by introducing the concept of “superblocks” whereby a nine-block square section of the city is made pedestrian-friendly with no vehicular movement.

Traffic congestion during peak hours not only negatively impacts the environment but the commuters as well. Studies have shown that traffic congestion increases vehicular emissions and degrades the ambient air quality. There are increased cases of mental stress and fatigue among the commuters after long office hours. In traffic signals, during red light when the vehicle stands still and the engine is on, the amount of NOx released increases as compared to when the vehicle is moving, thus increasing the exposure rate to the passengers. This contributes to lung cancer, asthma and other respiratory diseases, besides heart attack and stroke.

Jorhat and its traffic congestion problems during peak hours

Jorhat, an upcoming cosmopolitan conglomeration in upper Assam, is the epicentre of commercial as well as institutional activities. It is the headquarter of Jorhat district consisting of 6 revenue circles and 8 developmental blocks. With rapid urbanisation, Jorhat faces a heavy influx of migrants from the neighbouring rural areas as well as far off, who come in search of employment or better opportunities. This has led to an increase in both urban population and vehicles.

Fig 1: Jorhat city

According to the Jorhat master plan, the total area available for transportation is only 3-4%.However, due to increased traffic demand, both blacktopped and gravel roads have been newly constructed in addition to the existing ones. Few of the major roads within the city have also been broadened in the last few years. However, as per the concept of induced demand, with increased road area, traffic congestion tends to increase as well. This concept has been in place since the late 1960s but it is only recently that urban planners and architects have collected enough data to show that this happens every time new roads are built.

On February 14, 2020, Jorhat municipality came up with a plan to decongest the traffic across the Gar-ali area as the entire stretch including both the sides of the road are usually packed with parked vehicles. The plan was implemented by making it one way for traffic from 5:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M, with vehicles being allowed to make an entry from Nirmal chari ali and exit from K.B Road. During the two sessions of peak hours (9:30 A.M.-12:00 P.M. and 5:00 P.M.- 9:00 P.M.) with no specific nearby parking space, vehicular congestion is a common phenomenon here. Ever since the move on February 14, businesses on both sides of the street have reported losses of 10-50%. Following the losses and the arrival of COVID19 lockdown, no such plan is in place right now.

Fig 2: One way traffic street in gar-ali, Jorhat

The business losses can be attributed to the fact that there are no nearby parking spaces as well as any pedestrian-friendly facilities across the street. A multistoried parking complex for 200 cars was launched by Jorhat Municipality Board in 2012. It has been 9 years now, yet apart from its base and the basic structure, the construction remains incomplete and the entire structure is lying without any use. When and if the parking complex is completed it can help in decreasing the traffic at a radial distance of 1 km from Gar-ali and its adjoining streets as well.

The parking complex alone cannot serve the purpose for decongestion of traffic during the peak hours. Awareness and willingness among the citizens are crucial components to use the available pedestrian facilities. Guwahati’s Zoo Road car parking has not been properly utilized by its citizens. It can be noticed that people generally tend to park their vehicles on road rather than in designated parking spaces. To overcome this problem, the municipal authorities may also resort to imposing a decongestion tax for using certain streets who have the highest number of vehicles during peak hours. Parking in such streets should also be taxed with time limits and if it passes the threshold, vehicles should be towed away.

Apart from the taxes, the municipality and the town planning committee must come up with bi-cycle zones in certain parts of the city, with public bi-cycle stations set-up which could be used with minimal payment by the commuters, a step towards being an eco-friendly city. For such facilities to be successful, the roads should be pedestrian and bicycle-friendly by strictly banning motor vehicles during certain hours of the day. As new micro-mobility options become available more in urban areas, it will encourage cities to push their envelope and innovate according to their suitability and convenience. Altogether, these solutions make up the multi-modal transportation we need to cover everyone’s needs. We don’t need to get rid of cars: we need to make other options more attractive.

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