Socially and Environmentally Sound Traffic and Transport
In Pune, Parisar and its partners have been grappling with sustainability in urban traffic and transport systems over the last decade or so. EfC spoke to Sujit Patwardhan over a couple of longish coffee sessions to obtain the story of how the diverse influences of the environmental and sustainability movements, design and localized public engagement are shaping the evolution of sustainable traffic and transport in Pune. The story provides several useful insights into the nature of education for sustainable development.
The roots of the traffic and transport challenges of today can possibly be traced back to how modern cities were envisioned in the early twentieth century. Contested Streets, a film by Transportation Alternatives, recounts the story of how New York was planned for the automobile.
The car was seen as the clean, hygienic modern alternative to horse carriages which led to dung, filth and dead horses on streets. The car could transport people to work in the city, and back home in the suburbia. It also meant that poor people were driven out to make way for roads and parking lots; or that the poor were excluded from the ‘modern city’ since they couldn’t afford cars. But as owning a car became more affordable and wide spread, other types of problems started cropping up — of environmental damage where the raw materials for cars were being mined, of air pollution and congestion in the cities, and of scrap disposal and mountains of old tyres in the landfills.
When I saw Contested Streets a few years ago, I could immediately see that our cities too are indeed increasingly becoming ‘car dominated’. We seem to have learnt nothing from the problems of cities in the developed countries with a longer history of car usage. On the contrary, the conventional idea of a ‘modern city’ is still very much that of a city replete with traffic infrastructure such as flyovers and wide roads that caters to the private vehicle.
The writings of Jane Jacobs, which I had read earlier in other contexts, spoke about the old city centres and the vibrancy of community life in older neighbourhoods which combined places of work, home and leisure in mixed land uses and within walking distances.
These were formative influences.
As I started talking to friends, other NGOs in the city, and ‘sustainable transport’ advocates, it became clear that traffic and transport issues are intimately connected with the social fabric of the city.
This group of concerned individuals and organizations in Pune coalesced into what we started calling the Pune Traffic and Transportation Forum. We would meet the first Saturday of every month. Since there are so many facets to urban transport, diverse groups such as doctors, urban planners, environmentalists, informal sector workers, etc have found something to relate to and have helped enrich the debates. We realized that equity and livelihoods, a sense of community, health, and of course local and not-so local environmental impacts are all part of how sustainable transport is envisioned.
We also found that several groups were focusing on cleaner fuels, more efficient engines, emission standards, road safety issues etc. Certainly these are aspects of sustainable transport. But we felt that a central element — motorized traffic reduction — was missing.
We felt this is the keystone of sustainable transport. We were convinced that people in Pune need to understand this paradigm of traffic and transport planning. When you plan for people, not for cars, all the elements of health, equity, efficiency etc, fall into place.
• SUSTRAN (Sustainable Transport Network for Asia) www.newmobility.org
• Car Free Cities Network www.carfree.com
• EMBARQ: World Resources Institute Center for Sustainable Transport www.embarq.wri.org
• Transportation Alternatives www.transalt.org
• Interface for Cycling Expertise www.cycling.nl
• IIT Delhi www.iitd.ac.in/tripp
• Pune Traffic and Transportation Forum www.pttf.net
Some years ago the BBC showed a film ‘U Turn’. The futility of building fly–over after fly–over only to find them full and jammed in five years is beautifully explained. After seeing the film one feels that we must leap frog — our cities don’t have to go through the escalating spiral of
road —car — more road — more car.
Around this time, we received support from the UNDP GEF Small Grants Programme through the Centre for Environment Education. The main focus of our project has been to evolve the local traffic and transport vision through stakeholder dialogue.
In November 2004, PTTF together with the Pune Municipal Corporation organized a seminar “One Right Turn: Critical Issues in Urban Mobility for Developing Countries for the coming Decades”. The main outcome was the highlighting in the public mind that the issue of traffic and transport is severe in Pune and that we have to take into account aspects of economic efficiency and environmental impact while making a decision.
This was also the time that the Supreme Court’s EPCA or the Bhure Lal Committee started to visit Pune. Having taken note of rising air pollution levels in eight cities of India, the Supreme Court through the EPCA is monitoring the steps that the municipalities of these cities are taking to counter pollution — improving traffic and transport is a key area.
The EPCA directed the PMC to articulate a policy for Traffic and Transport. PTTF members contributed substantially in the formation of the draft policy, which awaits approval by the PMC General Body.
Experiences from Different Parts of the World
Once we decided that it is important for citizens of Pune to understand the traffic and transport planning experience from various cities of the world, we started to bring in information, materials, speakers and resource persons. Sujit Patwardhan
Dr Enrique Penalosa, who was Mayor of Bogota visited Pune at our invitation and addressed the citizens in a public meeting at Bal Gandharva. Through his very effective oratory and slides, he shared his experiences of how their Bus Rapit Transport (BRT) sysytem the TransMillenio was put in place.
Dr Penalosa says ‘Its very simple to create a livable city … design it for people, not cars.’ What an elegant statement! He captures the essence of sustainable cities and sustainable traffic and transport.
We drew upon the ICE (Interface for Cycling Expertise) for ideas on non–motorized transport, and have had fruitful interactions with transportation experts from the EMBARQ project of the World Resources Institute, Washington, and also officials from the Federal Transit Administration, Department of Transportation in the US Government.
We also found studies on Pune’s traffic done by the Central Institute of Road Transport (CIRT) in Bhosari. A very important statistic — that a city typically needs 40 buses per lakh passengers/ population — came from CIRT. When applied to Pune, we found that our local municipal transport was woefully short of at least 400 buses. This is apart from other management issues that plague the transport service.
We also interact with experts from the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme of IIT Delhi, and were instrumental in connecting them to the PMC. This eventually resulted in a BRT plan being evolved for Pune.
Public Opinion and Outreach
While on the one hand we were enriching our, and the civic administration’s understanding of city traffic and transport, we realized that unless public demands are also articulated and presented to decision–makers, the political decision making would not be convinced.
We developed several outreach and communication tools including a slide show, and facilitated a series of articles in the popular print press. We also used the materials from the networks we were engaged with. Films and pictures from ICE, the IIT Delhi and various others highlighted the new traffic transport paradigm, and pointed out specifics in improved design of footpaths, cycle tracks, tackling congestion with buses rather than flyovers, etc. These have been very useful resources in our own public outreach. Sujit Patwardhan
Parisar organized a PMT Users’ Signature Campaign to demand improvements in public transport
Interaction with the IT Industry
Pune is a boom–town for the IT industry. It is changing the layout, appearance and the economics of the city. Through a high-profile seminar with the Software Exporters’ Association of Pune Social Foundation, PTTF was able to reach out to this sector. E-groups and movements on safe traffic, better roads already existed, with a large membership from amongst the IT sector workforce. Our main contribution to these discussion groups has been to introduce the core issue or logic of sustainability.
The e-groups sustain continued dialogue and help evolve positions. These are becoming an important method of outreach in our increasingly networked city.
The PMT Users Forum
A major initiative we took and are now consolidating is the development of a PMT User’s Forum (Pune Municipal Transport). We worked with the students of a local college and other local partners to take up a signature campaign of users of the local municipal bus service to demand improvements. Over ten thousand signatures — and many useful suggestions — were gathered in a single day and later presented to the political and administrative leaders.
Stake-holder Discussion Series
In more recent months, the Sakal group which runs the largest Marathi newspaper has taken up this cause. They had conducted opinion surveys last year asking readers about which are the most pressing issues of the city. Traffic emerged as one of the most important. Series of articles by editors, experts and citizens were published in Sakal paper. Based on this, a set of recommendations regarding sustainable solutions to traffic and transport in the city were made at a workshop organized by PTTF, Sakal Social Foundation and Janwani. These recommendations are the inputs from Pune's citizens to the Committee appointed by the State Government to study Pune's traffic problems and suggest solutions.
Our work is not limited to discussions and dialogue. We have been contributing to evolving on–ground systems with the municipality.
For instance, no traffic planner or engineer in Pune has actually designed a full cycle track network. We don’t yet have a city–wide network, only a few disjointed tracks. While professionals can read up the theory, a lot of detailed work is required in the actual design of a large network and users have a very important role in evolving effective design. So, members of a large group of cycling enthusiasts, the Pune Cycle Pratishthan and PTTF are helping to chart routes, design signage, separators, point out impediments like broken tracks and debris etc.
We have also been monitoring the implementation of the pilot bus–rapid transport system in Pune and working closely with the PMC to provide constructive suggestions. PTTF members are working with the Hinjewadi IT Park to work out a good public transport service for the area. Other members are monitoring slum rehabilitation projects to add the public transport dimension, since that is a key to successful rehabilitation.
Pune is shaping its Development Plan (DP) for the next twenty years. Parisar and PTTF members are on the Steering Committee for the DP. Transport systems mould the shape and character of a city. A Development Plan that incorporates socially and environmentally sound traffic and transport systems can make our city livable.
For more information contact:
Parisar, ‘Yamuna’, ICS Colony,
Ganeshkhind Road, Pune 411007
Facilities for non-motorized transport are an integral part of transport planning – something that is largely ignored by most of our cities