Towards data-based problem solving

So we now have a new government and one that says it will keep its promises. And we have freshly-elected MLAs, including some who have gone on record "rededicating themselves to the citizens of their constituencies."


The MLA elected from the area I live in has been quoted in the press saying that his focus will be on the new wards added to the newly created constituency. "There are many low-lying areas in these wards that need attention," he says. "Apart from that, there are many interior roads in Koramangala and Ejipura areas that need to be tarred. Water is also a problem in Ejipura, Adugodi and National Games Village in Koramangala. All these will be looked into as top priority."


Besides generally promising to "ensure continuous development and immediate solutions to public grievances," he has reportedly decided to initiate discussions with "the concerned departments to relieve Koramangala and neighbourhood of the traffic congestion nightmare." He has said he will listen to residents’ problems and make official agencies "move faster in executing various pending projects and taking up new projects to solve problems emerging from the commercial boom in this neighbourhood." He proposes to focus on problems such as road repair, water logging, drainage, the CVS system, the regularization of constructions, etc., and has sought residents’ cooperation in these matters.


It is difficult to imagine how he will be able to simultaneously regularise — presumably illegal — constructions and tackle problems emerging from commercialization (of this more later). But if he really wants to make a real, lasting difference to the other problems he has identified, he would do well to first spend a little time attempting to understand the root causes.


Citizens can help in this process. Certainly many residents of Koramangala have invested time, energy and money in unraveling the complex web of civic problems that plague the area and figuring out what can be done to effectively tackle them.


Take traffic, or example. A couple of years ago a group of citizens under the umbrella of the Koramangala Initiative raised the substantial funds necessary to commission an expert in traffic management to study vehicular movement in the area. The idea was to determine, on the basis of data, what was causing what our MLA seems to recognise as our "traffic congestion nightmare" and what could be done to improve the situation. The report, along with recommendations, was duly submitted to the concerned authorities.


There was hope for some time that the time, energy and money spent on the exercise would lead to a scientific approach to addressing the problem, at least within the Koramangala area (with the possibility that similar steps could be taken elsewhere in the city). But little has been heard of the effort since. Perhaps the honourable MLA could look into the report, help update it and ensure that appropriate, holistic action is taken to unlock Koramangala and other areas within his constituency that are choked with traffic.


It is an established fact, of course, that the best way to reduce traffic congestion is to provide citizens with viable, accessible, comfortable public transport options for medium to long distance travel, and to decrease their reliance on motor vehicles for short to medium distance trips by making it safe and convenient for them to walk or cycle.


A Koramangala resident with a special interest in urban transport options has been lobbying for shuttle buses that would enable and encourage citizens to avoid the use of cars for trips within the neighbourhood. His persistent campaign finally got the BMTC to initiate what they called a feeder service here but the experiment did not last – mainly due to the rigidity of the official approach. The revival of this idea, with modifications to get around the mistakes of the past, would clearly help make the area more liveable in multiple ways.


And, of course, any traffic management plan must pay due attention to the rights and needs of pedestrians, as well as the creation of parking facilities. These, too, are issues that Koramangala residents have thought creatively about. It is thanks to citizens’ efforts, for example, that parking has been allowed on some land that was lying unused (except for dumping garbage and other such activities) under BESCOM’s high tension wires in the industrial area near Hosur Road. However, much still needs to be done to make it a proper parking lot.


Only an informed and systematic approach to civic problems will yield the necessary results. Knee-jerk efforts to please and placate residents in the short term, without keeping the big picture in mind, will only result in more money flowing down the drain, literally and figuratively.


One can only hope that our MLA will not only "listen to residents’ problems" but also tap them for information and ideas that can result in sensible, considered plans and positive, constructive action to solve them once and for all. Residents will surely cooperate in such efforts.

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