‘Bicycle ban no answer to Kolkata traffic snarl’
Oct 27 2013 , Kolkata
John Whitelegg, professor of sustainable development at University of York’s Stockholm Environment Institute, who has been working in transport planning in different countries for more than 40 years, told Financial Chronicle: “The bicycle ban is a clear choice for a dirty, polluted, socially unjust future. Kolkata urgently needs to abandon the ban and embrace a world-leading strongly pro cycling policy.”
The bicycles have been banned, albeit raising many an eyebrow, on the grounds that there is just not enough space for all kind of vehicles, and cycles slow down traffic. Removing them will make the streets safer and traffic speedier, felt the Mamata Banerjee government and the city’s traffic police.
“I have visited Kolkata on three occasions and fell in love with the city. Of course it has huge problems and unacceptable poverty, but it also has vibrancy, a life and a character. It is a world city that could show every other city in the world how to design and implement a genuinely sustainable high quality of life. It can feed its people, provide them with every kind of facility and lead with its enriching cultural traditions,” said Whitelegg.
He admitted that Kolkata has many congested areas, but also said that these areas were important to the city’s life and were often centres of employment, retail and small scale manufacturing.
Citing international experiences, he advocated the needs for traffic-free zones as the most successful strategy to be pursued in a city like Kolkata. Such zones are increasingly common in Europe and North America, he said. “Darjeeling itself provides a more local example of the advantages of such concept,” he added.
Munich has Europe’s largest pedestrian area, which is also penetrated by trams. Lubeck and Aachen in Germany, and York and Chester in Britain ban cars in their historic cores. Florence and Bologna in Italy do likewise. Such bans actually stimulate the economy and increase retailing income and property values.
“Kolkata should identify certain areas that would benefit from this treatment and establish traffic-free zones within the next 12-18 months. For instance, all streets in the north of the city with tram routes could be converted into traffic-free zones,” said Whitelegg.
“In case of cycling, it is imperative that safe, traffic-free conditions be provided. A network of cycle routes should be established on all main roads and on all routes from residential areas to schools, hospitals, shopping centres, universities, offices and railways/metro stations,” he added.