In 2016, Delhi experienced one of its worst Diwali smog episodes in manyyears. Several factors converged to create the dirty haze that enveloped the capital region with the onset of winter.
Have you ever noticed the footpath? Does it even exist? And if it does what is its height from the road? What should be the ideal height that allows for pedestrians to walk without fear of being run over or breaking a leg clambering onto it, while not allowing cars to park and take over this public space?
I write this stuck in traffic. Nothing unusual. But my location makes me realise, once again, how our highway route to progress is going nowhere. The road I am using is newly commissioned and expensive. It is the 28-km Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway, which was built just a few years ago to take care of the explosion of traffic between the two cities. It is access-controlled, with a 32-lane toll plaza, and was to provide easy access and a fun ride. The concessionaire—built as it is under the famous public private partnership model—took all steps to keep it prized for cars.
A harried parent called a few weeks ago. She wanted to know if the pollution levels in Delhi were bad and if so how bad. The answer was simple and obvious. But why do you need to know? Her daughter’s prestigious school (which I will leave unnamed) had sent a circular to parents, saying they are planning to shift to air-conditioned buses because they were worried about air pollution. She wanted to know if this was the right decision.
Khan Market in boulevard Delhi is said to be the most expensive real estate in India, maybe even in the world. But in this richest shopping destination, buyers do not want to pay for parking their vehicles.
The biggest challenge that confronts cities today is the intractable problem of automobile dependence. As the automobile dependence continues to grow, it is adversely affecting the quality of urban life. Congestion, unsafe roads and pollution remain their bane. Unless accompanied by policies to restrict the growth in car and motorised two-wheeler travel, cities will run hard only to stand still.