Webinar Series: ‘Better Bus Bengaluru’

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Session 3: August 14, 2020, Friday (4 pm-6 pm IST)- Fearlessly cycle, walk and bus everywhere – Making urban mobility infrastructure accessible to all 

Session 2 Report

Session 1: Inaugural Session Report.

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Session 3 Details: August 14, 2020, Friday (4 pm-6 pm IST)
Fearlessly cycle, walk and bus everywhere – Making urban mobility infrastructure accessible to all 

Key pitches:

Post pandemic norms: Living in cities post pandemic situation requires taking measures of physical distancing and being able to move and congregate in sanitary conditions. Human beings as social animals cannot  be locked indoors for long, and over extended periods of time. Basic instincts to socialise and congregate will bring them out into the open, not just in advancing critical economic and educational activities, but also for cultural and recreational reasons, and quite simple to get some sun light and fresh air. It is possible to imagine our cities with people safely moving about, at least in some important socialising spaces, provided they can be zero traffic zones. In such zones one should be able to walk, cycle and bus without hesitation. But it would be even better if almost all places in and around the city can similarly function. 

Securing accessible infrastructure for all: Can we ensure safety for all when they walk, cycle or take a bus? This would require ensuring fully accessible infrastructure which can encourage and accommodate such movements, and particularly take into acute consideration the needs of differently abled/disabled. In effect if we can design and build public mobility infrastructure that is safe and accessible to a person who is blind or hard of hearing, or is physically challenged, we would be building infrastructure for all. Moreover, bus stations can be designed so there are safe places to park cycles, shelters that are designed well and with seating, and ingress and egress from buses is not a challenge. The right to mobility, after all, is an intrinsic part of the Right to Life.

Making accessible mobility infrastructure possible: City and State budgetary exercises do not hesitate in allocation of massive amounts of public monies to build elevated corridors, flyovers and underpasses. But when demands are made to provide equal allocation, if not more, to fully accessible public mobility infrastructure, there is resistance.  As a consequence, fully accessible public mobility has suffered enormously over decades, and infrastructure that privileges private modes of travel has become mainstream.  In such a situation, it is critical that a carefully identify the forces that promote such wasteful privileging of private oriented public infrastructure, so that all have an equal chance at mobility and not merely the middles classes and super-rich who can zoom over the rest in their fast cars and SUVs on elevated corridors built by everyone’s monies.  

Privileging Mobility Infrastructure over Private Benefit to secure Public Health for all: Ensuring safe zones for walking and cycling, and privileging bus based transport, also translates into securing public health. Cities like Bangalore are already hot spots for various life style diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension.  A major cause for this is sedentary lifestyle and incapacity to walk, cycle, and stay healthy through easy access of public spaces.  Providing safe and accessible mobility infrastructure for all would encourage people to be more active, thereby keeping them healthy too. Bangalore has tried many such possibilities of making certain streets car free on specific days of the week. It has also worked on large scale critical mass cycling events, to encourage cycling and raise awareness. All of these events, while helping raise awareness, has faded after the initial euphoria.  A key reason is that our roads are simply not designed for pedestrians and cyclists, and buses. 

Ideating how to privilege accessible mobility infrastructure: Given the economic downturn, families are struggling to make ends meet. Thus saving on daily commutes will be a key part of this savinfs strategy. More investment in accessible public mobility infrastructure and buses, will translate into maximising possibilities of safer and least cost travel. This is good for the economy and good for public health. Focussing discussion on how can we now ensure accessible mobility infrastructure for all,  and as part of a ground up planning strategy, where people in every ward can find a place in promoting safe walking and cycling, ensure safe Bus stations, work to improve basic seating in buses and shelters in bus stations, is a critical need of our times.  This democratic exercise in planning can also help build transparency and accountability, as budgetary allocations can also be subject to public review, and thus investments can go where public need them most.

Format: Moderated discussion in which 4-5 Speakers drawn from diverse backgrounds speak for 10 minutes each, and then take questions. Appropriate audio-visuals could serve as a backdrop to the conversation.

Duration of webinar: 1.5 hours

Session 2 Details: August 7,2020, Friday (4 pm-6 pm IST)
Session 2 Summary: Bus from anywhere to anywhere else – Making Bus lanes a priority

Key pitches:

The chaos of Bangalore’s streets: With increase in vehicular traffic in the city, it has become simply impossible to get to any destination on time. Further, walking and cycling have become a thing of the past; in most streets it is also a death-wish. The city has completely lost the charming non-motorised transport that took young and old across – by walk, bicycle, cycle rickshaws, even jhutkas (horse drawn carriages) to schools, to work, to the market, just out for a visit, and even as ferrying goods.  Current mobility is overwhelmingly by cars, autorickshaws and two wheelers. With increase in dependency on personal modes of transport, and on motor vehicles, our roads are now known world over for their traffic jams. Instances are numerous of ambulances getting stuck in slow moving traffic, pregnant women unable to reach hospitals on time and people dying simply because they couldn’t reach hospitals. 

Bus from here, there to everywhere: To increase public transport and move away from personal modes of transport, is a no brainer to decongest streets.  This means there is a critical need to ensure buses can move faster and reach their destinations on time, and also be able to ply more frequently.  This not only increases the trust in the bus system, it also ensures traffic reduction with several benefits. Quite often on is waiting endless for a bus at poorly designed bus stations for a bus that never comes. This situation must change if the trust in a bus based public transport system must improve.  The pandemic, after all, has put the Metro into a coma, and this is unlikely to change in the near future until herd immunity develops. Yet the super expensive Metro is incentivised, whilst the low cost bus option (which can be safely realigned for COVID times) is not. This perception needs to change. While both Metro and public bus systems are not commercially viable, the latter far less expensive to build, operate and maintain, than the former. And what’s more, buses carry about 10 times the commuting population of Bangalore compared to the Metro: 50 lakh trips compared with 5 lakh trips daily.

Making Bus Lanes everywhere a priority: In an ideal situation, buses must have their own lanes, with real time monitors tracking their flows and information systems that assist the commuting public to use buses seamlessly, mixed with their walking and cycling trips, perhaps also an auto/taxi ride.  There is a critical need for predictability of the bus system, so people will wait at bus stations knowing fully well what time their buses will arrive. Today this is not possible because a bus, which carries 50-60 car loads of people, has to struggle to move through thick traffic, frustrating those in the bus and those waiting for the bus. It should seem rather intuitive that a bus that relieves traffic flows as it negates the use of at least 50 cars must have privilege of passage through creation of bus lanes. 

Privileging all to bus and the exclusion of none: Bangalore started bus lanes on certain roads, but it was relegated to what is considered the IT Corridor. This sent a message that time of those who work in IT sector is important, and that of a trader, or student or an elder, or an industrial worker, homemaker and maid, is not.  This class bias has to go if all neighbourhoods have to have bus lanes they equally deserve.  It is therefore critical to ensure that the formation of bus lanes is a task driven ground up, with every neighbourhood/ward encouraged to designate bus lanes, and the budget to make this happened is equitably made available. 

Breaking the myth that bus lanes slow traffic: It is possible to accommodate priority bus lanes on almost all thoroughfares of Bangalore. The argument against this often is from those who drive car: that bus lanes impede their right of way.  While it is everyone’s democratic right to move, safely and in a way they prefer, the power of arrogating the car spatial power over that of the bus, or cyclist or pedestrian, is of recent occurrence.  It is also deeply undemocratic and skews the ratio of public investment in city travel astonishingly wastefully favouring car based travel, shifting the burden onto the majority who travel at least public expense.  There was a time in Bangalore when cyclists and walkers predominated its streets, and the bus was the most visible motor vehicle.  Studies reveal that in those times, mobility was quicker than it is now, and it was not simply because there were far fewer private vehicles.  Equally it can be argued that too many prefer to drive their own private vehicle today, and therefore the city is choked with traffic.  

Moving Bus Lanes forward: It is important to promote bus lanes everywhere across the city. The case for bus lanes must be made more in lower income and working class neighbourhoods, who rely on and benefit from it immensely, and to also spread it to middle and upper class neighbourhoods, so that the bus becomes a class equaliser.  This will also ensure buses don’t get stuck in traffic and can reach their destinations on time, creating a host of positive impacts on the street, its life and also the overall environmental quality of the city.  Besides, bus lanes can save the city enormously wasteful expenditure of road infrastructure (by reducing intensity of its use), reducing fuel consumption and carbon emissions, and also aiding the improvement of the overall quality of environmental health of the city. A conversation on such issues will improve understanding of how well current bus lanes have worked, and what more can be done to ensure dedicated bus lanes are made an integral part of Bengaluru’s streets.  This discussion is imperative with people drawn from different walks of life, who either use the buses on these dedicated lanes, from those who lobbied for this idea and planners who implemented this project.

Format: Moderated discussion in which 4-5 Speakers drawn from diverse backgrounds speak for 10 minutes each, and then take questions. Appropriate audio-visuals could serve as a backdrop to the conversation.

Duration of webinar: 1.5 hours

Panelists:

  • Prof. Geetam Tiwari, Architect of Delhi’s BRTS and Professor of Transport Planning and policy, Traffic Safety, Public Transport and NMV Planning at Indian Institute of Technology,Delhi: 
  • Dr. Usha Rao who has studies politics of urban mobility in Bangalore and co-maker of “Our Metropolis” a documentary about Bangalore’s Transformation. (Ph.D. in Urban Studies from IIT Delhi)
  • Ms. Janette Sadiq-Khan, former Commissioner New York City Department of Transportation and author of critically acclaimed book ‘Street Fight’
  • Ms. Shaheen Sasha, Representative of the Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike
  • Ms. Shanitha Birungi, Vice Chair of International Transport Workers Federation (Africa) and Chairperson, Chairperson, Kampala Operational Taxi Stages Association (KOTSA), Uganda.
  • Managing Director of Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation

Moderator

Leo Saldanha, Coordinator/Trustee, Environment Support Group


Overview

With about 4.5 million bus trips every day, Bengaluru’s bus based public transit system should receive a lot of attention. That in a metropolis enamoured by complex technologies.

Instead, the metropolis has been consistently choosing hard-engineering and absolutely inflexible rail based mass transit systems. This fetish for intra-city rail-based urban transit systems emerged in the mid-1990s with promotion of Elevated Light Rail. Due to its prohibitive cost and low carrying capacity, it was let go. But by mid-2000s attention shifted to heavy rail with Bangalore Metro being promoted.

Following a decade of building the elevated metro through the core of the city, the swastika type 50 kms long Phase I of the metro has cost at least 2 billion dollars (Rs. 16,000 crores) to build. It supports about 500,000 daily trips, a tenth of the bus system. Metro Phase II, when completed (now in 2024, not earlier), is expected to carry a little over twice its current carrying capacity when costing about three times capital cost of Phase I.

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if such massive investments were made in strengthening Bengaluru’s public bus systems, along with strengthening street geometries.

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Bengaluru’s streets, well graded with fully accessible pavements and streets on which one could walk or cycle without fear of being cut by a cable, sucked into a drain or of being hit by a truck.

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driving without anxiety on roads that are sans potholes, with well-demarcated lanes and just about everyone driving peacefully.

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with such harmonised traffic flows past appropriate street furniture where one could hang out with friends, without worrying about the smoke, dust and all that.

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bus shelters that are a pleasure to sit in and wait momentarily for the next bus.

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being able to walk or cycle without a second thought, safely, securely, from just about anywhere to anywhere else, and knowing you could jump into a bus anywhere, anytime, to complete the journey home, or to work, or school.

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the kind of city Bengaluru would be then.

Join the movement to

I-M-A-G-I-N-E

#BengaluruMoving

FORWARD

safely – – – securely – – – sustainably

Join #BetterBusBengaluru starting Monday, 3rd August 2020 @ 4 pm on Zoom.

Register to be reminded about campaign webinars and more: https://tinyurl.com/y68jmweb

The campaign continues every Friday through August (7th, 14th, 21st & 28th August), 4 pm.

Please join this campaign 10 minutes before scheduled commencement of the webinar.

Session 1 : August 3,2020, Monday

To join the webinar, click this Zoom link. Please join 10 minutes before the scheduled commencement of the session.

Key pitches:

Greenery everywhere: Bangalore was known as the ‘garden city’ due to its tree covered canopies, many private and public gardens and a network of open spaces.  All of these were very carefully thought through by foresters, architects and planners of the city, from the early decades of the 20th century. In recent decades, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s, this praxis found new vigour under the leadership of Mr. S. G. Neginhal, IFS (Retd.) Forester in-charge of greening the metropolitan area. Such spaces accommodated walking, cycling and taking the bus as an intrinsic nature of being a city dweller.

Bustling neighbourhoods that supported a Bussing Culture: Bangalore’s streets, till recently, were vibrant spaces for people from all walks of life.  Folks walked, shopped, bicycled, waited for buses or just simply hung out for a chat with friends.  Culturally, to hang out in M. G. Road, Brigade Road and Majestic, was the right cool thing to do for just about anybody.  

Globalisation, economic growth and its impact on Bangalore: As the city expanded to embrace opportunities of globalisation of the economy, public transport was under funded and people began to rely on cars and motorbikes.   As traffic overflowed into pavements, even choked kilometres of roads, the city chose to widen its roads to accommodate increased traffic flows, and also to build their way out of the chaos with flyovers. Trees became the first victims of such road widening projects across the city, and were trees were never replanted on street sides, as no space was left, even for walking. Public bus systems were grossly underfunded as much of the State’s and civic agency’s resources got diverted to mega road widening and flyover building projects, and the Metro. Investment in buses was inversely proportional to the soaring population. This resulted in lesser, more infrequent and more crowded buses, pushing people even more to rely on private vehicles.  Narrower footpaths also made street vending spaces rare, thus turning lively and secure street spaces, particularly for women and children, into disturbing and dangerous landscapes. 

Environmental consequences: Increase in tarred and concretised surfaces across the city added to the heat, especially during summers. By the early 2000s, the city had started reporting ‘heat islands’, almost all over the central business district, which now expanded to tens of square kilometres inclusive of residential suburbs that were turned into mixed use neighbourhoods, from what they were in the past decades:  a few square kilometres of pleasant business blocks spread leisurely around the famous sylvan space – Cubbon Park. Not only did such heat islands make it difficult to walk or cycle, or even street vend, especially on hot summer days, massive influx of capital and material built up the city into a heat trap.  Overall, it became a rather unhealthy city for most, and the glass and concrete clad buildings became major guzzlers of water and energy, as they were all turned into airconditioned spaces taking the charm out of what was not too long before considered an ‘air conditioned city’- because you didn’t even need a fan!

Spatial transformation post COVID-19 Pandemic: The Covid Pandemic has brought to focus the critical importance of make our cities healthy, to it is safe outdoors and indoors. Safe not just from recklessly moving vehicles, but from the harsh sun and the pounding rain.  Safe in every sense including the quality of air.  To ensure safety also in physical movement, what with the pandemic requiring physical distancing to stay healthy and alive. This demands changes in the spatial character of the street, in how public spaces are designed (even re-designed) navigated and used.  The public at large needed to come out, to buy groceries, or even just get a breath of fresh air. But there was simply no thought to this critical need for healthy living, as all parks and open spaces were shut down.  

Some had to work through lockdown, without any access to public transport: Certain categories of work did not stop during the COVID influenced lockdown.  For a majority who live in highly congested neighbourhoods, and who rely on public transport to live and work in the city, the COVID influenced withdrawal of public transport has had a brutal impact on their lives and livelihoods. Forced to walk on tree-less roads to work has worsened their health. Thousands of pourakarmikas (sanitary workers) slogged to maintain cleanliness in the streets. Hundreds of thousands of domestic helpers similarly slogged to maintain sanitary conditions at homes and in apartment blocks.  Security guards kept vigil of apartment complexes and neighbourhoods. Without any operational public transport, most had to walk long distances, in scorching summer heat to reach their workspaces and get back home, often late into the night. They did not have the privilege of working from the comfort of homes..  

Calming and Aesthetics matter, and so do urban wildlife: Presence of greenery, particularly trees and shrubs, is a critical calming factor for all. This is  especially the case in prevailing challenging times, and those that lie ahead. It is being reported that mental illness (especially depression) is the hidden pandemic.  As humans, it helps us to listen to melodious call of the cuckoo, the crackle of the crow, the cheerful chatter of the bulbuls, the sweet song of the tailor bird and magpie robins, the chirp chirp of the flowerpecker, and so on. A city without trees and greenery, is a city without its wildlife: sans character, sans a soul.

Reimagining the greening of Bengaluru so one can walk, talk, cycle and bus in its sylvan calm: There is no better a time than the pandemic to think up ways in which our cities can be made greener, cooler, aesthetically more appealing and also highly functional with minimal carbon footprint. This is a time when it helps to listen to people’s views on how we can regreen our city and reclaim its charm.  Be it a tender coconut vendor who satiates the thirst of the weary walker, or a peanut or guava seller who peps up kids, or the charm of snacking with road side pani puri vendor, such typical living landscapes of Bangalore’s streets need to be revived to make city streets safe to walk, cycle and bus on.

Format: Moderated discussion in which 4-5 Speakers drawn from diverse backgrounds speak for 10 minutes each, and then take questions. Appropriate audio-visuals would serve as a backdrop to the conversation.

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