#VinitasPune: Can Pune Recreate The New York Magic For Our Citizens?

Pedestrian and bicycle riders sharing the street lanes with road marking in the city.
Image used for representation only.

Sustainable transportation expert, Janette Sadik-Khan, who was Transportation Commissioner New York, transformed the city by building 400 miles of cycle tracks and more than 60 pedestrian plazas…

During Khan’s six and a half year tenure, close to 180 acres of former New York City road space for motor vehicles was converted for the use of bicycles and pedestrians and another 44 acres designated as bus-only lanes.

She was in Pune recently to deliver a talk and expressed her belief, that this is indeed possible for Pune to achieve as well. Today, I write an open letter to Janette Sadik-Khan on the stark reality that is Pune….

Dear Ms Khan,

Much like the others of this citizen-alert city, I was delighted that you delivered a public lecture on `Reclaiming streets for Pune with Global Street design Guide’ under the auspices of the Pune Municipal Corporation and Parisar NGO.

I am overawed by the fact that, in your tenure as Transport Commissioner of New York City, you were able to create 400 miles of cycle tracks and 60 pedestrian plazas. More than this physical change, what is amazing is the cultural and social mind set of the citizens of New York with their readiness to wean themselves from private vehicles.

Your observations about streets in many cities across the world, including that of India are absolutely perfect and quite apply to Pune too. It’s true that fatalities are a price we pay for living in a city; that traffic deaths often happen by design and that large number of deaths is preventable.

That, streets should not be only for the convenience of vehicles and moving cars ‘as fast as possible’ is often the criteria that is used by city planners.

People have to risk lives when they travel to work and schools and our time is well eaten into thanks to the consequent traffic congestion. That Pune has more cars than humans and unless we address this, we will not have any city left, is both right and apt.

Your recommendation that “people should come first” is absolutely right and for that, it is social activists like Sujit Patwardhan through ‘Parisar’, Prashant Inamdar through ‘Pedestrian First’ amongst others who have been striving since over three decades to drive home. .

Young IT employees of Hinjewadi Software Park, which comprises a three lakh workforce, have been conducting research surveys and making appeals to the appropriate authorities for reliable and efficient public transport.

They are inconvenienced almost every day due to the traffic jams that lead to delays in reaching their work place.

Lately, the Pune Municipal Corporation has been re-designing footpaths for leisurely people movement and Jangli Maharaj Road is a sterling example. Though this may seem like a piece meal approach, it is encouraging to note that PMC is undergoing a change in mind set.

On a few Sundays, we’ve had `Happy Streets’ wherein families have enjoyed road space exclusively for themselves with children cycling and skating around. A few years back, we’ve had the arterial and one of the prime commercial hubs, M G Road, converted into a`Walking Plaza’ every Sunday, but this was subsequently stopped.

So, we’ve had the taste of the happiness of peoples’ space on streets, now and then. However, all such initiatives bring in such heavy criticism from some segment of vehicle owners and local politicians and this then leads to the civic administration sheepishly relenting.

The Global Street Design Guide as I understand it, is a comprehensive approach to the making of public roads which are looked at public spaces to be shared by pedestrians which includes children and the elderly too with cyclists and public transport buses and not just private vehicles.

It addresses the happiness as well as safety of people and the convenience in terms of pedestrians’ crossing roads too. It believes that streets are not mean for just vehicular mobility but citizens on foot and non-motorised transport should also be spending a lot of time there.

In fact, Pune till the 70s, was known as a Bicycle City till the 80s when it was choked with mechanised two-wheelers amounting to over 70% of the road traffic.

Pune had wide footpaths on several arterial roads which were taken over, not even sparing the 200 year old stately banyan trees, only to accommodate smoother mobility of motorised traffic.

The glimmer of hope for Pune is now is now the multitude of new bicycle stores in the city and  the sight of several youngsters cycling ( with helmets) both for fitness and to commute within the city.

As for our buses, the sad plight continues for Puneites travelling in the rickety buses with almost a 70& breakdown rate. Activists like Jugal Rathi have been addressing this issue for several years, yet, there is no end to alleged corruption complaints, financial irregularities and constant transfer of the official head of the transport body.

I would be more than happy to both agree to and see a ‘New York’ miracle in our city. Yet,  the problems and hurdles are omnipresent, despite this not befitting the city’s image of being the cultural capital of Maharashtra.

Most of the problems are a consequence of the attitude of local political leaders across party lines and a slack civic administration.

Problems that persist include our refusal to have sufficient and high performance public transport buses, despite several proposals passed over the years. The insistence on continuing to design bad and highly unsafe and irrelevant Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) systems. Bad quality roads and without applying scientific principles of traffic engineering.

Refusal to levy heavy parking charges, Indiscriminately making and breaking speed breakers, leading to fatalities and serious accidents. Bringing in the Pune Metro with haphazard planning.

Protesting even in issues of safety of commuters like the anti-helmet lobby. Building cycle tracks that have no continuation along the path and giving a deaf ear to experts’ suggestions.

Activists in Pune who are very knowledgeable and provide feasible and sensible recommendations are often ignored by the councillors and/or civic administration and are often mocked too.

And lastly, the majority of councillors travel in expensive SUVs and high-end cars flaunting their social status. Why would such a fraternity who believe in a luxurious lifestyle on the roads, ever be interested in containing private vehicles? After all, you need to practise what you preach isn’t it?

It may not be rocket science to make Pune citizen-friendly and citizen-safe, but it certainly seems a virtually impossible exercise given our penchant for spokes. No, I’m not cynical and much like every discerning Puneite, I would love to see New York turnaround. Yet, this can happen only if our leaders shift from being ‘power focussed’ to ‘citizen focussed’.

Sincerely,

~~

#All views expressed in this column are those of the Authors and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to them. 

Vinita Deshmukh

Vinita Deshmukh

Passion for the written word that comes alive, not only to tell a story, but to speak out loud about all that's good, bad and the ugly in society...

That's Vinita Deshmukh, Senior journalist and RTI activist who believes in journalism that reflects the views and needs of the common man.

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