CHENNAI: Pavements are cities’ most important infrastructure but the biggest problem in Chennai and other cities in Tamil Nadu is the lack of pavements, according to Enrique Penalosa, former mayor of Bogota, and expert in urban policy.
Pavements and other public spaces such as open plazas and parks improve the quality of life in a city, it is such spaces that create a comfortable environment for the majority of citizens.
But unfortunately, cities here are being planned for cars – the modern nobility – even though less than a couple of dozen of every 1,000 people own a car.
A solution to change the planners’ perspective, according to Penalosa: Build a three-person wheelchair put the heads of local administration and the urban planning agency and a child from their family in it, make them go around the city; and the city will change.
Addressing a meeting on the topic ‘Our Cities Ourselves: Towards a sustainable Chennai’, organised by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, Penalosa said the best cities in Europe and elsewhere are those that make it easy and safe for the most vulnerable section of society – the elderly and the children – to get around. Cities that are built around public transport, cycles and pedestrians are those that offer the best quality of life and equality.
Some of the richest cities in Europe also have the most number of cycle users and pedestrians.
Economic development will not create a good city but a good city will drive economic development by creating equal opportunities for all, emphasised Penalosa.
Widening roads cannot solve the problem of traffic on city roads but bringing down private transport and encouraging public transport and non-motorised traffic – letting commuters walk or cycle – is the only viable option, he said.
But how much space is allocated for pavements, bicycle tracks, buses and cars is a political decision.
Often, the rich and the powerful, the car owners win this competition.
A bus carrying a 100 people should naturally get priority over a car with one person.
Dedicated bus lanes are needed to ensure that more people are moved efficiently.
A well-planned bus system with dedicated lanes as in bus rapid transport systems can move more people than a broad road chocked with cars, he said.