Safe, accessible cities for 8-80 year olds

Deccan Herald - Bangalore, 12 March, 2014
 
Rasheed Kappan, BANGALORE, Mar 12, 2014, DHNS: Global urban mobility expert roots for a pedestrian, cyclist-friendly Bangalore. In the last one year, 3.8 million cars were added to Indian roads. If each car occupies a 10-metre parking space, these additional vehicles will require 38,000 kilometres just to park! In the last one year, 3.8 million cars were added to Indian roads. If each car occupies a 10-metre parking space, these additional vehicles will require 38,000 kilometres just to park! “This is 18 times the distance between Bangalore and Delhi. Do you have that kind of money and space to promote even more congestion? Isn’t it time the governments frankly told its citizens that public transport, cycling and walking are the only viable options?”
 
Shooting this question in a city notorious for its humungous traffic jams was Gil Penalosa, an acclaimed global advocate for people-centric cities. He knew the implications of an urban transport policy that had a one-track focus on the motorist, ignoring concerns of the pedestrians. As former commissioner of parks, sports and recreation of Bogota, Columbia, he had completely transformed that chaotic city, designing and developing over 200 parks.  The “New Ciclovia” project that Gil and team launched in Bogota had over a million people walk, run, skate and bike along 121 kilometers of the city’s roads every Sunday. Motorised transport was deliberately kept out of those roads. The remarkable turnaround in the Bogota residents’ perception of mobility triggered worldwide recognition and emulation. Over the last eight years, Gil and his team have worked on these concepts in 150 cities worldwide. In Bangalore to attend the CONNECTKaro conference on urban mobility, Gil had firsthand experience of the city’s commute woes. “I found the footpaths here are full of obstacles and vendors. The pedestrian has to be this city’s number one priority. You need to promote safe and enjoyable walking. The sidewalks should have more in common with parks, where people meet and socialise. Skywalks should be avoided except maybe, across highways,” he said.
 
Barricade tracks
 
The city had experimented with cycling tracks but failed. Gil was convinced that such tracks had to be protected, barricaded from the motorised lanes. “Painted lanes do not work anywhere. There should be a network of such protected tracks which are inter-connected,” explained Gil. Bangalore’s fledgling association with Namma Metro hadn’t escaped his attention. But he was not sure whether such an expensive system would address the city’s transport demands holistically. “The Metro is nice, but citizens should ask whether they want 20 kms of Metro or 200 km of a Bus Rapid Transit System at that cost.” To address Bangalore’s agonising commuter woes, Gil’s prescription was clear: Make it extremely tough for personal vehicles to get into the city’s core, through hefty parking charges and congestion taxes. 
 
As executive director of 8-80 Cities, a Canadian non-profit organisation, Gil is currently engaged in creating cities that are accessible, safe and enjoyable for eight-year-olds to 80-year-olds, and by implication, for everyone. Here’s the rationale: “Prioritising human interaction by fostering vibrant streets and great public places. Our approach is to engage communities at all levels and across multiple sectors to inspire the creation of safe, accessible cities.”