The Peddar Road Flyover is a project that is going to be redundant by the time it is built.
Last Monday’s so-called “public hearing” on the Peddar Road flyover project seems to have been designed for failure. There is no logical reason why a large group of Nationalist Congress Party members should have felt it necessary to disrupt it — apart from the fact that the NCP controls the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation, the project proponent. It’s unlikely that these fine, dedicated party workers will be found swanning back and forth along this road. The only reason why any road and bridge building contractor would love such a project is, of course, its monumental cost. There’s money to be made here, lots and lots of it.
Here’s the thing: by the time this flyover is built, it will be redundant. That’s not just the view of the project’s opponents. It’s the necessary implication of MSRDC’s assertion on its website in relation to the Western Freeway Sealink Project (of which the Bandra Worli Sealink is a part): “Savings in Vehicle Operating Cost (VOC) due to reduction in traffic congestion on the existing roads”; “diversion of traffic on sea link will provide relief to local roads in the high-density areas”. Translation: once the WFSP is built, the Peddar Road Flyover will be useless.
On one side of the battle are the local residents, a vocal and visible group directly affected by the project. Against them are the corporation itself, and a faceless, amorphous and anonymous group of commuters. The residents’ objections are focussed and demand serious consideration. This is a very long bridge above a road that climbs over a hill, and the road itself is narrow. Building a deck — or two as was recently proposed — literally means putting a roof over Peddar Road. The buildings on that road aren’t set back far enough, and where there is a setback, there are trees. That means that the bridge’s deck will seal off Peddar Road from light and ventilation. Or, worse yet, we will lose even more trees. Till a few days ago, MSRDC refused to even acknowledge the issue. Now it proposes something that no one has done anywhere and cannot work: extractors and air-circulation systems for the road below. MSRDC has been coy about releasing air quality data for the area below the JJ Hospital flyover, though that might be a telling indicator of what is likely to happen here. Putting a lid on Peddar Road like this also means reducing the road-width below the bridge, adding to slow-moving or jammed traffic and more pollution, not less, all of it trapped in a concrete box.
That a north-south road cannot decongest a peninsular city aligned north-south is common sense and obvious to everyone except our road building mavens. As it stands our only exit routes are to the north, when they should be to the east. To make life even more more interesting, between them MSRDC and BMC have ensured that all three major arterial north-south roads are being worked on at the same time. The Peddar Road flyover construction will choke Peddar Road for several years. In that time, the entire city — not just South Mumbai — loses a vital exit route without any viable alternative provided. If public memory is short, a public body’s memory is non-existent. We’ve just seen another horrific bomb blast in the city. Imagine the chaos if all exit routes out of South Mumbai were jammed or blocked. The entire project is a security nightmare, and not just for the VVIPs.
A large part of the mess is of the MSRDC’s own creation. The Sealink was predicted to increase traffic congestion at, among other places, Haji Ali and Peddar Road. In court, MSRDC denied this, though that prediction was based on a report by its own consultants. Today, it agrees; and in response proposes yet another road, and also an extension to the Sealink. How any of this is going to decongest the city is unknown, and it raises fundamental questions of city planning and whether SoBo should continue to be the city’s nerve centre given that it is, geographically, at the bottom of a funnel. The idea that was Navi Mumbai demanded the relocation of city ‘magnets’ — the Legislative Assembly, the Secretariat, courts — across the city. Now that’s impossible, thanks to CIDCO’s perversions. But if we do have the Sealink project then the logical place to move SoBo institutions is the Bandra-Kurla Complex: far more central, easier for traffic dispersal, capable of radial connections. Putting in more north-south roads is like enlarging the funnel mouth to pour even more mud into already brimming container.
It’s not that nobody builds roads. They do, everywhere; but everywhere (except Shanghai, that is) public hearings are taken seriously. Interstate highways out of Los Angeles Airport were delayed for years to complete these hearings; designs were changed to accommodate local views; and the project cost spiralled to tens of millions of dollars (one in Hawaii is said to have cost $85 million dollars per mile; and the Big Dig in Boston is already at $22 billion dollars and climbing). Proejcts everywhere are troubled by corruption, kickbacks, changes, litigation and escalating costs. But these are not reasons to ride roughshod over the concerns of what we in India like to call PAPs — Project Affected Persons. These hearings are not meant to be a farce or just a matter of going through the motions. Project proponents point to the JJ Hospital flyover and say that even there the locals had no voice. That does not make it right. MSRDC knows that the concerns of the locals are valid. They have no answer. So the strategy is to bus in “party workers” to disrupt a public meeting, and elsewhere to call the locals names, attack their credentials and bona fides. There’s a word for this too: a PAP-smear.
Is this the only solution? Have any others been considered? Is there a half-way decent traffic and transportation study? Has anyone identified the bottlenecks? What about the ridiculous government-sponsored obstructions on the sidewalks which force pedestrians onto the road and into traffic? Smack bang in the middle of the south-bound sidewalk there is a “milk booth” or some such that takes up the entire width of the sidewalk. You can’t go around it. You must step onto the road with cars screaming down behind you. When this flyover is built and the road below is narrowed by the supporting columns, what is to happen to these sidewalks? They will, of course, have to be removed altogether. So much for shorter commutes, walkability, pedestrian areas. We must have a city for car owners; if you don’t have or ride in a vehicle, you don’t belong. That is what we are being told.
The bottlenecks on Peddar Road are easily spotted: north-bound, it is at certain times at Villa Theresa school and at the two Carmichael Road junctions; and south-bound it is at the start of the existing Kemps’ Corner bridge, where traffic to Nepean Sea Road backs up and chokes off an entire lane. Only these hot-spots need to be addressed. Certainly there is no call for a deck that runs from Lala Lajpatrai college all the way to Wilson College or beyond. MSRDC forgets that there is a well-established phenomenon called ‘induced travel’: build a road and more people will use it. If the argument is that the Sealink is a toll road and therefore people will travel on the Peddar Road Flyover, then there’s no justification for the Sealink, and MSRDC’s assertions are incorrect. In that scenario, at either end of the flyover, therefore, there will be more traffic, not less. And what will do then? Build a bridge over the entire city? Build a Peddar Road Flyover flyover? So the project is either redundant because of the Sealink, or the Sealink is redundant because of the flyover. Yet MSRDC insists we must have both. Of the two, the Sealink is faster and already has more connectivity to the north (the existing Worli Bandra Sealink). The flyover project is nonsensical in its conception — if there is a conception at all.
Here’s the real conflict: through commuters have or will have a choice of roads and modes of transport; local residents will never have a choice of residence. It is no answer to mock local residents by saying they are minority holding to ransom a majority. The so-called majority does not exist; and if it does, it is a majority with options. The ‘minority’ isn’t limited to those on Peddar Road either: all the surrounding areas, including Tardeo, Warden Road, Malabar Hill, Girgaum, Babulnath, Walkeshwar, Chowpatty, Opera House and more will be affected. To allow the imaginary voice of a faceless group of ‘commuters’ to ruin the living conditions of a far more identifiable, more immediately affected local population is rank stupidity. Cities are defined not by their roads and bridges but how those serve the greater common good. Planning is not about road and bridge building. It is about creating cities that are more liveable, and more socially just. This flyover does neither.
MSRDC’s vision of the Peddar Road Flyover (click the image for a larger view)
Last Monday's [so-called "public hearing"] on the Peddar Road flyover project seems to have been designed for failure. There is no logical reason why a large group of Nationalist Congress Party members should have felt it necessary to disrupt it -- apart from the fact that the NCP controls the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation, the project proponent. It's unlikely that these fine, dedicated party workers will be found swanning back and forth along this road. The only reason why any road and bridge building contractor would love such a project is, of course, its monumental cost. [There's money to be made here, lots and lots of it][1a].
: http://www.hindustantimes.com/NCP-workers-Peddar-Rd-residents-clash-at-meeting/Article1-722781.aspx "'NCP workers, Peddar Rd residents clash at meeting', Zeeshan Shaikh, Hindustan Times, 19 July 2011"
[1a]: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-07-19/mumbai/29790021_1_msrdc-darcy-dinshaw-veena-singhal "'Jam' at Pedder Rd flyover meet', Chittranjan Tembhekar, Times of India, 19 July 2011"