April 03, 2006

Ply over the flyover

Things about a once-more widely discussed flyover in Bombay that leave me thinking.

  • Why do so many poison what should be a serious discussion with rhetoric about "doing your bit for the good of the country"? Why is it assumed that building a flyover -- this flyover -- is for the good of the country? Only so those who oppose it can therefore be called selfish people uninterested in the good of the country?

  • One suggestion offered as an alternative to the flyover is to make Pedder Road itself one-way according to rush hour: southward in the mornings, northward in the evenings. Therefore, traffic in the other direction will have to use either Altamount/Carmichael Road, or Warden Road.

    Warden is already congested, and along its length has only two crosswise links back to Pedder: Gamadia Road, Sophia College Lane -- both narrow. Altamount/Carmichael is also a relatively narrow road, with several sharp turns. Also just three links back to Pedder. For these reasons, neither seems like a workable option to me, especially for residents of Pedder Road.

  • Estimate of number of cars using Pedder Road: 60,000 a day (from an IIT report, quoted for example here). Each such car, according to this report, carries on average 1.75 people (defined as the "occupancy" of the car). In other words, cars on Pedder Road are carrying 105,000 people a day.

    Sound like big numbers all right.

    But how many trains pull into Churchgate? Assume they arrive within 4 minutes of each other on average. In an hour, that's 15 trains. (In a day, Western Railway alone runs 980 trains on its entire system, so 15 is actually an underestimate. Never mind). Each 12-car train is supposed to carry about 2200 people, though during rush hour, the load can reach 6000. (Figures extrapolated generously from 9-car train figures here). Let's take an average of 5000 per train in rush hour: that's 75,000 people arriving in Churchgate each hour. Similar numbers for VT.

    What does this very rough calculation show? That in one hour in the morning rush period, 50 per cent more people arrive in downtown Bombay by train than travel both ways by car on Pedder Road all day.

    Aside: This does not take into account bus traffic on Pedder Road, which will change this comparison substantially. But the point remains the same: far more commuters in Bombay travel by rail than by car. (In fact, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority estimates that 88 per cent of this city's commuters travel by trains and buses). End of Aside.

    Why then the focus on this flyover? If we want to move more people more efficiently into and out of Bombay's business districts, surely we should be looking at rail -- and bus -- transport? Thus not at flyovers, but at the suburban rail and bus services? (Which, to be fair, MMRDA is working on).

  • This article (Hindustan Times, April 3) suggests that the only reason officialdom wants to build this flyover is so that they will not "lose face":
      [I]f the Bandra-Worli Sea Link is opened, and the Pedder Road flyover is not in place, there will be traffic jams at Haji Ali and the builders of the Sea Link will look foolish. In other words, the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) will lose face. As former Municipal Commissioner Jamsheed Kanga acutely observed, without the Worli-Nariman Point link also in place, it will be like tailoring only one leg of a pair of trousers. Without the second leg, the garment is pretty useless, looks silly, and all you can do is laugh at the tailor.

  • Why are the views of a singer, even the country's best known singer, on the Pedder Road flyover so newsworthy, or worthy of any more attention than anyone else's views?

  • Pedder Road was renamed a generation ago, to Gopalrao Deshmukh Marg. What does it say about renaming things that nobody I know of, no article I've read, no study I've seen quoted, refers to this flyover as "Gopalrao Deshmukh Marg flyover"?

    My conclusion, if you're interested: the city doesn't need the Pedder Road flyover.


    Postscript: A comment in response to this post says:
      Yes, tell that to the person who gets stuck in ambulance on a Pedder Road traffic jam, that the flyover wouldn't have helped save his life. I hope you drag him to the train station.
    Not that I think this is any kind of argument to build flyovers or anything else, but this cuts both ways. For example, today's Hindustan Times carries this story about a man who fell off a Bombay suburban train and seriously injured his legs. On his way to Andheri on Friday, he boarded a train at Mahim "with great difficulty during the morning peak hour. He tried to get further in, but the handle he was holding came off and Tahir fell between Mahim and Bandra."

    Would a less crowded train service have helped save Tahir's legs?

    Anonymous said...

    Yes, tell that to the person who gets stuck in ambulance on a Pedder Road traffic jam, that the flyover wouldn't have helped save his life. I hope you drag him to the train station.

    Anonymous said...

    Public transport. Exactly!

    Shashikant Kore said...

    Good analysis, Dilip.

    I'm sure you'll have flurry of comments who will call you "leftist" and walk away.

    Why don't we see protests about quality of public transport? In fact, whatever protests we see are about availability of transport by people in distant suburbs, not the quality of it. The condition of local trains absolutely pathetic.

    While top cities in world are encouraging public transport, we are moving in the opposite direction. And we call that "progress".

    Anonymous said...

    d, i don't get why massive train traffic should mean 'the city doesn't need the flyover". in my opinion, the two are unrelated. how about building a flyover AND procuring more/ better trains, esp. given that both will make life a little bit easier for several thousand (mutually exclusive?) Mumbai citizens?

    Bombay Addict said...

    I'd have to agree with tanuj.

    D3 - do you think that better public transport and better road transport are mutually exclusive? People using trains and buses will only increase in coming years. And so will car-buyers. So shouldn't all these people get a better deal?

    Aside. For your reference, here is an executive summary of MMRDA's plans for mass rapid transit systems. End of aside

    Some final questions
    1. Do you think there is a problem of traffic on Peddar Road. Assuming you answer yes to this, then my next questions are
    2. Are better quality trains and buses the only solution. What could be other solutions
    3. Do you think top-class trains and buses are compelling reasons to shift car-owners towards public transport. In an ideal situation how many (in % of total) do you think would and should actually shift
    4. Do you think that the Worli-Nariman Point SeaLink is a better solution than the Peddar Road Flyover

    Thanks for your blog. It was well-researched and backed by hard data that should be read by anyone who has a view on this issue. My own view is that the flyover should be built. I've already posted on this matter and have also added your post to my blogroll on this issue.

    1. I'm not an urban planner or traffic expert. Being someone subjected to daily torture on that road, I thought I'd understand these issues better from newspapers, blog posts, etc.

    2. I am NOT among those who assume that "building a flyover - this flyover - is for the good of the country". Anyone who assumes that should have his head examined]

    Postscript - As promised, you gave your thoughts on the PRF. I'm now waiting for more on ARA, New Bombay, VP Naik. Thanks again.

    Vikrum said...


    I agree with you that the government should improve roads and the train system. But what Dilip is pointing out is that many public initiatives in India are made with the rich - not the masses - in mind. The Narmada Dammed talked about this at length.

    If India is a democracy, and if democracies are for the people, then the people should be served. And since the masses use the trains, maybe the government should improve the train system. Yes, Bombay needs better roads, but it tells you something when practically every initative has only the wealthy in mind.

    Niket said...

    I guess in a democracy, all citizens are equal.
    Just that some are more equal than others, unfortunately.

    Anonymous said...

    Abosulutely on the dot. Better Public transportation. When Delhi and Calcutta can get their metro's surely Bombay needs a better deal. The train links have been stationary for the past 3 decades except for the Vashi Panvel link. We need better links in train transportation.
    Bombay addict - thanks for that. Will go through it when I have some time.

    Dilip D'Souza said...

    Tanuj, it's hardly that "massive train traffic" means we don't need the flyover. What I'm saying is this: when I consider the challenge -- which, essentially, is of more efficiently moving Bombayites to and from their offices every day -- it seems to me that that is better accomplished without needing a Pedder Road flyover.

    Bombay addict, public transport includes road transport too. (Naturally). How are they mutually exclusive? There is a problem of traffic on Pedder Road. I don't agree that it will be solved with a flyover. Or put it this way, I don't see that the flyover is the only, or even the best, solution. The solution must be to have enough comfortable public transport -- buses in this case -- moving efficiently on that road, so much so that people quit their cars and take that instead. Better buses, dedicated lanes, make it expensive to bring private cars into South Bombay: these are some of the elements that will ease traffic flow on that road far sooner and cheaper than a flyover will.

    I don't see how I've phrased this as an either-or, or as a zero-sum game, or anything else. I've just said, after looking at the situation and the options, my opinion is that we don't need that flyover. How does this get translated into zero-sum game or either-or? Do those who look at the situation and conclude that we do need the flyover get told that this is not a zero-sum game, or that this is not an either-or?

    Here's something that Nikhil got me thinking about: in the last 15 years, I can think of these changes in
    Bombay's road situation: concreting of many roads, many flyovers, work on Sealink, new expressway out of town, a huge number of better models of cars (though only very recently a few better buses).

    I can think of this one change in the rail situation: gradual introduction of 12-car trains (and only very recently a few redesigned rakes).

    Maybe I've got things wrong. It seems to me that an approach like this does not properly address the challenge I mentioned at the beginning of this note. Which is why, despite all those changes in the road situation, the traffic situation remains just as bad as always.

    Bombay Addict said...

    D3 - thanks for the response. I do agree with you on the urgency of public transport, even if I maintain my view on the Peddar Road flyover. You've made a valid point looking (as we correctly should) at the larger picture.

    Thanks for the thought on public transport. It pushed me to put out this post today on the Mumbai Metro.

    I plan to blog later on the rail upgradation plan. Surely that will change the rail situation in the next 15 years.

    Anonymous said...

    Tanuj (and the rest),

    On an average, only 2-3 people travel in a car while many many more travel in a train as Dilip has pointed out. The government should try and reduce the number of cars on the road making more and more people use trains so that we don't need flyovers.

    Unknown Indian said...

    Don't know why people like you have such an anti-car bias. The average car owner in Bombay is grossly over-taxed (cars cost about 80% more OTR Bombay than in the US), pays more than most for petrol (although the difference has decreased a bit of late thanks to the government forcing oil cos not to raise prices) and puts up with the lousiest road infrastructure in the world. Further most suburban car owners (unlike Lata or the PRRA members) have paid their dues with a number of years spent packed like sardines in local trains. Pious pontification on the need for public transport is very fine – but let the government build at least the minimal infrastructure it is willing to spend on.

    Unknown said...

    Thank you for directing me to this.

    This is actually a thought I wanted to think through after someone else thought i was making a "leftist" argument because i made a case for privileging buses over cars.

    I'm surprised that public transport is understood as "leftist" - is it because the prefix "public" immediately evokes "public" companies versus private companies; "public sector" versus "private sector" .. when the point behind "public transport" is that - if designed intelligently - it can potentially offer great public and private benefit.

    A public transport system doesn't have to be a government run enterprise - that is a separate debate that we can have with people who wish to have minimalist state. It is entirely possible to have privately run Public Transport - in fact i think that the MTA - the agency that runs New York's famed subway network is a private company.

    The reason behind government-run public transport is a well known one - historically high installation costs - relatively low earnings per passenger per trip - etc etc etc. However - as our case study of New York shows - it can be done privately if you so desire.

    Another major point that those who accuse public transport as being "leftist" miss is Airlines. An airplane - the ultimate symbol of jet-setting freedom - is public transport. The Europeans got it right when they called it the "Airbus" - because that is exactly what it is - a privately owned and operated mode of public transport: an airline is like a fancy, privately run version of DTC. Of course there are private aircrafts for those who can afford them. But i have never heard anyone who asks for more airports or airlines being called a leftist.

    So there must be more to it.

    One possibility could be the way cars are sold to us. They arent sold as transport - they are sold as accomplishment and individuality. Thus any project that sacrifices car space for bus space or train space or pedestrians or roadside working dwelling - becomes an impediment to our self expression.

    Then there is the "mutually exclusive argument" - why cant we have both - well because one day, when you all grow up you will realise that you cant have everything in life. There are spending priorities, there are planning priorities and a car centric city is fundamentally different from a public transport oriented city - in terms of how markets, houses, office etc are located. How long a pedestrian has to walk to access a bus stop/train stop; whether streets prioritise pedestrian crossings or flyovers - if left turns should be "free" even when the light is read (free turns are very dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists).

    All these little things add up to create a differently oriented city. And at some point - preferably earlier rather than later, we will have to make a choice.