Media Briefing Note: Congestion and pollution are playing havoc with Chandigarh's much vaunted urban design, says latest analysis by Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE)

  • CSE and Chandigarh Administration organise a City Dialogue on Air Quality and Transportation Challenge: An Agenda for Action

  • The iconic urban design of Chandigarh, planned to avoid congestion and pollution, is now in danger of falling victim to the same risks

  • The challenge is unique in this affluent city with highest per capita car ownership and vehicle density in the country – even higher than the mega cities like Delhi 

  • Chandigarh will have to reinvent sustainable mobility for the rich to prevent killer pollution, crippling congestion and fuel wastage

Chandigarh, May 24, 2013: In a City Dialogue organised here today, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the New Delhi-based research and advocacy body, laid bare the challenge of addressing perils of motorisation in an affluent city like Chandigarh. Vehicle ownership and motorisation rate in Chandigarh is not only higher than even mega cities like Delhi, but also equals that of the rich cities of the Western world. Though much smaller in size, this rich city is now falling into the pincer grip of toxic air pollution, congestion and heat-trapping carbon dioxide. 

Says Anumita Roychowdhury, CSE’s executive director-research and advocacy and head of its Right to Clean Air Campaign: “This is mainly because the template of its town planning – in an effort to prevent clutter and chaos – has focused mainly on how to allow motor vehicles access and speed up. This pro-car urban design and policies are making people captive users of personal vehicles. This has upset the pollution and energy budget of this green, low-density and low-rise city – a city which otherwise has a regular traffic system.”

Roychowdhury adds: “Chandigarh will have to plan alternative models of travel to demonstrate change to other cities. If the person-to-car ratio of Chandigarh is replicated in Delhi and other mega cities, they will run to a stand-still with serious public health and energy costs.” 

Today’s ‘City Dialogue on Air Quality and Transportation Challenge: An Agenda for Action’, organised jointly by CSE and the Chandigarh Administration, brought together city transport planners, experts and civil society to discuss CSE’s findings of its review of the emerging challenges and second generation solutions in Chandigarh.

CSE also released the findings of its Rapid Stakeholders’ Perception Survey on this occasion. The survey was conducted to understand people’s perception of air pollution and mobility problems in the city (see survey findings below).

Air quality challenges in Chandigarh

In the grip of killer pollution: For a long time, Chandigarh did not have to worry about air pollution. But over the years, its air quality trends have now started showing reversal of initial gains. After a short respite, air pollution levels are climbing again in both industrial and residential areas. Most locations have now moved from the moderately polluted bracket to highly polluted category. Some have even hit the critical level which is 1.5 times the standards. The city is also gradually falling into the pincer grip of multi-pollutant crisis. While the level of particulate matter – that are very toxic and go deep inside the lungs -- is already very high, nitrogen oxide levels are also steadily rising.  

Proliferation of pollution hot spots: Air quality monitoring shows that several locations have become pollution hotspots. These include sector 17, Industrial area I, Kaimbalwala village, etc. The latest available data shows that these have hit the critical level and increased public health risks. While it is known from other studies that air pollution has serious public health concern, there is no official study for this city yet. But the CSE survey brings out that people are beginning to complain about the foul air and its effect on respiratory health. 

Vehicles are a major cause of concern: Independent research done by various organizations has indicated that vehicles emit significant amount of pollutants in the city. Even in the case of particulate matter that has several sources, vehicles can contribute as much as a quarter of the total load. There is no polluting industry or power plant inside Chandigarh. But vehicle numbers are growing rapidly adding to the tailpipe emissions. Vehicular emissions contribute to significant human exposure as it occurs within our breathing zone. Pollution concentration in our breath is 3-4 times higher than the ambient air concentration. 

Motorisation presents a unique challenge in this affluent city 

  1. Highest per capita car ownership: The challenge of motorization in Chandigarh is different from most other Indian cities including mega cities and represents the other side of the spectrum. Even though Chandigarh falls in the category of class III cities in terms of population, it is among the richest cities of Asia with a high per capita income. Its motorization rate is higher than the mega cities of India. In just one year (2010-2011), the number of vehicles has increased by 38 per cent in contrast to 15 per cent in Delhi and 9 per cent in Bengaluru. Chandigarh has 227 cars per 1,000 people, whereas Delhi has 117 cars per 1,000. If two-wheelers are also included then Chandigarh has 878 personal vehicles/1,000 people vs Delhi’s 362 personal vehicles 1,000 people. If all vehicles are added, then Chandigarh has 956 vehicles per 1,000 people – equivalent to Western world’s motorisation rate. In Chandigarh, 43 per cent of households own cars, in Delhi it is less than 20 per cent. Two-wheeler ownership is even higher. 

  2. High rate of motorization will soon strain urban infrastructure: Though the size of the city and the length of the road network of Chandigarh is much less than Delhi’s, the vehicle density is much higher. This means road availability per 1,000 vehicles is much lower than in Delhi. Chandigarh has 441,284 vehicles per 1,000 km of road length whereas Delhi has 243,783 vehicles per 1,000 km of road length. This puts a limit to the growth of vehicle-based infrastructure. Chandigarh will use up its available space quicker.  

  3. More cars and more bigger cars will incite fuel guzzling: With high per capita car ownerhip, there is also a risk to energy insecurity and high emissions of heat trapping carbon-dioxide. This is exactly the experience of the rich Western world. Not only the car numbers are increasing, the markets are also shifting steadily towards bigger cars. This can incite energy guzzling. It is evident that even a 10 per cent increase in large vehicle sales can roughly result in a 2 per cent deterioration in fleet fuel economy. This means, approximately, an additional 17,500 barrels of oil that will be consumed annually by those 10 per cent large vehicle sales. Cities need fuel efficiency measures and standards to conserve fuel. 

• Only more roads are not the answer: Learn from Delhi. Delhi has not been able to solve its problem of pollution and congestion by building more roads and flyovers for cars.  Delhi is most privileged to have more than 21 per cent of its geographical area under road space. Delhi has built the maximum roads and 66 flyovers. Yet its roads are totally gridlocked. Peak hour traffic has even slumped to below 15 km/hour. Cars and two-wheelers in Delhi occupy 90 per cent of the road space but meet less than 20 per cent of the travel demand. More roads are not the answer. 

• Chandigarh must not repeat the mistakes of Delhi: Car-centric policy is steadily marginalising and edging out the sustainable modes including bus and non-motorised trips. In Delhi, bus ridership has dropped from 60 per cent in 2000 to 40 per cent now while its Master Plan has set a target of 80 per cent of public transport ridership by 2020. Traffic jams lead to fuel wastage, more pollution and serious economic losses. 

• City designed for high speed affects road safety: In absolute numbers, the total number of road accidents is much higher in Delhi than in Chandigarh (7,260 vs 456 in 2010). But this translates into very high number of road accidents per road length in Chandigarh -- 201 per 1,000 km of road length vs 245 in Delhi. This is because roads here are designed for high speed. During off-peak hours, the journey speed and running speed in Chandigarh is greater than 40 km per hour on more than 55 per cent of the road length. Peak-hour traffic, though, is comparatively lower. When globally the trend is towards reducing vehicular speed inside cities, there are stretches in Chandigarh that allow a speed of even up to 65 km/hour. Without a protective design, the rotaries in the city have become very accident-prone. These require design improvement. 

• Parking -- cars one of the biggest encroachers on urban space: Personal vehicles demand enormous land area for parking. The limited urban space used for parking can have other and more important uses. In Chandigarh, new registration of cars every year creates demand for additional land for parking equal to 58 football fields. Use of valuable urban space is either available free or for a pittance. This is a hidden subsidy to car owners as the cost of using up scarce and valuable urban space for parking is not recovered through proper pricing and taxes. Supply of free parking space can further incite motorisation. 

• Paradox – efficient use of buses but low public transport usage: Bus is the only form of formal public transport system in Chandigarh. The city has one of the most efficient bus operations but it has not been a game-changer because of its very small scale of operations. The bus fleet utilization in Chandigarh is very good at 95 per cent in contrast to 80 per cent in Delhi; it carries at least 90 per cent of its passenger carrying capacity, whereas Delhi carries around 60-65 per cent.  But the bus usage is very low – only 16 per cent of all trips in contrast to 40 per cent in Delhi. Bus numbers have stagnated over time and bus infrastructure has not expanded. Its movement is also restricted. The urban design of the city also does not allow deeper bus entry into neighbourhoods of sectors. The city now needs scale and integration of bus mode while maintaining reliability and frequency of quality service to attract people. 

• Buses pay more taxes than cars: The CSE review shows that almost all state governments tax the buses higher than cars. Chandigarh also reflects this national trend. The one time registration tax that cars costing up to Rs 6 lakh pay works out to Rs 533.33-Rs 800 per year. But a bus pays Rs 4,200 a year. This needs to be reversed to reduce the overall cost of bus operations and make them viable. Higher taxes on cars can offset the revenue loss. Currently, bus operations are treated as commercial operations and taxed high. But cars need to be taxed higher than buses (something which many other countries are already doing). 

• Need strategies to reduce fuel cost of bus operations: It is ironical that as part of the national policy the diesel prices have been hiked first for buses and not for cars. For cars the diesel prices are increasing slowly – 50 paise at a time. But for bulk buyers like buses this has been hiked by Rs 10. High fuel costs are a very important input of operations. In Chandigarh, fuel cost is 28 per cent of the total operational costs. This requires immediate intervention to lower the fuel cost for buses that are operated for public good. Cities also require strategies to mobilize additional resources to create fund for public transport. Otherwise, the pressure to increase bus fares will lead to steady erosion of ridership to two-wheelers whose operational cost is as low as Re 1 to Rs 2 per km. The bus transport corporation must also ask for fuel economy performance standards from the manufacturers at the time of the purchase of buses. Chandigarh has reported very poor mileage of buses.  

Second generation action

• Improve people carrying capacity of roads: Road space is limited and finite. But it is possible to improve people carrying capacity of roads by influencing travel choices. In Chandigarh even during peak hours, a car carries only 1.5 persons as opposed to a bus carrying at least 40-50 people. Two cars occupy same space as one bus, but carry 20 times less people. If this trend continues the capacity of roads to carry more people will reduce drastically. This is extremely worrying: Chandigarh -- originally designed for 5 lakh people -- has 14 lakh today. The daily travel trips are expected to increase from 30 lakh today to 73 lakh trips in couple of decades. The planning challenge is to improve mass modes and people carrying capacity of roads as per the principle of the National Urban Transport Policy that states ‘plan for people not vehicles’. In some of the prominent arteries in Chandigarh, cars are more than half of the total traffic volume -- but carry small number of passenger trips. On NH 21 outside Dera Bassi, cars and two-wheelers form nearly 70-80 per cent of the traffic volume but carry just about 40 per cent of the passenger trips. But on the same road, buses are only 3-5 per cent of the traffic but carry close 56 per cent of the travel trips. 

• Nurture strength of the city — Chandigarh has an inherent advantage in very high number of short trip length. Despite increase in number of vehicular trips, more than 50 per cent of the daily trip length in the city is below 4 km. This makes the city very conducive to using non-motorised transport and public transport systems. The short trip length has also made this city very walkable. This is the low polluting and low carbon mobility that the world is trying to imbibe today. The city mobility plan shows that if all forms of modes are combined including cycle and walk trips then more people cycle and walk (28 per cent) in Chandigarh than those who use cars (15 per cent).  

• Plan to create compact city: The mobility plan of Chandigarh has recognized the importance of creating compact city through planned densification. Otherwise, low density inside the city will push people out to the periphery and beyond and that will increase travel distances and dependence on personal vehicles. Daily influx of vehicles will further foul up the air and worsen congestion. Already, inter-city travel trip is six times higher than the intra-city travel trips. 

• Design roads for public transport, cycling and walking: The city plans to build Metro and BRT systems. But such enormous investment may remain suboptimal and underutilized if they are not made accessible and supported with efficient last mile connectivity. All public transport trips begin and end as walk trips. Use of public transport therefore can be optimized and scaled up only if walking infrastructure and design to access them improve. Currently, as much as 62 per cent of the road length in Chandigarh does not have any footpath. Also many short distance motorized trips can be converted to non-motorised trips if proper infrastructure is created.

• CSE assessment of the walking and cycling infrastructure of Chandigarh: Chandigarh has been the pioneer in creating dedicated walk and cycle tracks in the country. This now needs next level of development. CSE has carried out a rapid assessment of the available walking and cycling infrastructure in the city based on engineering features, crossing facilities and environmental conditions. This shows: 

  • Jan Marg: The cycle tracks and footpaths along Jan Marg score well on engineering features. It has better environmental conditions with tree shading, adequate space for walking and cycling, proper signages. It has good enforcement -- traffic police guides people using the cycle tracks and walking. But this has poor crossing facilities. There are no raised crossings on slip roads, pelican signals or traffic calming measures. Poor lighting conditions make the track unsafe to walk or cycle in the evenings. No measures are in place for safe crossing of cyclists and walkers. 

  • Residential areas -- Sectors 22 & 25: The cycle tracks and footpaths show poor engineering features and very low usage. Surface is very uneven and the tracks are not at all appealing. However, it has good environmental conditions. There is a thick foliage of trees which provides good shade; proper signages are provided. 

  • Sectors 4 and 22: The footpaths in residential areas are either encroached by parking or are not paved. The engineering features do not reflect compliance with the guidelines of the Indian Road Congress. In residential areas, individual house owners have encroached on the footpath to make gardens or to park cars. There are no signs of safe crossings.

  • Residential area, sector 9: Footpath is encroached by individual plots to make gardens.

  • Around PGI hospital and Punjab university: This has a large number of walkers. But motor vehicles have been allowed at very high speed -- 65 km/h. There are no traffic calming measures. In some segments, footpaths meet a dead end. This makes this area with high footfalls very unsafe. 

  • Poor street lighting is a serious barrier: Astonishingly, 36 per cent of streets have no street lights in Chandigarh. A miniscule 5 per cent have lights on both sides of the street.  

  • Rotaries at intersections need design improvement to make them safer and calmer:  Chandigarh is noted for its rotaries which is a good way of managing traffic flow at intersections. But these will require design improvement and traffic calming measures to make them safe for all road users. Without these measures, these rotaries are becoming accident prone. 

  • Car-centric infrastructure threatens walking and cycling infrastructure: The traffic engineering and management measures are increasingly focusing on corridor improvement through traffic circulation measures such as ban on certain turning movements, one way streets, underpasses at junctions etc. There is also discussion on grade separation. But these give vehicles the advantage and impede natural flow of walker, cyclists and public transport users. 

Rapid Stakeholders’ Perception Survey

The preliminary results….

• About 30 per cent say air pollution is worsening. About 15 per cent feel incidences of respiratory diseases are rising.

• More than 60 per cent have identified congestion as a big problem during peak hours.

• About 30-40 per cent are in favor of cycle and cycle rickshaw infrastructure.

• Nearly 10-15 per cent have rated public transport as good, 30 per cent have rated city public transport services average.

• About 30 per cent rated the auto/tempo services as average but say they are important.

• About one third thinks parking is causing encroachment of footpaths and congestion.

• Nearly 50 per cent think government should make efforts to reduce dependence on personal vehicles.

• Around 90 per cent think that not enough has been done to increase public transport and non-motorised infrastructure.

• Nearly 20 per cent find the cycling infrastructure well maintained, clean and usable only in some areas of the city.

Says Roychowdhury: “The affluence of Chandigarh is an opportunity to create high quality, well designed, and accessible urban space.  It can align with the global trend where urban landscape is being transformed for people to live healthy lives.”


To know more or to set up interviews, please contact Sheeba Madan  at / 8860659190. 



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News Clippings

Daily pioneer: 25 May 2013

Experts not too Enthusiastic about Tricity Metro Project

Daily pioneer: 25 May 2013

Vehicle Proliferation Taking Toll on City

epaper.indianexpress: 25 May 2013

High vehicle density in city causing pollution, parking woes, says CSE director

epaper.dailypostindia: 25 May 2013

Plan Chandigarh for People, not cars: CSE

Daily chandigarh | May 25, 2013

Chandigarh can be at the forefront of global trend

Daily chandigarh | May 25, 2013

Plan Chandigarh for people, not cars: CSE

Hindustan Times| Chandigarh | May 25, 2013

Congestion, pollution playing havoc with city'

Indian Express | Chandigarh | May 25, 2013

CTU: Size of buses makes them difficult to drive

Indian Express | Chandigarh | May 25, 2013

High vehicle density in city causing pollution, parking woes, says CSE director

The pioneer | Chandigarh | May 25, 2013

Expert not too enthusiastic about Tricity Metro project

Times of India | Chandigarh | May 25, 2013

Rising vehicle no. spurring pollution'

Tribune | Chandigarh | May 25, 2013

Air pollution at critical level in parts of city: Centre for Science and Environment