Badly designed cities promote wrong travel choices, leading to warming and pollution: CSE
The original design of Indian cities more compact – promoted walking and cycling. Growing sizes of cities and their bad design is leading to urban sprawl, increasing travel distances and time, leading to congestion, global warming and pollution
Detours caused by car-centric infrastructure like flyovers, signal-free corridors and foot overbridges can increase carbon emissions -- this is the result of conversion of small walkable trips to longer motorized trips
Investments in metro and buses can be wasted if access to public transport systems is not designed well
New Delhi July 25, 2013: The way a city is designed and planned can have far-reaching implications for the congestion and pollution problems in the city. For example, the urban design of Delhi has led to an increase in travel distances and urban sprawl – said experts attending the second workshop in a two-day workshop series on ‘transport and climate’ organized here today by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). Today’s sessions focused on the overall subject of ‘Designing cities for sustainable mobility’.
Speaking at the workshop, Sunita Narain, director general of CSE, pointed out: “We often tend to ignore the design of the city when we talk of our urban issues -- rapid and explosive increase in personal vehicle numbers, slow traffic, clogged roads, killer air and fuel guzzling. How we design our cities decides how we get around and connect with our offices and homes. In fact, getting the design of the urban space right is especially crucial now when India is urbanizing very rapidly, promoting sprawl, making gated communities, forcing longer travel distances, and putting enormous pressure on farmlands.”
Added Anumita Roychowdhury, CSE’s executive director for research and advocacy: “This is transforming our compact cities which had been built originally on a human scale that could be covered by walking, cycling or on a bus. Today’s cities require cars.
CSE’s review of current challenges and their solutions – what emerges
• From compact cities to sprawl: Indian cities have immense strength in their original compact design that reduces the travel trip length, need for motorized travel and emissions. On an average, more than half of all trips in Indian cities are below 5 km. But as cities are growing bigger and sprawling, the distances are increasing. Mega cities like Delhi and Mumbai with population of more than 10 million have an average distance range of 9-12 km, while that in cities like Bengaluru and Hyderabad (populations between 5-9 million) ranges from 7-10 km. However, Indian cities also hold a very large number of poor people who can only afford walking or cycling – thus, mega cities have a walking and cycling modal share of 30-35 per cent.
• Higher travel distance, more motorized travel, higher CO2 emissions: Available data shows that high density cities, with higher share of public transport usage, have lower per capita transport induced carbon dioxide emissions. Some second rung cities and smaller satellite cities like Pune, Bhubaneshwar, Faridabad and Ranchi -- with inadequate formal public transport systems and poorer access -- have high per capita CO2 emissions. Bigger cities with higher share of motorized vehicles and of public transport show higher CO2 emissions compared to smaller cities dominated by walking and cycling.
• Transport share of CO2 in satellite towns can be more than big metros: Satellite towns are growing and becoming more car-dependent. For instance, in Gurgaon, transport is responsible for more than half of its CO2 emissions; in comparison, transport accounts for 18 per cent of CO2 emissions in Kolkata.
• Challenge of the emerging second rung and smaller cities: The emerging cities traditionally have had a high walk and cycle share, as well as impressive usage of para-transit including autos and cycle rickshaws. As a result, their CO2 emissions are significantly lower than the mega cities. But as these walking, cycling and para-transit systems come under pressure without adequate alternative access or public transport, people are steadily shifting towards personal vehicles. A study by the Union Ministry of Urban Transport has shown that share of personal vehicle usage – cars and two-wheelers – will rise the maximum in the smaller rung cities in the future. This must be prevented as these cities have the opportunity to leapfrog to a more sustainable transportation paradigm if the infrastructure for walking and cycling along with public transport is improved immediately.
• If we compare the total number of private car and two-wheeler trips with the combined walking and cycling trips in some cities of the region an interesting trend emerges. The numbers of car and two-wheelers have already crossed the numbers of walk and cycle trips. Thus these bigger cities are beginning to cross the tipping point. This emerges from the analysis of the data from the Wilbur Smith study done for the ministry of urban development.
• The CO2 challenge of Delhi: Delhi government’s own estimation shows that transportation contributes close to half of the carbon dioxide in the city. An IIT Delhi study shows that if nothing is done about this, the emissions will increase by 526 per cent by 2030. This is a serious challenge if Delhi wants to meet the goals of its climate action plan.
• Urban design of Delhi has increased travel distances and urban sprawl: Delhi has the most sparsely populated central core compared to all prominent global – even western -- cities. New Delhi’s density is more than six times lower than the core administrative regions of New York and Madrid. Delhi has a population of about 17 million, about 1 per cent of which lives in Lutyen’s Delhi.
• Disparity in density pushing growth to periphery and satellite towns: Delhi faces a huge housing deficit of 70,000 housing units a year. But density control bars great part of the core from providing the new stocks. This forces the emerging middle class to live at the periphery. This is increasing travel distances and car dependency. Improved planning in the core and increased density can free up a lot of valuable urban land also in the hinterland.
• Impact of car-centric infrastructure on travel and CO2 emissions: Infrastructure like flyovers, signal-free corridors, etc have an impact on the travel distances in their vicinity and on carbon emissions. This is diagnostic. A walking trip replaced by a car trip near Nehru Place flyover because of the detours can lead to CO2 emissions as much as 434 gram/person trip. In Gurgaon, replacement of direct walking access to metro station at ‘IFFCO chowk’ or ‘MG Road’ can increase walking distance by as much as 800 metre. If replaced by motorable trip, it increases travel distance by 4 to 5 times and the resultant CO2 emissions is up to 504 gram/person trip. In Noida (Block C, Sec 62 to Todmall market), due to blocking of walkable route to the neighbourhood market, the distance of the optional route increases and travel distance increases by 7 times. Resultant CO2 emissions go up to 308 gram/person trip. The city-wide cumulative impact of these changes can be enormous and completely negate the efforts made to reduce emissions and energy intensity of travel in our cities.
• Prevent gated design: A gated community is closed to general traffic by a gate across the primary access, and is surrounded by fences and walls that further limit public access. These are isolated, exclusive and insulated urban forms and the immediate fallout is increased distances, dependence on personal vehicles and increased energy and pollution intensity of travel for the residents in and around. This is grossly against the professed policy principles of the habitat standards under the National Climate Action Plan.
• Need more innovative approaches to parking provisions to off set its environmental and mobility impacts: It is more important to promote public, common and shared parking to maximize its utility and reduce pressure on land. This should be managed and designed in a way that it caters to the requirement of the residents as well as the incoming traffic. The focus should also be on improved design for shared and common public spaces.
• Rules are weak on traffic impact mitigation strategies: Plans need to demonstrate how through improved walking and public transport access, multi-modal integration and traffic dispersal strategies, the traffic impact of any new development can be mitigated.
• Integrate guidelines in urban design to enhance safety: There has been series of high powered meetings at the level of Central government on gender safety after the recent incident of gang rape in the capital. But most of the discussions have focused narrowly on policing and safety gadgets in buses. Preventive and more sustainable solutions through change in urban design have been ignored. Boundary walls, setbacks, lonely edges and fringes that remove the eye on the street by design make the city more unsafe.
• Global good practice: California has enacted the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act (SB 375) since 2008 that aims to reduce per capita emissions by about 7 per cent by 2020 and 15 per cent by 2035. This requires each of California’s 18 Metropolitan Planning Organizations to develop a regional strategy for reducing vehicle miles traveled to address climate change. They need to develop integrated land use and transportation plans, to focus on development around transit. Cities who comply with SB 375’s regional plans receive a larger share of transportation funds as well as regulatory streamlining for projects. California is beginning to see results of these interventions. Two-third of the households living near transit in Los Angeles own one or fewer cars, compared with 46 per cent of the region. Nearly 1/4th of commuters living near transit in LA take transit, walk, or bike, compared with just 8 per cent of the region. About 22 per cent of the jobs in LA County are within walking distance of high quality, fixed-guideway transit.
• Urban design should be consistent with the principles of National Habitat Standards for Transportation: These standards have been made by the ministry of urban development to provide for compact, high density, mixed land use development near new or existing public transportation infrastructure that includes housing, employment, entertainment and civic functions within walking distance of transit. Pedestrian-oriented design features have been advocated to encourage residents to use public transit. The 12th Five Year Plan of the MOUD has also taken on board the principles of integrated land use and transport planning.
The way forward
Need policy interventions at the central and state government levels to have public transport, walking and cycling oriented urban design.
• Ensure well planned, dense and compact city design to reduce travel distances and dependence on personal vehicles. Bring people and jobs closer to public transport systems.
• Improve walking, cycling and para transit access to public transport nodes. Otherwise use of these systems will remain sub-optimal
• Discourage car centric infrastructure (flyover, signal free roads, foot over bridges, etc) that obstruct and destroy movement patterns needed to promote walk, cycle and public transport
• Design cities to enhance safety. Make streets active by design and get rid of lonely edges and fringes. Let the buildings have active frontage
• Urban design interventions will require supportive car restraint policies
Parking as a travel demand management measure
Fiscal policies to influence travel choices
Vehicle taxation policy
Congestion and road pricing
Follow examples -- some global cities have enforced caps on car sales
For more on this or for interviews, please contact Sheeba Madan of the CSE Media Resource Centre at (firstname.lastname@example.org / 8860659190).