On September 23, the Deputy Comissioner, Bengaluru Urban district, is hosting a virtual public consultation to discuss the environmental impacts of the proposed Peripheral Ring Road (PRR). The project has been in the news for a number of issues – continued public opposition over non-availability of the Detailed Project Report (DPR); the validity of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report; the number of trees which will be felled for it; the plethora of court cases brought in by a number of citizens set to lose their properties. That is quite a long list.
Sure, the devil is in the details, but there is a fundamental issue we have to address – that of the longevity of the PRR project and more importantly, the lessons we haven’t learnt from the Outer Ring Road (ORR).
A ‘ring road’, by definition, is a bypass road that encircles a town. Its job is to allow free-flowing traffic that reduces the traffic in the core of the city. Bengaluru currently has two functioning ring roads. The Inner Ring Road connects Koramangala and Indiranagar, whereas the 60-km-long ORR connects all the major highways around Bengaluru city – Tumkur Road, Kanakapura Road, Bannerghatta Road, Mysore Road, Magadi Road.
But let’s look at the numbers. In 2015, a study showed that ORR, which was built to ease traffic congestion in Bengaluru, had the biggest traffic jams in the city. On an average, about 4.5 lakh vehicles ply on the ORR everyday. The average speed on the road was about 10 kmph. The ORR was designed to accommodate 5,400 PCUs (Passenger Car Units) per hour, but is choked up with just 4,000 PCUs per hour.
A big problem was the 19-km stretch between Hebbal and Silk Board junction, which had more than 200 tech firms employing over four lakh people. The biggest jams were at Silk Board junction, Tin factory at K R Puram, Marathahalli overbridge and Kundalahalli. The ORR was built between 1996 and 2002, and in less than two decades it hit saturation point! Clearly the planning agency did not work out the longevity of the project very well. The situation got so dire that the BDA had to come up with a plan to widen the ORR.
Sure, we have started initiatives like the bus priority lane now, and the ORRCA (Outer Ring Road Companies Association) has been pushing it among employees to reduce traffic congestion. But band-aid solutions don’t really help with a problem of this magnitude.
Blame it on chaotic zoning regulations
So what’s the problem? Chaotic, messed up zoning regulations. Indiscriminate development without planning on the land abutting and surrounding the ORR has ensured its descent into this madness. Before ORR was built, much of the land abutting the stretch was agricultural land.
The development that followed the ORR made it a mutated land corridor, with unplanned residential layouts vying for space with large IT parks to accommodate the growth spurt that came with ORR. Besides, no effort was made to improve the largely rural back roads, along which huge apartments were allowed to rise up and where rapid commercialisation occurred so as to meet residents’ needs.
Instead of decongesting city, the unchecked commercialisation along ORR only added to the traffic woes. An oxymoron, if there ever was one.
In contrast, the Inner Ring Road which has large tracts of defence land abutting it, does not have the same problem of congestion running through the day. Even with the delay of the Ejipura flyover, this stretch enjoys largely free-flowing traffic except during the peak hours.
PRR may see the same problem
Unlike RMP 2015, the city’s Revised Master Plan (RMP 2031) does designate the land beyond ORR as ‘Zone B’, and has stipulations on land use in this zone – mutation corridors aren’t allowed there. But it still has the same problem of allowing large-scale commercial operations in large tracts of land (Properties bigger than 1000 sq m can be put to ancillary use like offices and other businesses).
We will be back to square one with the traffic issue, since these projects will only add to vehicular density. This will saturate the PRR, given the traffic that will grow out of such endeavours.
It is a classic case of the devil and the deep blue sea. The ring roads as economic corridors make sense to the point of development. However, if the ORR is an example to be looked at, we haven’t worked out a balanced solution.
In addition to the traffic, residential areas will crop up to accommodate those working at the offices along PRR, but without any amenities to meet their needs, adding to what’s already a mixed bag of lunacy. And we are not exactly known to follow the rules either. If that was the case, the Akrama Sakrama policy wouldn’t need to be discussed at all.
But this isn’t a case of simple deviations. It’s about policy implementation in land use. And it allows us to start afresh at the drawing board. Unless we fix that problem, no amount of ring roads – with or without public consultations – will be of any use in ridding Bengaluru of its traffic problems.