Palki for Pune
This article originally appeared in centreright.in. CRI content has now been subsumed in swarajyamag.com. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of swarajyamag.com

Pune, cultural capital of Maharashtra for some, and Oxford of the east for others. A vibrant and growing city that has a glorious historic past due to legendary rulers like Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and later on the Peshwas. It’s also a city that has a promising future because if India is a young nation today, Pune is younger.

It attracts students and high-tech professionals from around the country, even abroad to a certain extent. But like most other cities, the streets of Pune are clogged and the senior citizens, the assal Punekar, can’t stop reminiscing about the clean Pune air of the yore. Pune is growing and some impacts have to be taken in our stride if we have to alleviate poverty. But these impacts can be mitigated. In this blog, I wish to propose a system that will not only help reduce congestion and improve air quality but also revitalize a commercial-retail corridor in Pune.

The Pune Municipal Corporation is undertaking numerous highway and arterial improvement projects in Pune. The huge roadway improvement projects will mainly benefit personal automobile trips, (transit users to some extent in some cases) and discriminate against those who walk or use a bicycle for their urban travel needs. According to the Comprehensive Transport Policy for Pune Metropolitan Region, 2007, walk, bicycle and transit (bus & rail) trips account for 78% of all trips, while trips by personal automobiles (cars, motorcycles, etc.) account for only 17% of the total trips (see Figure 1). Under these circumstances, the huge investment in urban freeways is not really an equitable investment of public money.

Figure 1 : Trip Distribution by Travel Mode

(Source: Comprehensive Transport Policy for Pune Metropolitan Region, 2007)

Pune is still growing but it is fortunate to have very dense mixed-use areas (areas with housing, employment centers and shops, schools and colleges) and low dependence on personal automobiles. One such dense mixed-use area which I wish to use as an example in this blog lies south of a major arterial named Ganeshkhind Road/Agriculture College Road (Figure 2). A generally accepted rule of thumb for locating transit stops is 2000 to 2500 feet from center of an area of interest. The shaded area in Figure 2 represents all houses, shops, offices within approximately 1000 feet of Fergusson College (FC) Road (Black Line), the main protagonist of this blog.

Figure 2 : Study Area

The shaded area boasts of the famous Fergusson College, Vaishali Restaurant, a cricket ground and a variety of shops that sell everything from books to sporting goods to garments and more. There are some doctors who have their clinics in the area. In short, it’s a self sustaining neighborhood.

Despite everything being in close proximity (walking/bicycling distance) of each other, FC Road, shown in the Figure 2 above suffers from severe congestion. The authorities, Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and the Pune Traffic Police have tried various alternatives like converting the street to a one-way only street, reconverting it to a two-way street with median (divider) and some strict enforcement measures for a brief period of time. Nothing seems to have worked for FC Road. Since the road is situated in a dense and developed neighborhood, it will not be practical to widen FC Road. Besides, as explained in my previous post “Growing Smart“, a wide roadway will induce traffic and within a few years, the road will be congested again. The solution is not to chase demand for travel but to manage the same demand efficiently.

The Proposal

The FC Road area is perfectly suited to be converted to a Transit Oriented Development. The strategy I am suggesting, Streetcars/trolleys do not require a lot of investment and is being used in various places like San Francisco (California), New Orleans, (Louisiana), Portland (Oregon), and many more locations around the world. These vehicles can run on rail as well as road. Streetcars/trolleys in no way resemble buses, in fact; they are designed to fit into the local culture and context and hence be more attractive for all sections of the local population. To give you an idea, a ride in the San Francisco (Figure 3) street car is considered as important as a visit to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge for tourists visting San Francisco.

Figure 3 : The Famous San Francisco Cable-Car

FC Road is an ideal corridor to implement a similar street car/trolley (which would run on tires instead of needing a rail) service which should be done in following three steps:

Step 1. The streetcar would start just inside Fergusson College and make a loop around Garware bridge as shown in the Figure 4. Given the rich history of Pune, a streetcar should be decorated, like a historic “Palki” used by the Marathas and Peshwas, with the driver dressed in a traditional attire. Other enhancements could include using a double-decker open top “Palki” like the one shown in Figure 5.

Figure 4: Phase 1 Route of Palki

Figure 5 : A Double-Decker Streetcar

I am assuming the Palki would be allowed to enter the main gate of Fergusson College to pick up students and at the same time turn around for the next leg of the journey. A streetcar with the fancy paraphernalia shouldn’t cost more than Rs 40 lakhs per vehicle or Rs 4 Crore for 10 such vehicles. Context sensitive roadway enhancements will cost some more money but the whole project could be completed with a budget of Rs 20 to 25 Crores.

Step 2. Once the demand picks up, the Palki’s route should be extended all the way to agricultural college as shown in Figure 6 below.

Figure 6 : Phase 2 Route of the Palki

Step 3: Convert FC Road into a promenade where automobile traffic is either restricted completely or limited by creating impedance through use of traffic calming measures. Figure 7 shows an example of a promenade in Santa Monica, California.

Figure 7 : Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica

Such approaches to Transportation Engineer & Planning are categorized under context-sensitive solutions where solutions are developed keeping in mind the local characteristics. Most Indians are proud of their rich past. A modern recreation of such a past (context-sensitive) which doubles up to provide low-cost transportation options for the citizens would go a long way in revitalizing our congested corridors.

I had used Bangalore as an example to demonstrate the concept of smart growth in my previous blog. In this blog, I have used Pune’s FC Road as an example. It is essential to keep in mind that the rest of India has hundreds of similar corridors which could benefit from such context sensitive solutions. India has no shortage of culture. Each such “Palki” could be designed to resemble the local culture in every city of India and honor the glorious rulers of these places.

The Apprehensions

The first apprehension that is likely to be raised is about the impact on the local economy. Eliminating traffic will impact businesses is the common fallacy cited by groups who have resisted such moves in the past. However, anyone willing to think dispassionately should consider the following scenarios. Which of the following would be more attractive for tourists, visitors, and shoppers?

A congested and chaotic roadway with smoke bellowing out of idling vehicles waiting in a queue.

A vehicle-free pedestrian plaza with a tourist attraction like the “Palki” to take you around the corridor without having to worry about parking.

There is data to back this claim. “Life and Death of Urban Highways” lists five such case studies including examples from Seoul (South Korea) and Bogota (Columbia). For those interested could also read this paper on the Freiburg model for sustainable transport. Freiburg is a city in Germany which has consciously made policies to limit automobile trips and has done so without impacting the economy.

The other apprehension will obviously be, where do people park before hopping on to the Palki on the Fergusson College promenade? Well, it’s the 17% population that we are talking about. The parking demand can be managed. Besides, car and motorcycle owners can afford a rickshaw ride to the promenade. In fact, it is not uncommon for people to park their vehicles on Fergusson Road or Jangli Maharaj Road and then take a taxi to the bustling old Pune area like Laxmi Road, and the “peths”. With a promenade on FC Road, they would park their vehicles elsewhere or take the metro when it is eventually built to run along Ganeshkhind Road (shown in Figure 1).

Another key point that supports this proposal is section 5.6 of the Comprehensive Transport Policy for Pune Metropolitan Region which states: “The most congested parts of the city, which also have mixed residential and business areas, are coming under increasingly severe traffic stress. It is impossible to expand the roads in this area. In order to both improve the conditions of the residents as well as to revitalize the considerable businesses in this area, a plan to create vehicle-free zones must be given serious consideration. This idea has been tried with considerable success elsewhere. While businesses have been skeptical about such schemes, well planned vehicle-free zones have shown very positive results and have often rejuvenated moribund business districts. Several options exist such as:

A. pedestrian-only areas

B. vehicle-free zones with special consideration for public transport (such as non-polluting Buses) or special loop trolleys

In my opinion, the stars are lining up well for the Palki, I think Pune should hop on to it.