DMK government’s “road widening” hits Metro plans

There has been reportage in the media in recent days on the bleak prospects of having a Metro rail of global standards in Chennai, despite the huge amounts to be spent. This is a direct result of the two Dravidian parties, the AIADMK to some degree, and the DMK more, ignoring transport design principles and pursuing a "Detroit" policy of handing over all space to cars.

One report in The Hindu talks about the flawed plans for stations, while the other talks about new assessments to take place on the needs of the stations from a user perspective. All this is window dressing in a State where the top political brass are keen to have themselves photographed regularly with car industry executives (who have been given preferential treatment in government policy), not people like Enrique Penelosa who also was in Chennai not long ago.

In any case, the point is to look at the way some of the traditional metro systems in the developed countries have been built. New York, which I have seen, does not have extensive facilities for dropping off passengers and the station entrances in mid-town Manhattan are bang in the centre of the footpath; ditto for Philadelphia. London is also right in the centre of town, with few ornate facilities, but importantly, a clean road margin and footpath to allow use of stations. That is the case even in a touristic, crowded place like Westminster. The thing is that footpaths have been left undisturbed in these populous, car-using cities, unlike India where "road widening" is, for semi-literate politicians, a fetish. In fact, Mr. M.K. Stalin went on record years ago as Mayor that we don’t need footpaths because people don’t use them!

Media reportage somehow fails to put these issues in perspective, of course with a few exceptions. It does not address the question, for instance, of how much EFFECTIVE road space is available for use in Chennai. If you do an anecdotal study, about three to four feet of road width is UNUSABLE on most roads even now. If the integrity of this space is ensured, there will be more for both pedestrians and traffic.

The primary effort should be to stop this madness called road widening, which is the reason Ashok Nagar’s Udayam side does not have space to accommodate Metro approach facilities.

The diagram in The Hindu’s story also does not seem to show pedestrian entry/exit points to other adjacent roads (only to Udayam side), which is foolish because you are forcing more people to walk on the carriageway above, cross en masse in crowded circumstances — as they are compelled to do for suburban train travel — and enter the station.

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