Do Road Widening Proposals Really Help improve Traffic?

Pune Municipal Corporation recently announced a proposal to widen all roads and lanes (and even by lanes) in the city of Pune. The proposal is pretty blanket, wherein all 6m or less wide lanes shall be indiscriminately get widened to 9m. What is particularly important is that this road widening proposal is for an area which was a ‘planned’ Town Planning Scheme (TPS) established by the city in early 1970s. Under this TPS and its usual mechanism, plot owners had already given a significant portion of their plot/land holdings to the government to enable them to carve out roads, parks and civic amenity buildings for the city. In return, each plot owner had received a well formed plot with an adjoining road and proximity to parks and amenities, thereby increasing their property value.

Now the road widening proposal once again requires these plot owners to give up a part of their land for roads. In the 1970s, there were vacant plots now there are bungalow and buildings who will lose their front margin to widen roads. It needs to be checked if legally this type of repeated land acquisition can be applied on the same properties.

Road widening proposals without the remaining land acquisition instruments & overall strategic plan are merely futile attempts by Municipal bodies to show that they are doing “something” to ease the traffic congestion. Apart from this optic, there is absolutely zero benefit derived due to such ad hoc and disconnected road widening proposals.

Just consider how the road widening proposal will be implemented. The Municipal Corporation does not have the capacity nor the required legal instruments to immediately acquire all the front margins of properties on all these roads and lanes at one single time. With Pune’s road widening proposal, the Municipal corporation is dependent on the long term and slow moving redevelopment process of each plot to finally get hold of the land required for widening of the road (and lanes). So even at the end of 20 years, there may be still plot / building owners who have held on to their old buildings/bungalows and thus the road is not really widened for traffic movement at all. What has resulted is a jagged edge of a road that moves in and out and which, in all probability, will be used for parking or a nice place for hawkers to set up a stall.

Contrast this with the legal framework in a city like Barcelona. When the City government of Barcelona decided to de-zone a residential area to sea front buffer area, within next 6 months, the entire residential development was moved out. Residents were given homes or money (as per their choice) through a fast paced court process and the buildings were demolished to regain the lost sea front for recreational purposes. Such an urban renewal process is not just impossible in India but even unthinkable, considering the emotions attached to even slum houses and the protracted legal process.

Pune city, like many other cities in India, has a part of the city that was planned during medieval times. It is obvious that this part of the city was not planned for vehicular movement. Thus, the roads or paths of circulation are narrow and of a scale that is suitable for pedestrian movement. Road widening, as a blanket proposal has been tried here before too. What has resulted is a hodge-podge of old and new buildings now either fronting directly on the street or set back a few meteres away from it. The road, if we can call it that, is a jagged circulation space that moves in and out every couple of meters wholly dependent on if the owner has chosen to redevelop of retain her/his own old building. As far as traffic is concerned, it still flows only within the really straight street that was planned in medieval times. The only thing that gets achieved is a “feeling” or more sky space as the buildings move inside from the street.

Then what is really the road widening for, if time and again, it has shown that the road widening proposal in its present form does not work? From the look of it, it feels like the proposal is merely to give additional TDR (Transfer of Development Rights) to properties that may go in for redevelopment that is applicable to roads more than 9m in width. While, this will promote redevelopment of old structures, a better way would be to just lower the TDR norms to 6m wide roads than moving ahead with a blanket road widening proposal which will never, in effect, get implemented for the purpose of traffic flows.

In any case, a 6m wide road is considered to be enough for access of emergency vehicles as per the National Building Code 2015.

I hope the Pune Municipal Corporation sees some sense and repeals this road widening proposal and focus more on arterial roads that need serious augmentation and traffic decongestion measures.

*Featured Image is a sketch by Artist Harshad Arole from Pune Urban Sketchers and image has been taken from his FaceBook page as an appreciation for his work, without his permission.

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