Srinagar city has witnessed spurt in the usage of private vehicles (cars, motorists etc.) particularly in the last one decade. The city commuter's preference of private vehicles over poor public transport system has broken the user-equilibrium principle resulting in traffic congestion on city road networks. It has now snowballed into one of the major challenges facing the government. Ironically, cars have now replaced buses on the roads; cyclists and pedestrians have switched to motorcycles. Pedestrians and cyclists are now treated as the most marginalized commuters on the streets of the Srinagar! Many analysts and administrators are propounding policies without knowing the actual traffic data of the city.
RISING CAR OWNERSHIPS
Presently, city has 2.6 lakh registered vehicles. Strangely, 12.95 lakh vehicles have been registered by Motor Vehicles Department (MVD) in the state up to August 2015. On an average, about 1.1 lakh vehicles have been annually added to vehicle number since 2012. One of the main factors leading to the rising number of private vehicles is the liberal car financing by the J&K Bank and upper cap on car ownership enabling lower middle class to own a vehicle.
RITES has carried out household survey on 12% sample size of city population on random basis for preparing comprehensive mobility plan for Srinagar city in 2011. The survey shows that 67% households do not own a vehicle; while 12.5% own only a car, 11.9% own 2-wheelers, and 4.5% own both a car and 2-wheeler.
ROAD NETWORK AND INCOME LEVEL
Out of total city road network of 715km, 60% (428km) has carriageway width ≤6.5m (i.e. ≤1-lane). Remaining 20% of road network is 2-lane and 6% is 3-lane and 4-lane and remaining is 6-lane.The road divider is available only on 11% of the road network. Only 1% has service lane available and only 19% has street lights located on one side of the road. Moreover, 55% road network is abutted by residential area and about 17% by commercial land use and 23% is abutted by vacant land. Only 27% of sample households have income more than 25,000 per month.
TRAFFIC AND MOBILITY PATTERN
Unlike most Indian cities, public transport is the predominant traffic in Srinagar. The comprehensive mobility plan of Srinagar city by RITES (2011) revealed that the share of non-motorized mode of transport (walk trips) is 22%; while share of motorised mode i.e. mini-buses is nearly 60% and remaining 18% trips are shared by cars, taxi, sumo, 2-wheelers and 3-wheelers.
1. POLICIES AND OPTIONS
i) Revamp Public Transport System
The city traffic data shows that mini-bus trips are 60% and walk trips 22% which reinforces the need to revamp public transport system that will require nearly one sixth investment as compared to construction of bridges (60 crore per km).We have already wasted a lot of time and money in constructing a 3.94 km road bridge from Jahangir Chowk to Rambagh (at a cost of Rs. 247 crore). At this cost, the whole public transport of the city could have been revamped. The traffic coming from 4 lane (2 below and 2 above) one way traffic from Rambagh bridge will be reduced to only2 lane" at Jahangir Chowk and that will result in "gridlock.
The goal should be to provide the best mobility to the commuters at minimum cost by increasing bus frequency. Maintaining a timetable prepared on the basis of demand will improve the reliability by ensuring maximal smooth transfers from one route to another without wastage of time. Low-floor buses with high occupancy need to be procured on urgent basis and the present fleet number increased.
ii) Introducing Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)
The proposed Bus rapid Transit (BRT) corridor by RITES study for 102km road network will maintain decent speed of buses by giving it separate lane without mixing with other traffic while safeguarding cyclists and pedestrians by encouraging engineered road space along the proposed corridor. It will give high priority to buses and will shift car users to this mode of transport.
iii) Development of Inland Water Transport (IWT)
The city is marked on both sides by river Jhelum and on its eastern side there is world famous Dal Lake and Mughal gardens. These water bodies can be utilised for water transport for the length of 34 km.
iv) Making Tougher Car Ownership Laws
To cap more than one car ownership, quota system known as "certificate of entitlement" should be implemented (like in China, Singapore) that ensures first bid for the certificate before purchasing a new car. If banks make cars as "free goods" available in the market with easy loans, then it will only add to the already existing problems facing urban transport.
v) Promoting Walk trips and Footpath Improvement
The modal split for walk trips is 20-22%. Encouraging walk trips and improving footpaths will in turn lead more bus trips. Share of cycle traffic is as low as 0.5% and needs to be promoted. The engineered road space in BRT will provide cyclists the outer lane of the road. The proposed footpath widening along 77 kms of city road is required to be taken up to a minimum width of 2.0 m.
vi) Increase in Parking Lots
Presently there are only 9 parking lots catering to city's parking demand, having capacity of 1161 ECS, while the peak hour demand is much higher. More parking lots need to be identified and parking charges should be increased to discourage car trips. Residency road, M A Road and Batamalo to Qamarwari road needs to be turned into a "NO PARKING ZONE". On street parking needs be completely banned.
vii) Transport Planning Unit (TPU)
Presently there is no technical body responsible for making transport policies in state. PWD deals with road construction and maintenance. Traffic Police looks after traffic management but lacks traffic engineering expertise. Traffic planning is a continuous affair. It is therefore recommended that a "Traffic Engineering Cell" be established having qualified transportation engineers and planners.
viii) Improvement of present Road Infrastructure
Fifteen main intersections in the city need immediate improvement measures like geometrical, rotatory, and signalization improvement. They include Soura crossing, Karan Nagar Chowk, Bemina crossing, Dal Gate Chowk, Jehangir Chowk, Radio Kashmir crossing, HMT crossing, Parimpora junction, Sanat Nagar Chowk, Zewan Chowk and Qamarwari Chowk etc.
ix) Shifting of Bus stand and education Institutes to City Outskirts
The bus stand at Batamalo, educational institutes and administrative premises should be shifted to city outskirts, and the space thus acquired needs to be reserved for parking and business establishments.
On the one hand administration is concerned about growing traffic congestion in the city but at the same time the state transport policies continue to encourage use of private vehicles without putting a cap on the upper limit of car ownerships. Bank loans favouring easy car purchases should be stopped and stringent car ownership laws need to be implemented. Srinagar has captive users for buses and non-motorized vehicles (around 80% of trip makers) who, despite the poor public transport system, continue to board buses, walk, and travel in overcrowded mini-buses. Special attention is needed for optimizing, routing, scheduling and synchronizing problems prevalent in our bus transit system. Instead of giving more incentive and road space to private vehicle owners and spending lavishly on bridges and flyovers, there is an urgent need to revamp and promote public transport system in the city.
(Mohsin Manzoor Janwari has an M.tech degree in Transportation Engineering from IIT Delhi and four years of work experience in urban transport sector with RITES, under Ministry of Railways. With additional inputs from Fayaz Ahmad Parray who works in RITES as Assistant Manager. A longer version of this piece first appeared in GK magazine Kashmir Ink).