Remember Bengaluru’s minimal traffic during lockdown? Here are nine pointers to sustain it

During COVID lockdown, we got a glimpse of a liveable Bengaluru where traffic and pollution levels were extremely low. This can be sustained post COVID too, if the city follows some core transport principles.

[This article is part of the Bengaluru Moving series, in which citizens share their vision for BMTC post COVID. This series is pubished in collaboration with Radio Active’s #BengaluruMoving campaign. In this first part of the series, a transport expert shares his ideas.]

Before we look into ‘post-COVID’ Bengaluru, we need to look back at how our transport system was in pre-COVID Bengaluru. We were facing extreme growth in:

  • Vehicular traffic (both in terms of number of vehicles and vehicle kilometers travelled) and congestion on city roads
  • Traffic accidents and fatalities, especially of vulnerable road users 
  • High levels of exhaust emissions including carbon
  • High traffic-related noise
  • High petrol and diesel consumption

And the sum effect of all these was the degrading liveability of Bengaluru.

But during lockdown, we got a glimpse of a liveable Bengaluru where traffic was negligible and pollution levels even lower than the permissible limits. (As per the Central Pollution Control Board’s data, by mid-April, the PM2.5 concentration in Bengaluru was below 40 µg/m3, while the Indian acceptable standard is 60 µg/m3). I still remember watching a video released by BBMP, that showed beautiful drone visuals of the city during lockdown.

Now, the larger question is whether we can make this liveable Bengaluru the ‘new normal’, and if this will become permanent. Yes, the new normal will remain as long as COVID is around us. However, it can become permanent only if lessons are learnt from this pandemic and specific interventions introduced.

Else, if we take a business-as-usual approach, we are likely to face worse mobility issues in post-COVID Bengaluru. Particularly because, choice riders (those with mobility options other than public transport) will prefer personal vehicles, since they perceive higher risk of COVID spread in public transport. The signs of this shift in choice were already visible during the unlocking period.

Building on temporary improvements

While social distancing should be ensured in public transport (PT) during COVID, can this be translated into comfortable seating/standing permanently? Likewise, can we translate the temporary arrangements for contactless travel into a seamless, contactless travel experience in multi-modal PT permanently?

It is, therefore, important to aim for sustainable mobility and higher liveability as the permanent, new normal. I am laying down some core principles to be followed in the city’s transportation policy and planning, which would help achieve this:

  1. Reduce the need to travel: This can include interventions like work-from-home and study-from-home on some days, staggered and flexible work hours, more online shopping and home-delivery options, etc.
  2. Reduce travel distances: This will include interventions like mix land use policy and planning (integrating various land uses like housing, shops, offices, etc., in an area), as done in cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam. Or translating the “vocal for local” concept in terms of living closer to where you work/study. This will reduce the distances people have to commute, and make it easier for them to adopt sustainable transport modes like walking, cycling and PT.
  3. Ensure equal access to PT for all: across gender, income levels, physical ability etc.
  4. Infuse more infrastructure for sustainable transport modes: This will include interventions like bus priority lanes and bicycle lanes, wider and good quality footpaths, enhanced network for Mass Rapid Transit System (metro, suburban rail), larger fleet size for buses, etc.
  5. Assign priority of movement and right-of-way: Priority should be in the order of non-motorized transport (NMT – walking and cycling), public transport (PT), and last, personal modes like cars and two-wheelers.
  6. Ensure seamless, contactless, and safe travel experience in sustainable modes, and incentivise its higher use: Give incentives like credit card points, mileage points for airline travel etc., for the use of sustainable modes.
  7. Discourage all types of vehicles that are highly polluting and occupy more road space per person carried (as in the case of cars): This will reduce per capita emissions and per-person space occupied on the road. It can include interventions like congestion charging (a charge for using private vehicles in high-density roads), odd-even rule, pedestrianising busy streets/areas, parking policy (rationalising parking prices and restricting parking in congested areas), etc.
  8. Promote cleaner technology and fuel in all vehicle categories: Through electric vehicles, for example.
  9. Improve disaster and disease resiliency of transport systems: Take measures that would make the transport system reasonably functional even during disasters like flooding, epidemics, earthquakes, etc. 

Of course, there should be no more flyovers/underpasses/elevated corridors in the city, as they do not satisfy any of the abovementioned core principles for achieving sustainable mobility and higher liveability.

It will be a pity if we don’t learn our lessons even from a pandemic. It is also important to understand that there is no silver bullet. No single intervention can replace what can be achieved by the sum effect of measures corresponding to the above core principles.

Further, given that the impact of COVID-19 will remain for long, the ongoing exercises of preparing the Comprehensive Mobility Plan (CMP) by BMRCL and DULT, the Parking Policy by DULT, and similar such policies and plans by various agencies, should be given a fresh look considering the above principles.    

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