There is a glimmer of hope. After years of allowing the entire area to go to seed, thanks to rampant encroachments, unplanned construction and lack of traffic regulation of any kind, the administration has woken up. A public consultation was recently held to consider converting parts of Mylapore into pedestrian zones and the scheme met with overwhelming support. The idea will, hopefully, soon be implemented, thereby providing a new lease of life to one of the oldest parts of Chennai. Much will, however, depend on the way it is executed.
On paper at least, the plan looks worthwhile. It aims at providing greater pedestrian comfort around the four Mada Streets and Luz Church Road. The latter, now that it is a one-way stretch, is a broad thoroughfare, at least between Nageswara Rao Park and Kutchery Road junction. It is in this stretch that the Corporation is planning an eight-metre wide promenade running along the centre. There will be six-metre carriageways on either side of the walkway and beyond these, at the periphery, there will be three-metre footpaths.
The Mada Streets are to become one-ways, with access from RK Mutt Road into North Mada Street from where the traffic will have to move around the tank and exit from South Mada Street on to RK Mutt Road. The two Mada Streets, North and South, will have a six metre carriageway with four-metre footpaths and two-metre parking spaces on either side.
The plans will mean that parking space, currently catering to around 700 four-wheelers in the entire area, will come down by 15%. This is to be made up by providing parking facilities inside the MRTS station for around 300 cars.
The entire idea, while commendable, has certain potential pitfalls that need to be focussed on. Firstly, the median on Luz Church Road is planned to be extended all the way through Kutchery Road up to San Thomé Basilica. But what is overlooked is that Kutchery Road is a much narrower thoroughfare as compared to Luz Church Road. Moreover, it has two-way traffic plying on it and so will not be able to accommodate such a wide median. Clearly, an alternative will have to be thought of.
Secondly, on the Mada Streets, an important annual feature is the temple festival which will witness the chariots being brought out in procession. The proposed road structure should not in any way impede this. While taking the temple cars down a six-metre carriageway may not be a problem, getting them to negotiate corners will be a tricky proposition if there are any permanent structures put up by way of pedestrian facilities.
Thirdly, the new plan is opening up a lot of space that has immense potential for misuse. There can be encroachment by vendors, political parties, vehicle owners and, above all, our utilities, which put up junction boxes and transformers in any area that is found available. How are these to be regulated? And what is the guarantee that hoardings and cut-outs will not overrun these medians and footpaths whenever there is a public meeting at Mangollai? In the name of providing space for pedestrians, what if we are really handing over precious land for misuse? Time and again the Corporation has shown us that it has no mechanism to nip these problems in the bud. It usually allows them to grow and then comes up with palliative schemes that please none of the stakeholders. Will the experience be any different this time?
Lastly, the plan is entirely focussed on the itinerant population. What of the local residents? Where are they to park their vehicles in case the frontage is to be taken over by Corporation parking lots? With most buildings in the Mada Streets still being of the ground floor commercial, first floor residential variety, will these residents not oppose the plan? The scheme will need local support if it is to become a success and it may, therefore, be best if these stakeholders are taken into confidence.