Congestion and pollution are snuffing the life out of Delhi's neighbourhoods, says new CSE study on select south Delhi locations

The capital cannot solve its problems without local area solutions

  • CSE releases shocking results from its recent assessment of congestion and pollution in the prominent south Delhi neighbourhood of Alaknanda. This mirrors the crisis that plagues most neighbourhoods in Delhi 

  • The Alaknanda road carries three times more traffic than its original capacity. Actual on-street parking is 3.15 times more than the legal parking area 

  • During peak hours, the time taken to cross this stretch more than doubles. This adds to pollution, congestion and daily stress and trauma of local residents. During winter, this area has recorded some of the worst pollution levels 

  • Ironically, when the Delhi government is promising more buses, some parts like Chittaranjan Park have suffered massive curtailment of bus services to make way for cars. Lack of public transport, poor and unsafe local access and free parking have turned this area into a congestion nightmare 

  • This demands immediate action from the government to implement local area plans with communities in all neighbourhoods of Delhi, to reorganise road space for safe access of all road users, improve public transport connectivity, and enforce parking restraints. Only this can prevent the disaster in the making  

New Delhi August 19, 2015: Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has carried out a detailed traffic and mobility assessment of the prominent South Delhi neighbourhood of Alaknanda flanked by Greater Kailash II and Chittaranjan Park. This has exposed unprecedented congestion and lack of any official planning to resolve local problems of connectivity, access, and parking pressure. 

In the first of its series on ‘Know your Neighbourhood’, this report “Move Free: Unlocking the traffic gridlock in our neighbourhoods” has put a spotlight on the key congested stretch of the Alaknanda Road flanked by its residential complexes, markets and schools that are surrounded by Greater Kailash Part II and Chittaranjan Park. This area has been in the news for public protests against the central verge on the narrow street and also against a proposed mall. 

Public unrest over congestion is becoming increasingly common in Delhi. This is only symptomatic of the larger failure of urban planning and design. Delhi cannot solve its city-wide problem of congestion and air pollution without fixing the problem of access and connectivity and traffic restraints. 

Talking of the CSE study, Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, CSE and head of its air pollution control unit, said: “Piecemeal solutions at local level will not work. We need integrated street design and management, improved connectivity, and vehicle restraints. The time has come to move away from the current policy obsession of only fixing arterial roads for vehicle movement and speed and instead focus on better local network planning, more participatory urban planning to involve communities to find and implement local area solutions for mobility that work for all. This is urgently needed to solve the city-wide problem and to avert public health disaster in the making.” 

This new study has exposed the following:
Small neighbourhood roads becoming conduit of explosive zonal traffic creating massive local congestion: Neighbourhood roads are now functioning like arterial/sub arterial roads, creating severe choke points, making colonies alongside un-liveable. Poor street connectivity, ill-designed roads and very large block sizes of residential colonies do not allow efficient dispersal of traffic, increase distances from the nearest public transport nodes and services. This is making people captive users of cars and locking them up in perpetual congestion and pollution. 

Explosive through traffic – three times more than the designed capacity of roads: Neighbourhoods have become both generator of traffic as well as victims of traffic congestion. The key stretch of the Alaknanda Road was originally designed to carry about 1,000 vehicles an hour is carrying more than 2,500 vehicles an hour. The entire block of Alaknanda, GK II, Chittaranjan Park, Tughlakabad, Kalakaji are surrounded by four key arterial roads that are not supported by efficient street density. As a result Alaknanda road has become an important conduit for through traffic. RITES has predicted that by the year 2020 some of the roads in the vicinity will have traffic pressure as high as 

Unbearable and unsustainable parking pressure: CSE’s local area survey brought out unsustainable pressure of car ownership. The inner spaces of the residential complex are already choc-a-block with parking. Now there is massive spill over of cars on the public road shrinking the carriadway. The on-street parking on this road is already 3.15 times more than the notified legal parking area. Nearly the entire road stretch under study was found occupied by parked cars.  There are many cars that remain covered and have been around for months and years. To add to the woes, cars from the surrounding neighbourhoods like Tughlakabad are parking near Tara Apartment T junction. 

Parking eating up all available public spaces and roads: Even more challenging is the situation in Chittaranjan Park which is a plotted development. The current parking demand in the area has already used up around 28 per cent of the geographical area of the colony. It is estimated that if the entire Chittaranjan Park is built to the maximum allowable floor area ratio permitted under the Delhi Master Plan of 2021 then according to the norms demand for parking in the area will be close to 75 per cent of the colony’s area. Given the fact that most plotted houses have not provided for parking within the plots and there is no vacant land available for shared common parking, magnitude of on-street parking has taken massive proportion. This is adding to crippling congestion. Even providing parking spaces do not help always as cars remain parked on during the day to avoid frequent entry and exit from parking lot. This abundant parking is inciting more car ownership and usage. 

Emerging market in residential parking: Officially parking is free in this area. Even the new rates of Rs 20 per hour imposed by the South Delhi Municipality in commercial areas are not enforced in the Alaknanda market.  However, CSE’s night time survey shows that there is already a thriving market in residential parking. Just behind the Alaknanda market the residents from DDA flats are already paying to the market about Rs 1,000 per month for night time parking and Rs 1,500 for 24 hour parking. This is an interesting trend in market response to cater to the neighbourhood parking demand. In principle this is consistent with the practice seen in Kolkata or in Tokyo. Residential parking restrictions on narrow roads or neighborhoods in these cities have led to a thriving market in off-site parking in neighbourhoods. Parking should be limited and at market price. If this practice is made official in Delhi, this few meters stretch in Alaknanda can generate a whopping Rs 13 lakh a month at current rates and numbers of cars parked; this amount can then be used for local area development. 

Maximum trips to the main market are short and can be non-motorised to reduce traffic pressure significantly: The CSE survey has brought out that a quarter of the visitors are from within 1-2 km and another 20 per cent from 2-3 km. Overall, 77 per cent of all shoppers are from within 4 km from the market. Improved access and priced parking can easily cut down these car trips. 

Most shoppers and shopkeepers live close and yet bring cars to add to the parking and road congestion: The CSE survey showed that 48 per cent – close to half of the shoppers and shopkeepers -- come by car and 23 per cent by two-wheelers. If only shopkeepers are considered, then more than half (51 per cent) come by car and occupy the parking area for a long time. Given the fact that 14 per cent of shopkeepers are from within the Alaknanda area and another 58 per cent are from within 2-4 km, a significant proportion of their motorized trips can be cut if market is made more accessible through walk, cycle and some form of public transport. A staggering 84 per cent of car users visiting Alaknanda market travel alone -- showing very poor car occupancy. 

Time taken to cross the corridor is more than double: An assessment of time taken to cross the study area during free flow traffic and during peak hours shows more than doubling of travel time. This adds to the idling and pollution and high exposure to toxic pollution. 

Poor public transport connectivity – bus service curtailed in the affected area: It is shameful that authorities have not yet come up with any strategy to improve public transport connectivity of the area. Though this area is positioned close to the violet line of Metro with both Nehru Place and Govindpuri in the vicinity efficient and frequent feeder service are not available to improve connectivity. Once the Phase III of metro on Outer Ring road is also completed the entire area including Chittaranjan park, GKII and Alaknanda will be well within the range of several metro stations. This is an opportunity for transformational changes in the local area. 

Bus service curtailed to make space for cars: It is ironical that when the Delhi government is aiming for 10,000 buses in the city, there is continuous erosion of bus service in this area. The survey in Chittaranjan Park has shown massive curtailment of bus routes. Earlier as many as 7 bus routes along with a mini bus service served Chittaranjan Park colony. Now, except one, all other routes have been withdrawn. This has led to massive deficit in public transport service in the colony that directly affects the student community, young professionals and others. One of the reasons is growing congestion, and car priority infrastructure in the vicinity that affects the turning radius of the bus and its movement. How can the Delhi government invest in a bus fleet without improving and augmenting bus services? 

Unusable footpaths and unsafe crossings discourage walking access: A CSE street safety audit has shown that proper footpaths are available in around 70 per cent of the total length surveyed in Alaknada. Footpaths width varies from 1.5-2 m -- close to the minimum permissible width mentioned in the UTTIPEC standards only along the residential colony area. The width of the footpath near the market is 1.5 m against less than the standard of minimum 2 m for the commercial area. The width of a footpath (according to the UTTIPEC Street Design Guidelines) should be a minimum of 1.8 m: only 20-25 per cent of the total road stretch surveyed meets this norm. The kerb height (norm is 150 millimetre or mm) is unacceptable along all the roads, only the road which is near the St George’s School has the kerb height according to the standards. The footpaths outside the market have been barricaded by railings, making them inaccessible for people. The railings and parked cars make them unsafe and vulnerable to crime. The zebra crossing is visible only at 10-15 per cent of all the crossings. There are no raised table-top crossings or pelican signals for convenient crossings. Beyond this stretch private gardens have encroached upon the footpaths. 

High local pollution: There is no official monitoring station in the area. CSE had carried out short term exposure monitoring during the winter of 2014-15 in Alaknanda. It found high 8 hourly averages for PM2.5 levels, exceeding 322 microgramme per cu m. Night time pollution was as high as 787 microgramme per cu m. 

Where do we go from here? 
The government needs to recognize that to solve the city-wide problem of pollution and congestion integrated local area planning is necessary to cut the problem at source. This will require involvement of the local community to understand the problem and the solutions and support action. Community involvement with local issues and concerns is high in this area. This should be leveraged to plan well to meet the mobility requirements of the community without inciting more car use. 

Take the following steps: 
Implement integrated and well designed street network and management to meet the mobility requirement of the community: CSE has demonstrated with the help of a new concept plan and design how without disturbing the current motorized carriageway well designed space for walkers and vendors can be created. All crossings can be made safe with signalized, synchronised signals and properly designed pedestrian crossings. Use of both on-street and off-street parking spaces can be limited and well organized to maximize its use. The two peak parking needs for the local schools and pick up and drop off of bus timings can be well organised to cut the chaos. 

Improve public transport connectivity and feeder connectivity to reduce dependence on cars: After the full implementation of the metro lines this entire area of Chittaranjan Park, Greater Kailash II and Alaknada will become a good potential candidate for transit oriented development. Several parts of this area are already close to Metro stations of Nehru Place, Govindpuri and Kalka Mandir. Efficient feeder service can make a difference. Introduce regular, frequent and reliable bus service to increase ridership. 

Uncontrolled parking needs to be restricted. It is clear this area cannot hold any more parking without compromising liveability. Demarcate legal parking area, enforce penalty for illegal parking, and enforce residential priced parking permit on public spaces and roads. All parked vehicles within public land and public thoroughfare need to be on pay and use basis. To maximise parking turn-over, parking capacity, short-term paid parking will have to been prioritized near all market areas. This will require community support to contain uncontrolled multiple-car ownership and parking spillover from surrounding neighbourhoods. Local area congestion cannot be resolved without parking restraints. 

Create pedestrian hubs to cut short distance motorized traffic: It is possible to redesign Alaknanda market as a retail hub that can be beautifully designed public realm that allows free pedestrian movement and various activities that give life to a place. Similar pedestrian bubs can be identified in surrounding neighbourhoods of Chittaranjan Park and Greater Kailash II. In fact, several smaller streets have been gated to protect parked cars that ironically and by default have created only pedestrian access. Chittaranjan Park demonstrates every year during the Puja times how the entire two km main thoroughfare can become fully pedestrianised for consecutive three day. Such experiences need to be leveraged to promote non-motorised access along with good feeder connectivity with public transport. 

For more on this, please contact Souparno Banerjee, 9910864339,