‘Smart Urban Roads’ project side-lines public and Non-Motorised Transport
Members of civil society seek response and engagement from Highways Department for neglecting public transport and pedestrian infrastructure
Chennai, June 7, 2023 - The Tamil Nadu Highway Department's recently launched infrastructure project, 'Transformation of Existing Roads to Smart Urban Roads,' has drawn attention for its inadequate focus on pedestrian, bus, and cycling infrastructure. It is funded by a substantial USD 150 million loan from the World Bank under the esteemed Chennai City Partnership Programme that aims to foster seamless and secure citizen-centric services, promote the use of public transport and non-motorized modes, enhance road safety and multi-modal integration.
However, the project's outlined specifications and plans, as revealed during stakeholder consultations, do not align with crucial mobility goals. These include—expansion and enhancement of walking, cycling, and public bus services and infrastructure, promotion of integrated transportation modes, and enhancement of women's safety in public transport and spaces. Members from civil society have written a letter to the Department of Highways as well as the project consultants, Larsen & Toubro on this (1).
The letter points out that footpath parameters have not adhered to IRC Guidelines and the Harmonised Guidelines for Universal Accessibility, 2021. Several foot overbridges (FOBs) have been proposed when existing FOBs are already under-utilised as they are inconvenient, inaccessible, unsafe. and they prioritise motor vehicles over people.
“The emphasis remains on ensuring priority for motorised transport and private vehicles in particular, and facilitating their flow over non-motorised, public and other shared modes of transport. This is at odds with the project's declared intent, as well as with widely recognised standards and best practices, including the SDGs, the National Urban Transport Policy of 2014, and Chennai's NMT policy” said Sumana Narayanan, Citizen consumer and civic Action Group. “If done right, this project offers Chennai an opportunity to build an inclusive and future ready transportation system that actually serves the livelihood and mobility needs of people” she further added.
There was no focus on bus infrastructure except for one single stretch. Even here, concerns have arisen as bus stops are proposed on the left side of the road while the lanes are positioned on the right side, creating uncertainty over how they would switch lanes. With the lack of focus on public transportation, the overall effectiveness and safety of the project come under question.
There is also an oversight in regard to provisions for cyclists, raising concerns about risks and inconveniences they will face.
Commenting on this issue, Felix John, the Bicycle Mayor of Chennai said "The absence of access for cycling and allied infrastructure required is disregarding the fundamental reality and requirement of several lakhs of people in Chennai who depend on walking and cycling as their main modes of commute to sustain their daily livelihoods. Moreover, there is sufficient research and multiple studies (2) have concluded that bicycles do not significantly reduce car speeds or cause congestion.”
Transport sector emissions in Tamil Nadu have witnessed a persistent upward trend in recent years. Within Chennai, the road transport segment makes-up a substantial 26% of the city's overall Scope 2 GHG emissions. Simultaneously, deteriorating air quality is a cause of concern too. The annual average level of PM 2.5 stands at approximately 31 μg/m3, which exceeds the World Health Organization's recommended threshold by threefold (3). Transitioning towards a more sustainable transportation system encompassing e-mobility, efficient public transit networks and non-motorized transport offer several benefits - significantly reduce GHG-carbon emissions, improve air quality, reduce traffic congestion and crashes, and the substantial economic costs associated with it.
“Of Chennai’s total of 14.38 MtCO2e emissions in 2018-2019, the transport sector was responsible for 16.5% of it. Shockingly, almost 85% of this was on account of private transit. Now, even as the Chennai Corporation and the State Government are ambitiously thinking of reducing the emission footprint of the transport sector, the evolving design of this ‘Smart Urban Road’ project is inherently in contradiction with this larger objective", said Jenny Mariadhas, a researcher from Poovulagin Nanbargal.
For further information, contact: Sumana Narayanan – 9445395089 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to the Editor
Citizen consumer & civic Action Group (CAG) is a thirty seven year old non-profit and non-political organisation working on citizen rights and good governance. It has worked primarily to protect the interests of consumers and citizens of Chennai though its efforts have had state level and even national level impacts.