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the Urban Malaise

The State Government has planned to construct a Steel Flyover

in Bangalore between Chalukya circle and Hebbal Flyover.
This structure, which will be around 7 km in length, will cost
the exchequer over Rs.2000Cr and will result in the chopping
of over 800 trees. Understandably, this has caused widespread
indignation among the common citizens. There have been
protests by both the camps Beku (we want) and Beda
(we dont want). Ravi Chandran of TrafficInfraTech talked
to Sathyanarayanan Sankaran, a civic interventionist at the
forefront of the Beda campaign. In this article Sathya dwells at
length on how the Steel Flyover is part of the larger malaise of
Urban Planning that affects our cities.
The Crux of the Problem
The steel flyover is a solution to a problem, but we
are defining the problem itself wrong.
If you went to an engineer and said give me
a solution that will tackle 5000 PCUs (passenger
car units), he will build one for you, with the
proper structure and specifications. If you ask
him to build one for 40000 PCUs he will build
one for you, but are you even asking him the
right question? This is how we operate today.
An airport is built and someone says we need a
highway, so go ahead and build it. Now there is
congestion, so go ahead and build a steel flyover.
So we are reacting constantly.
The steel flyover is a symptom of a problem, a
symptom of chasing what we have today on our


OCTOBER - NOVEMBER 16 / TrafficInfraTech

roads. The authorities are not thinking about what

they want the city to be. If they think about it,
and then come up with a Steel Flyover then maybe
it will be an idea worth considering, but it is not
proven that they are looking five or 10 years down
the line.

A crisis of Leadership and Vision

Other cities have the vision to look ahead,
but our leaders dont seem to be politically
savvy enough to have a vision, to say I can
sell a vision of better quality of life to the
people. Many leaders appreciate the good
thing happening in the western countries but
feel Indians will not accept these initiatives. If
they can do it, so can we.
I would like everyone to watch the film Bogota
Change which is about two people in Colombia


who made a change to their city with

their own efforts. They were people
who were fed up, pushed to the brink
and then they did something. The
question is does Bangalore need to
go that far? Its like climate change, you
dont see it, you dont feel it, but when
it hits you every summer you go ahead
and make these changes.
The Steel Flyover is a small example
of what is happening in Bangalore
today. The IT boom will come and go;
the start-up ecosystem will come and
go; the needs are different. But there
are certain basic issues in a liveable
city. These are simple to define. For
example, air pollution its easy to set
an acceptable limit on particulate matter
level in the atmosphere. Then comes
modal share. Just say that 20% of traffic
will be cycling and walking, 60% will be
allocated for public transport (bus or
metro) and whatever is left will be for
private traffic. Then resources have to
be allocated appropriately. Plazas and
public places have to be created where
people can walk and sit around, not just
fly over them.

Beku vs. Beda

Its just that that the Beku people
(including the government and the
Chief Minister) feel we need to solve
todays problems. They say that there
is congestion on the road and we need
to solve that. There is less capacity, so
if we add six more lanes to the existing
six, we can double the capacity. Its like
a pipe. If less water is flowing, increase
the width of the pipe so more water
can flow double the lanes and double
the capacity as simple as that. The
Beda people feel it will not solve the
problem in the long term. It is backed
by scientific research. Just like you have
the climate change deniers, the Beku
people are closing their eyes to the
future problems.
It has been proven by the University
of Berkeley that every lane you add will
get filled to capacity in five years. Its
called the theory of induced demand.

In five years, before the project is even

completed, we will be right back where
we started. It may solve the problem for
some time, may be an year. There will
also be traffic jams at the entry point in

Some Other Examples

The Bangalore elevated toll way
to electronic city was expected to
solve many problems. However, it has
created problems for region under the
flyover. The poles are dropped without
planning and proper design. For
example, in Tumkur Road, the metro
pillar drops askew on the highway,
reducing four lanes to one and a half.
This is because the Metro contractor
is only responsible for laying out the
Metro line. He does not claim any
responsibility for what is below it. In the
case of the Steel Flyover, who is actually
taking care of North Bangalore people?
Take the example of the airport flyover.
30% of the people may use it, but the
remaining 70% will use the road below.
The majority of the people who have
been affected have not been shown
a plan of what it looks like below.
The contractor does not have a plan
because he was not told to design it.
Who is responsible for all these things
that are not integrated?

The aerial nature of the city

should not be spoilt. Instead
of flyovers, we can tunnel
underground. Even that
is not without problems
and may take years, but
is better than what we
have currently. We have
to be very careful about
what we do. The surface
is something we need to
preserve and protect for our
quality of life.
Sathyanarayanan Sankaran

TrafficInfraTech / OCTOBER - NOVEMBER 16 69


more should be given off for cycles or

public transport.

Designing for traffic

Changing the character of

the city
The most important aspect of these
projects is that it changes the character
of the place. The surface of the planet
as it exists today has certain features like
soil and trees that cannot exist on top of
a flyover, for example. One of the things
every city has discovered is that we need
to keep the surface for the people. The
elevated structures destroy this surface
by not only spoiling the visual element
of the place but also by bringing in
unlawful elements underneath. Every
time an engineering structure is put up,
it needs to go through an urban design
principle does it add value in totality.
There are many layers to be looked at
(for example, the flood plain) in the case
of the Steel flyover. We need to ask,
why we are moving these people to the
airport in the first place. Studies showed
that 30% of people at Windsor Manor
would use the airport flyover. It changed
to 50% at Mehkri Circle. This is because
there is an uncompleted flyover project
on Outer Ring Road nearby. It has been
languishing for ages and the traffic
conditions are unbearable. To avoid
this route, everyone diverts to Mehkri
Circle, thereby increasing the traffic
there. If the planners had provided all


OCTOBER - NOVEMBER 16 / TrafficInfraTech

these alternate roads in advance, people

from Whitefield or Indiranagar could
use those to connect directly.

Moving away from the car

Everyone complains that the traffic is
too much, but it is mostly due to car
traffic. We have been sold the idea of
the car as a lifestyle value, but it causes
many environmental problems. Why not
a good public transport system? Today
many people find it inconvenient to use
buses. They dont even know where
the bus starts and ends. We have been
pushing for developing the Unified
Metropolitan Transport Authority
(UMTA). It should really go into details of
what we talked about in the context of
the Steel Flyover. What is the character
of the city; what are the modal targets
for 2030 and how does this flyover add
or subtract to that. Lets say the modal
target for cars is 20% whereas now it is
40%. That means 20% of the cars need
to go off the street. Who is making that
decision today on how many cars should
go off the street and how do they go off
the street? How much should we levy as
congestion charges?
Many citizens like me feel that inside
the Outer Ring Road we should have not
more than two lanes for cars. Anything

If you look at the Steel Flyover, at

three different points, the lanes merge.
Traffic merges like a zipper. It has certain
characteristics. You need to ramp up the
velocity of traffic on the side road to the
same speed as the main carriageway.
So adequate merging distance needs
to be provided. There is an acceleration
distance for cars. To ramp up from 20
kmph to 60 kmph, a certain time and
distance are required which must be
provided for. After ramping up, you need
to provide enough spacing between the
cars. Merges are the most expensive,
even in advanced car based countries. We
are doing merging in a very haphazard
manner. Many roads join at a right angle
to the main carriageway.
Service roads are actually collector
roads, but we dont treat them like that.
We have shops and offices exiting into
the main carriageway and we then treat
the service roads not as collector roads
but as the main carriageway. Often
there is confusion as to where the twoway service road ends and the one-way
exit ramp begins. We dont understand
the basics of design. In half the places,
we do not even know how to draw
parallel lines! The bottom line is that
we dont have proper engineers to do
the job. We see in so many places for
example, five lanes coming into a signal,
and on the other side we have only three
lanes. Whats going to happen to the
traffic? All this is the result of thinking
in a segment or corridor approach. It is
a failure of engineering.
Now what the planners are doing is
flying over the problem. Essentially, it is
like saying that I dont know or dont
have the patience to solve the problem
on the ground, so I will fly over it. The
Steel Flyover is escapism. It is not about
finding a solution to the problem, it is
not about sustainability. The fact is there
is no vision, so no clear goal.