Urban streets need space to breathe!

With the increasing urban population and lack of proper planning guidelines and policies for streets, the cities in India have its streets clogged up with heavy traffic, illegally parked motor vehicles, encroached sidewalks, leaving almost no walkable space for pedestrians. Streets are planned considering vehicles and traffic movement as primary focus which resulted in reducing widths of sidewalks and decreasing open spaces such as boulevards. Congested cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and other metros need retrofitting to help decongest the city streets and make walkable spaces for the city dwellers

Cities across the world have historically been defined by streets and public spaces. Streets which can be defined as lifeline of cities,nowadays can be seen clogged up with traffic, illegally parkedvehicles and encroachments. Especially in Indian cities, a probable reason for such a scenario is easy affordability of motor vehicles.Also, lack of spatial management turns out to be an important factor for condition of streets in urban India.Today, pedestrianization seems to be a far left behind concept.With almost no place to walk around cities, the urban scenario in India urgently needs a makeover of its streets, make walkable places, and lanes which are not overcrowded with vehicles, but which gives a sense of openness. Gone are the days when we had open spaces – the sidewalks, boulevards, lakeside areas, parks and forest patches which allowed the city residents to socialize, walk around, places which smelt of earth or greenery and not of diesel and dust.
A city like Delhi,the second most populous after Tokyo with 25 million people residing (as per World Urbanisation Prospect), seems to burst at the seams with migrants and slum dwellers. In such conditions, open public spaces are necessary breathers for the city. Currently, most Indian cities have no specific street design guidelines to throw light on urban street planning. The existing guidelines majorly emphasise on national highways and major roads with minimalistic stress on streets and lanes, and almost no consideration of pedestrianizing space or space for small
utility stalls.
A few big cities like Delhi, Ahmedabad and Bengaluru have in a way begun to work on street planning and design,with guidelines primarily focusing on streets as public spaces, mimic ‘global’ engineering standards at the expense of the local designs of streets that make them beneficial to public life.Urban planning in India generally follows a top to down approach with minimalistic participation of citizens and least consideration on public spaces.
To learn from and improve in urban designing, some of the European cities such as Amsterdam and London can be good examples. These cities offer shared spaces, reimagine roadways and sidewalks for civic life, an intuitive approach to designing public thoroughfares has resulted in improved traffic movement on streets and enhanced safety of pedestrians as the vehicles slow down to navigate a unified public zone, whereas, walkers and cyclists have improved amenities and access to the city. Also, development of green patches on street corners, installing more sitting spaces, spaces for street art for public, ultimately results in a more harmonious and humane urban environment.
Another good example can be Bengaluru with its ‘Tender SURE’ project for transforming the public realm repairing old roads, potholes, broken footpaths, and fixing design to reduce chaotic traffic jams and build more walkable spaces. The city authorities implemented the project in two phases covering 12 roads in total in the past 10 years. The design of Tender SURE roads prioritizes safety of pedestrians and those using non-motorised transport (NMTs), also it showed concern about the needs of street vendors. Under the project, aesthetic development with focus on practicality and utility was one of the major concerns.
Therefore, taking into consideration the aforementioned examples, while designing streets and ‘chowks’ (open quadrangle formed at junction of two roads, or sometimes also considered as open market areas) planners need to lay emphasis on designing it for the city dwellers rather than for vehicles. Also, the public spaces, sidewalks, streets, designed must represent the city’s cultural practices and engagement of its residents with such spaces.

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