Is our attitude the biggest obstacle to vehicle-free streets?

Pic: Sameer Shisodia

The vehicle-free street initiative being tried out at HSR layout as an experiment is a good idea, for reclaiming common spaces. Its success and viability, however, depends on ‘we, the people’, who are responsible for making it workable. It can be done, and I have seen it working elsewhere.

In Cambridge (UK), car owners park their vehicles on the periphery of the city and take feeder buses so that the city centre doesn’t get clogged. No one grumbles; no one seeks exemption; no one tries to break the rules. No fare concessions are offered, either.

Around Harvard Square in Cambridge (Boston, USA) I have seen VIPs like Edward Kennedy walk into a store, without any fuss because the approach street was for pedestrians only. He was, if anything, the most vulnerable among VIPs in the US, with two brothers including a president, assassinated. He still followed rules and walked, no gun-toting security guards tailing him, no siren to ‘make way for the VIP’.

I have also seen former US ambassador to India, the high profile J K Galbraith, walk down the same street inconspicuously and spend an hour browsing at the bookstore. Did I say “inconspicuous”? Hardly. He was a towering figure, around 6’6”, and stood out in any crowd. But he did not put on airs or seek extra privileges. He walked because that was the rule.

In Italy, I have seen several streets closed to vehicular traffic, in Rome and other cities, not just for one day a week but for always. It works. So why should it not work in Bengaluru? Italians are like Indians in many ways! The problem is the arrogance of vehicle owners who appropriate the roads as if they owned them, without a care for pedestrians’ rights or the convenience of the elderly.

We lack responsible use of roads

It is not merely the number of vehicles in the metropolis, but the sheer lack of responsible use of roads, the callous attitude to road discipline and for rules. Have vehicle, will maim and kill.  If you are a pedestrian, you better scurry and get out of my way. Count the number of two-wheeler riders (all educated, high income earning citizens, if they can afford fancy motorbikes, fancier sun glasses and branded designer footwear) who come at you down the wrong side of the road divider, just because they cannot be bothered to take a U-turn and come up the right way, to get to the bank that they are headed for. My flat faces a one-way road; routinely cars and two-wheelers whizz down the wrong way, to get to the fast food outlet. The police station is just round the corner. The solution? The one-way street board has been removed. Problem solved. Very typically Indian.

We want Bengaluru to be “like the cities abroad,” but don’t want the discipline that it entails. Not that we are incapable of discipline – these same citizens when they go abroad, will follow all the rules, look for the trash bin before dropping the biscuit wrapper or cigarette  butt.

How do we teach citizens to do their bit, to ensure that laws and regulations meant for our convenience work? The other day I was passing by a parked car along the kerb when the woman sitting in it tossed a paper tea cup out of the car window. The soiled cup nearly got me across my face. I chided her. She coolly retorted that since there were two other cups lying at the same spot on the pavement, it was “all right” to throw one more.

Another time, I scolded a school girl for tossing her toffee wrapper on the floor. She said, “But my teacher does the same.”

I have seen a politician’s car flout every road rule and speed away recklessly. The crowd milling at the bus stop merely mutters and makes way. No one dares to take down the car number – because the police would be powerless against the “VIP”.  I tried it once; the police said, “Enu maadokke aagolla, avaru VIP.”

Solution, anyone? How do we square the circle?

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About Sakuntala Narasimhan 69 Articles
Sakuntala Narasimhan is a Jayanagar based writer, musician and consumer activist.

12 Comments

  1. @Vasanth Ramu Thanks for taking public transport. I have decided I will not take BMTC. The Metro without any supporting links is useless. Hope more people will use public transport, like our netas want us to. I feel I’m doing my bit by making sure everyone gets stuck in traffic jams and bringing the city and its administration to a complete stop.

  2. People should start demanding better public transport after using it. Without using it simply saying give me good public transportation, I will use it, until then I will use car is a mere excuse for the car centric Bangalore public. Use your car for last mile, or ola auto or 2 wheeler.

    Also we should have Bus Only Roads and BRTS on ORR and wide one way roads of CBD.

  3. I have been using Public Transport & Office Transport only from past 6 years using car mostly once in a week during weekends for commute with family.

    All these years, I was taking company transport or BMTC. My company had provided shuttle services to nooks and corners of the city with almost 50 routes plying from big buses to Indicas. Pricing was very nominal at 1000 per month only. Still more than 50% were not using shuttles giving some reason. I would say it is the sheer attitude. Almost 2000 cars come to the company. There was 2 picks, one in morning at 7:30 and another at 10:30.Evening we had 5:15, 8pm and 10pm drops.

    Recently company increased the shuttle fees and stopped 10:30 pickup and 10pm drop which resulted in unsubscription.

    I have switched over to Metro and BMTC. Metro if I am travelling during peak hours and BMTC during non-peak hours. This is working well even without company shuttle. I am using Ola Autos Rs30 offer for last mile connectivity from home to Metro & back to Home. At Byappanahalli, most of the ola autos cancel the ride at the last minute. BMTC is better if we keep moving in the direction of office changing two buses.

    I have taken my car to office only 4 times in 6 years.

    Nearby home I mostly use scooter for daily use. I see people nowadays are so much addicted to their cars and also change their cars quite frequently without any reason. It is so much wastage of money which they do not realize.

    Some of the key problems are:
    BMTC Volvo is very expensive especially for shorter distances. They are too infrequent other than 335E and 500C. Most of these buses run to private companies like ORRCA and Manyata during peak hours and end before 6-7 pm. After 7pm, it is very hard to get buses.

    Private players like Ola Shuttle & ZipGo should also be allowed since BMTC alone is not sufficient and it is also ineffecient. BMTC Volvos are overpriced,maintenance poor and routing is not demand based.

    Normal buses are too dirty and dusty in Whitefield area.

    Metro frequency and coaches are not sufficient during peak hours. Evening they have 6 mins frequency. Morning till 10AM, they have 4 mins frequency. They should increase it to 3 mins between 8-10AM & 4pm-10pm with 6 coach trains. With Greenline opening in May, this may not be sufficient.

  4. To Balasubramanian A

    There is a very simple and effective solution to the public transportation disaster we are in Blore.

    1) Allow Private Minibus services connecting to all major routes (including big Bus Stands like Banashankari Bus stand, Shantinagar Bus stand)

    2) Ban Huge-Volvo BMTC buses on ALL one-lane roads. They cause huge traffic slowdowns and bring overall vehicular speed down to 10kmph. ONLY Private or BMTC minibus/tempo services should run on such 1-lane roads.

    3) BMTC should introduce more frequent buses from their main Bus stands to whereever they are allowed to ply (NOT 1 lane road of course)

    4) Introduce HEAVY Congestion Tax ( Rs 150?) for non-commercial private 4-wheeler entering Central jones including Major roads. They can start this pilot near KempeGowda Bus Station and see how it reduces traffic.

    Mid term

    1) Speedy construction and expansion of metro.

  5. I feel the author is mixingupvarious issues. The traffic discipline is separate from the attitude of people throwing used tea cups. Basic problem is that our Roads are not meant for heavy traffic. Even the suburbs laid by civic agencies have built the roads without thinking of flow of future traffic. Public transport is pathetic. Look at the busses at peak hours, they are jam packed and over flowing. There is no standardisation of vehicles. Every Government when they come to power, orders new set of Busses (the reason is obvious !). Above all Roads are laid for connecting place to place, not for playing. The Municipal Corporation and Civic agencies should set apart lung spaces in the city, for this purpose. Since the author has lived abroad, I need not explain this further.

  6. @en2.
    Mine was a general comment. I guess I did use some thoughts from your comment, but it wasn’t a comment directed at you. Apologies if you felt otherwise.

  7. By the time I could comment its apparent that there are not many toeing the line that you would want Sakuntala madam. The analogies you have proposed are mismatches in that the major factor for use and growth of private transport is absence of effective public transport. The idea of car free day on a sunday ! is utopian. I bought a car only this year due to gross inconvenience experienced using our public transport and I use it only on weekends when the traffic is less. If the cars need to be off road on the day where there is least traffic, we fail to fathom what the objective of your exercise? Looking at your career profile it suggests that you may not be experiencing the hardships some of us daliy commuter’s traffic experience. I conclude by saying this is no solution to the hard core problem that citizens face but a Utopian stunt.

  8. @VaidyaR, since you mentioned wallet, I do not own a car. I only have a two wheeler and I do use public transport whenever possible even for commuting to and from airport.

  9. @en2

    Not surprising to find this an initiative of the World Govt.:

    “Rwanda’s capital city has gone completely and permanently car-free” & “The streets of Paris will go completely car-free for one day this weekend”

    A sure sign that this is not a Public Interest Initiative but another BAN – just as the government imposed the beef ban, Maggi-Noodles ban and other bans in the guise of “helping” the people. Same as killing Kalburgi to ban freedom of thought.

    And now that you mention it, “people with an attitude” will not be “welcome” – attitude is not in line with the State. Who knows, we might need to get our “attitude adjusted”.

    If the above is not true, my suggestion would be to the “leaders” to “lead” by example – as Ms Narasimhan mentioned above, people like Edward Kennedy, Galbraith walk among the aam aadmi. I suggest all the babus and politicians leave their govermint provided vehicles at hospitals for use as ambulances and walk the talk. [No taking specially commandeered Volvos filled with boot-licking babus and cops for publicity – thats a tough one for our babus and politicians; all you’ll get is a “no comment” ]

  10. Bangalore will have to be compared to other cities because we are following similar models of ‘growth’ with dependence on private transport and facing similar problems of traffic and pollution.
    As skeptic mentioned, the problem is also the lack of alternatives with BMTC standing as the lone public transport option.

    Enforcing car free days even though on weekends will need a bit of give and take. From the public mainly. They will have to start planning around it, tweak their lifestyles a bit for that. If you are in the habit of going to the nearest mall every weekend, maybe spend some time in your neighborhood, maybe read a book. But then again, a rights based argument as to “I have the right to go wherever and whenever I want” is not going to help. At some point people will need to think with their brains and not their wallets or bank balances. Every right you exercise comes with a cost, and you aren’t necessarily always aware of it.

  11. I am one among those who are mentioned in the headline, “people with an attitude” that needs to be changed according to you. I fail to understand why some people would want to play cricket on tarred roads and so ban every other vehicles from plying through the roads. Is n’t this a useless idea? you are comparing Bangalore to London and Cambridge but is Bangalore same as those cities in every other parameters. Don’t you think you are denying my right to travel on public roads? Roads are meant for travelling, why ban travelling on roads? are you getting sadistic pleasure by denying others, freedom of movement? Banning vehicles on an entire area is completely unacceptable.

  12. @Sakuntala Narasimhan

    Madam, I know you have written this with the best of intentions. It is not that people do not want traffic free streets. The real truth is this is a “9/11” that is being foisted on us.

    The silliest possible idea is using the pulis and babus and bmtc to ‘help’ us achieve a ‘car-free’ day. I dont trust the pulis one bit, the less said about their image the better. Same goes for BMTC and the babus. This is not the West. [And who says the cops in the US are any better? Just look at the recent killings of blacks in the news.]

    And why should the “public” oblige? Why should “some” people enjoy the privilege of using the car free roads for walking and playing? Did these people think about other people when they laid roads through existing settlements? It was OK in the good old days when only bullock carts and people used the common paths through villages. When noisy, polluting vehicles started using the common property and usurping the rights of the local residents by speeding through / killing / maiming / damaging; all they had to do to get away with it was throw a few rupees as bribes and get away with it.. This situation still exists. It will only change when we start thinking of others.

    No amount of “policing” will change us. Lets forget about it. Forget car free days. Even modi has not been able to clean up India. Lets pick up our garbage and learn to recycle it rather than dump it on our neighbours (which is literally what we are doing when we ask BBMP to take away the trash – I guess BBMP is confused when the trash start talking!).

    The only way we can have a car free city is if the use of cars entails paying the true cost of using the car/vehicle, i.e. build paths not on land but somewhere underground, out of sight. The user pays for the car, the pathway, its maintenance and also pays to clean up any garbage the equipment produces including emissions and other waste – Zero impact to citizens.

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