Drive Urban Mobility Right

In the current Urban Environment, Traffic and Transportation are the most important contributors in achieving a good quality of urban life.  Many urban areas, which otherwise offer satisfactory services to their inhabitants  in Water Supply, Sanitation, Solid Waste Management and  Social Services, but cannot provide satisfactory levels of service in transportation are perceived as unlivable and unfriendly; such is the impact of transportation on quality of life in a city.

It is necessary to draw a distinction between the terms “traffic” and “transportation”, though these terms are often used interchangeably.  The act of transporting or conveyance is called transportation.  Thus we say “We have to get people out of their cars and encourage them to use alternate forms of transportation”.  On the other hand the flux or passage of pedestrians and vehicles on the road is called traffic.  For example we may say “Traffic is slow in rush hour”.  In this discussion, we will use the word transport to cover both the above phenomenon, though the fine distinction between the two should be understood.

What is the purpose of transportation?

Imagine a barber located at city A. He is a skilled barber, but finds himself without any work since all the people staying in city A are bald.  But if he transports himself to City B, then he gets sufficient work because there is a demand for his services in city B.Here the UTILITY of the barber is increased when he transports himself from A to B.  In a second example, there is a fishing harborin town C but the fish which is landed in the harbor do not find any buyers since the people in that area are all vegetarians.  However, if the fish is transported to anotherlocation D there is a good market for fish there.  Here the Utility of the fish goes up when it is transported from C to D.  Thus we may conclude that the purpose of transportation is to increase the utility of goods and services.Let us apply this principle in a practical situation.  Three areas in a city – Industrial, Residential and Recreational-need to be connected by roads.  We have to decide on the priority to be given while connecting these areas.   We find that the utility of the people in the residential areas will be increased if the residential area is connected to the industrial area. So the Residential – Industrial connectivity should be given priority over Industrial – Recreational and Residential – Recreational connectivity.  This principle of utility increase should be applied every time we plan a transport facility.

The National Urban Transport Policy 2006

This policy was launched by Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India in 2006 and spells out 6 cardinal objectives for Urban Transportation.  Any new urban transportation project should aim to achieve one or more of these objectives.  Let us look at these objectives in some detail.

i) All plans should be for the common benefit and well being of people

This objective implies that there should be equity in the distribution of benefits across the various modes of transport. In Indian cities we can generally identify three different modes of transport (the approximate percentages of road users in each of the mode is indicated in brackets). Pedestrians – Those who walk on roads (25%). Public transport (60%). Private transport (15%). As per this objective we have to distribute funds in such a way that the benefits are accrued to the above modes as per percentages indicated.  Thus pedestrian facilities should get 25% of the total allocation for transport and so on.  We see that this is never the case and both the pedestrians and public transport users do not get an equitable share of the resources.

ii) Urban Transportation as an important parameter in urban planning

Very often when development plans are prepared, transportation planning is an afterthought.  Famous urban planners like Frank Lloyd Wright have prescribed creating the development plan with transportation facilities as the basic consideration.  Have you ever thought of the percentage of the total urban area reserved only for transportation facilities like  roads, railways, bridges metro corridors, bus stands, railway stations, truck terminals, bicycle stands, and pedestrian facilities ?In Mumbai, this percentage is as low as 11% and in Pune just 8%.  Compare these with Chicago where 40% of the total urban area is reserved for transport facilities, and Tokyo where 25% is reserved.  We must seriously think of reserving more areas in the spatial plans of cities for transport facilities.  Remember that creating elevated corridors, water transport facilities, helicopter connectivity, etc.  effectively translate to increasing this percentage.

iii) Respecting the Pedestrians 

We have seen that 25% of the road users are pedestrians.  There are deficient facilities for them like footpath, subways, foot over bridges, sky walks,and zebra crossings. They are at the mercy of motorized transport.  Elderly people and children become more vulnerable to traffic hazards due to lack of proper facilities for pedestrians.  Respecting the pedestrians means giving freedom to the pedestrians to use the transport facilities fearlessly and conveniently.

iv) Importance to Public Transport

We have seen that 60% of the road users use public transport.  How can we make public transport more attractive? This is extremely important in today’s urban scenario because unless we promote public transport, congestions and pollution will continue to increase unabated.  We should think of improving the capacity and frequency of public transport and making public transport more attractive and comfortable.  Keeping the ticket rates at reasonable levels, giving safety and convenience to ladies and making public transport more accessible will increase the credibility of public transport.

v) Promoting use of cleaner technologies

Around 25% of air pollution in urban areas is due to automobile exhaust.  In India, Bharat Stage IV is currently enforced.By 1st April, 2020 the government expects all vehicles to comply with Bharat Stage VI standards.  Urban Planners can help in reducing pollution by regulating the congestion with the provision of bypass roads, elevated roads, intercept concepts etc. which are discussed later.

vi) Seamless  Multi-modal Transport Systems

A commuter should be able to easily transfer himself from one mode to another by using single smart card.  For example,a person alighting from the plane should be able to get into the metro at the airport itself, which will take him to a taxi stand from where he can get a taxi to go home.  All these trips will be done using a single smart card. All the above objectives need to be carefully addressed while planning and implementing the transportation projects in the urban areas.

Urban road hierarchy

The Indian Roads Congress (IRC) classifies urban streets into a five level road hierarchy, the details of which are depicted in the table below:  Roads at the highest end of the hierarchy have maximum mobility but minimum accessibility.  Similarly roads at the end of hierarchy have minimum mobility and maximum accessibility.  While planning for urban road network it is necessary to consider all the above types of roads with their respective characteristics so as to have a rational, collection and distribution network.


Problem of congestion

There has been a tremendous rise in number of vehicles using the city roads in the past two decades.  To make matters worse, transport in our cities is multi-modal, reflecting the socio economic fabric of these cities.   This mix of traffic makes traffic management more difficult. Transport planners often used the concept of Passenger Car Unit (PCU) to denote the impact  each mode of transport has on the traffic flow.  Thus the PCU for a Car is 1, for Bus / Truck 3.5,  for Bikes 0.5, for Cycles 0.2 and for Bullock Cart 8. This spectrum of varying PCUs make traffic flow erratic and unstable. The purpose of good traffic planning should be to restrict the modes on a given road to vehicles with similar PCU.  Thus we see that on Expressways Bikes,Cycles,Bullock Carts and Tractors are not allowed thereby restricting the PCU band within a range of 1 – 3.5 only.  This ensures a smoother flow of traffic.  The Bus Rapid Transport System {dedicated lanes for public buses (PCU 3.5)} and Cycle Tracks {dedicated lanes for Bicycles (PCU 0.2)} work on this principle.

Traffic Volume Counts

It becomes necessary to find out the extent of traffic on a given road to see if its capacity is sufficient.  For this, Traffic Volume Counts are made.  Here the observed volume have to be converted to PCUs before proceeding to design the road.  A simple example for hourly traffic at peak period on a city road is depicted below.   From the above volume we can design the road.  If a single lane is supposed to carry 800 PCUs per hour (IRCs Standard), there should be 1280 / 800 = 1.6 or 2 lanes for the road one way.  The total carriage way will be comprised of 4 lanes with a central divider and footpaths on either side.

Good practices in Transport Management

We will discuss two good practices in traffic management aimed at reducing congestion and pollution and ensuring a smooth flow of traffic.

Segregation of traffic

Segregation means separation.   Three types of segregation of traffic are generally used:

i) Segregation in relation to destination 

Bypass Roads: Suppose a truck has to go to Mumbai from Satara.  Enroute it has to cross the city of Pune.  However it does not have any loading / unloading to be done in Pune.  If we provide a by-pass road the truck can avoid entering Pune City.  This would be good example of segregation in relation to destination.   Elevated Roads:  The through traffic in a city can be segregated from the local traffic by a continuous elevated road.  Thus the elevated road offers high mobility but low accessibility for road users.  Since the through traffic does not interfere with the local traffic both benefit in the process.

ii)   Segregation by types of Traffics

a) Bus Rapid Transport (BRT):  The BRT envisages dedicated lanes for the public buses.  Normally, the inner lanes of a multi-lane road are dedicated to public transport.   It is necessary that proper grade separation like foot over bridges or subways are provided for the commuters so that they do not have to cross at grade the outer lanes, where fast vehicles are plying.   If such safety measures are undertaken BRT is an excellent way of promoting public transport.

b) Cycle Tracks:  Cycling needs to be encouraged since it is non-polluting and offers a healthy alternative to road users.   However, the easy availability of cycles along the corridors needs to be ensured if this exercise has to be successful.

c) Pedestrian and Elevated footways:  We found earlier that giving freedom to pedestrians is one of the objectives of the National Transport Policy.   Foot-paths should be free of encroachment and should be sufficiently wide to contain the pedestrians flow.  Foot-over bridges are less popular than subways.  However, Mumbai has successfully demonstrated the popularity and utility of Skywalks which are extended foot-over bridges covering several streets.

iii) Segregation of moving vehicles from parked vehicles 

In the hierarchy of urban roads we have seen that on-street parking is not to be tolerated on Expressways, Arterial Road and Sub Arterial Roads.   Only limited parking is allowed on Collector Roads. This means that sufficient off street parking is available either in the buildings’ basement or in the lobby levels or in public parking lots. Most of the Municipal Corporations and Municipalities have Development Control Regulations for parking, which prescribe the extent to which areas have to be kept in the basement and lobby level for captive parking.   In cities like Mumbai public parking is encouraged by giving incentives by way of more Floor Space Index (FSI) to developers who create multilevel public parking.   Cities like Nagpur have prescribed no shop frontage streets to avoid on street parking of vehicles.

Intercept concept

Many cities are resorting to intercepting traffic at its outskirts to have congestion free roads during peak period.  A very good initiative in this regard is the provision of truck terminus at the boundary of cities where trucks and tourists buses are made to park during peak hours.  They are released after the expiry of peak hours.  Another application of Intercept concept would be cordoning off of busy city centers for vehicular traffic during peak periods by providing public park facilities outside the congested centres.  The area within the cordon will be allowed only for the pedestrians.


 Suggestions for new initiatives in traffic and transport

From the above discussion some useful initiatives in urban traffic and transport to be taken up by urban local bodies can be suggested as follows:

  • Total prohibition of On-street parking / loading / unloading on Expressways / Arterial / Sub-arterial roads.  Parking / loading / unloading to be allowed on collector roads only at specified locations.
  • Provision of BRT with grade – separated entry / exit at bus stops.
  • Increased funding for pedestrian facilities and construction of foot paths, foot over bridges, skywalks, subways and pedestrian malls / precincts and keeping them free of encroachments.
  • Encouraging public transport by:
  1.  having dedicated corridors of buses
  2. increasing the number of buses and their frequency
  3. having separate buses for ladies
  4. keeping ticket rates affordable
  5. improving comfort of travel – air conditioning, good seating and ambience
  6. establishing a multi-modal seamless transport system.   Creating truck terminals at the entry points of the city. Constructing By-pass roads / Elevated roads.   Creating seamless multi-modal transport systems.


Indian cities vary considerably in terms of their population, area, urban form, topography, income levels and growth constraints.  Accordingly, transport planning will have to depend on city specific features but the ultimate approach in transport planning should be to improve the quality of living in the cities through integrated and sustainable transport systems.  Transport planning should indeed receive requisite attention while drawing up strategic city development and land use plans.

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