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Tag Archives | traffic

The push and pull of Central Business Districts

Central Business Districts need to be decongested using tools like relocation, ICT and incentive based pricing to reduce the congestion in Indian cities. 

As Delhi tries to solve the problem of congested traffic and pollution using the odd and even scheme, it is time we look at other feasible solutions to decongest the Indian cities. A common reason for congestion in a city is the compact space, usually in the centre, within which most of the commerce and businesses are located. This central region is known as the Central Business District (CBD).

Commonly known as the downtown region, CBDs lie in the middle of the city so that the commercial centres can be central to all external or internal activities in the city. This central location creates opportunities for the businesses to gain from the interaction between people and jobs, and helps to reach maximum number of people living around the city. As for the people, the proximity to work reduces travelling cost and keeps them close to the various opportunities provided by the city.  Owning to these benefits, CBDs tend to be expensive, crowded, and dense. Classic examples of CBD can be Nariman point in Mumbai or MG Road in Bangalore.

Along with being the hub for all the commercial activities, CBDs also attract a significant amount of population either as consumers or for work. Thereby, a large number of people travel across the ends of the city to come to the centre. However, the lack of appropriate infrastructure to take the burden of the incessantly rising population that travels to or lives in the CBD creates congestion and traffic. This high cost of travel and the benefits provided by the CBD makes it more desirable for the businesses to stay close to the CBD. The increase in demand, thereby, leads to an increase in the land value and pushes the middle income population out of the CBD. Hence, the population that remains in the CBD includes the rich who can pay the high prices or the poor who can’t afford the travel cost. Last year, Delhi’s CBD, Connaught Place was ranked fifth most expensive office market in the world, followed by Mumbai’s Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) at 15th position.

In order to reduce the stress borne by these CBDs, it is important that appropriate steps are taken to decongest them. One of the essential steps is relocation. When the congestion on the streets becomes intolerable, people tend to move closer to the CBD or the business moves to the clusters where there is market for workers and the products/services. Mumbai is a successful example of how multiple BDs were create to to effectively reduce the stress on the original CBD. Dissipation of BDs across the cities helps in redirecting the traffic and the land values in the original CBDs. Similarly, Delhi require more versions of BDs such as Nehru Place to reduce the pressure and the land value in Connaught place.

Besides decongesting cities, the recent innovation in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) should also be used to reduce the dependence on a physical business districts.  After 1999 and advent of ICT, the urban experts have been debating the relevance of CBDs altogether. The ICT provides a flexible work-space for various activities and reduces the spatial constraint. It provides amenities that made it easy to coordinate work through Skype (online video calls) and allow online shopping and transactions.

Tai-Chee Wong, specialist in urban studies, tried to check the relevance of CBD in the ICT era in his paper based on the financial district in Singapore. Wong’s paper studied whether an extended CBD is required for future financial district expansion or will it turn out to be superfluous. The paper explains further that ICT makes it possible to bring different categories of labour to places at varied costs and availability, towards the final production of goods and services. Thereby making financial corporate organisations ‘dispersed, interdependent and specialised’. However in the end after reinstating the question about the relevance of allowing a physical region for business and commerce related activities, Tai Chee Wong has concluded that,

“The ICT is an important consideration, but is largely inadequate as a decisive factor to motivate enterprises to select their location. Other factors such as an appropriate workforce, labour supply and access to transport can be more important.”

Wong’s study did not include the services sector that require face to face contact with the customer, examples being domestic services, security services etc. Moreover, the human interaction is an important element of agglomeration economies that refers to the benefits from the proximity between people or businesses. Therefore there the ICT has a limited scope for improving the condition.

The final method to reduce congestion in the CBDs can be by using methods to disincentives inefficient behaviour by the citizens. For instance, charging for parking or charging surge prices for travelling within the CBD will increase the economic cost of the citizens. This would make them reconsider their choices and make economical decisions like relying on public vehicle or car pooling. This solution however will be dependent on the current status of the public transport. As a inefficient public transport will only increase the cost of owning vehicle but would not provide alternate options. A common example for the incentive based pricing is the parking rates in Singapore that vary between the hours of the day, as well as between, weekday and weekends. Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation, similarly, runs a set of AC buses for short distance within city to create a substitute for private vehicle. However, Bangalore falls short in providing high speed networks to connect the CBD and the rest of the city. Thereby restricting the growth of the city and increasing the stress on the CBD.

In addition to applying the three solutions to the problem, we should also ponder upon the question whether we should plan the CBDs or let them grow organically?

Devika Kher is a policy analyst at Takshashila Institution. Her twitter handle is @DevikaKher.

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Why overpopulation should not be blamed for traffic

The difficulty in commuting in a city is not proportional to the population increase due to three main factors: density, relocation, and mobility.

It is a common perception that the sole cause of the rising traffic in cities is the incessant increase in population. Eric Jaffe in his recent article debunks this perception by pointing out a study done by Shlomo Angel and Alejandro M. Blei. In their work, Angel and Blei show that there are three types of adjustments that take place due to the increase in population: increases in residential density, locational adjustments of residences and workplaces to be within a commutable range, and increases in commuting speeds brought about by shifts to faster roads and transit systems.

First of all, the dense nature of cities decreases the distance to the workplace and the time spent on travelling to work. For instance, walking to work is a common mode of commute in Indian cities followed by cycle, moped or motorcycle and bus. The higher density is also an outcome of the high cost of commute, in the form of time and money spent in transit. This cost forces poorer population to shift closer to work and makes the city regions packed.

In cases where the distance between work and home increases, the relocation takes place either by the workers to the areas close to work or by the business to the employment pool. Jaffe also mentions that this relocation result in cities with more than one business district. For instance, Bangalore the growing IT hub of India, has multiple software technological parks that have led to creation of various residential hubs across the city.

It is evident that density of a city and relocation within the city reduces the traffic burden to an extent. However, the faster roads and transit systems have the largest influence. In their paper, Angel and Blei attributed the reduction in travel time to the shift from low-speed arterial roads to higher-speed freeway in Unites States of America. Similarly various cities like London, New York and Mumbai have been able to reduce the travel time by providing faster public services like subways and local trains. These faster services work better when they are complimented with other transport options like rickshaws in Indian cities and trams in London. However, Bangalore exemplifies the government failure in providing transport options as the city still relies on road transports for commute.

The first two adjustments are organic in nature, however, the third adjustment requires government intervention and sadly that’s where most of the Indian cities fail.

Devika Kher is a Research Associate at Takshashila Institution. Her twitter handle is @DevikaKher.

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Ministry of Risk Management

By Anupam Manur

An expert committee to forecast risks in the short and long run and suggest measures to manage it.

Delhi’s alarming pollution levels and the ensuing chaos in attempting to mitigate the problem has lessons for all the other big cities in India. That Delhi waited for this long and for the problem to gain such magnitude before attempting a solution is by itself a telling sign of the ineptitude of our state government machinery.

Going by the present growth trajectory, it is not hard to forecast that Mumbai, Bangalore and few other cities will face the same problems that Delhi is presently facing in a few years time. Bangalore is about 5-8 years behind Delhi on all the negative signs: the rate of vehicular growth, population growth, reduction in green spaces, bad urban planning, etc.

Further, urban planning in Bangalore is known to have a terrible record with regard to the ability to foresee problems in the future and taking evasive actions. Officials in Bangalore have typically waited for the problem to be deep set before deciding that something must be done, after which it takes a few years to come up with a viable solution. The extremely slow pace of implementation of the solution implies that the problem would have compounded many times over by the time the solution is in place. The Bangalore Metro is a classic example of this. It is now slated to be completed only by 2032, by which time Bangalore’s population and traffic woes would have increased to such an extent that the Metro will be completely inadequate in addressing the issue. Though the problems of garbage disposal and water management has already reached a critical point, the administrators are just beginning to become cognizant of the problem. Many other issues are already imploding, which still hasn’t appeared on the administrators’ radar.

Can we predict the state of Bangalore traffic in the next 10 years? Can we address that issue now?

Can we predict the state of Bangalore traffic in the next 10 years? Can we address that issue now?

The solution to this is to set up an independent set of experts in risk management. Either the central government or the state government should appoint a ministry of risk management, whose task it would be to foresee possible threats and risk to the quality of life in Indian cities and suggest immediate mitigating and evasive actions. The exact scope and structure can be ironed out later, but the main idea is to attempt being ahead of the problem.

The scope for such a committee/ministry could be huge. It can cover issues such as environment (pollution, disappearance of lakes, green cover, etc), water shortage, contingency plans for natural and man-made disasters, etc in the long run and in the short run it could focus on the immediate issues that threatens the quality of life, such as power shortage, traffic problems, housing, garbage clearance, etc.

Corporations succeed when they are able to manage their potential risks and convert them into opportunities. It is time that Indian cities invested in risk managements as well.

Anupam Manur is a Policy Analyst at Takshashila Institution and tweets @anupammanur


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