A recent video uploaded on Youtube went viral. A computer generated simulation, it demonstrated the space freed up on a vital New York road if everyone gave up their cars and took to alternatives such as bicycles, buses and streetcars. World over, the trend is to replace private cars on the roads. Our city, however, appears to be on a completely different trajectory. The Administration continues to pander to the interests of car owners. The latest, manifestation of this malaise is the proposal to link two failed flyovers in the T Nagar area and make a bigger and more monstrous flyover.
The Corporation of Chennai recently gave its nod for a Rs 290 crore exercise that involves the linking of the North and South Usman Roads flyovers and creating what it terms the Anna Salai-Mahalingapuram Connector. The civic body is understandably excited about its plan – it has had no large project to showcase in the last four years of its existence. The new structure, it claims, will reduce the travel time from Anna Salai to Mahalingapuram to less than two minutes – for car users of course. The problem is that none of the local residents want any of this flyover or even the earlier flyovers. They have, in fact, written to the Corporation demanding the demolishing of both the existing structures.
It is the contention of the residents that they had objected to the North and South Usman flyovers even at the design stage. As many as nine alternatives were proposed to residents but there were objections to each. Yet the Corporation decided to go ahead with its plans. The end result, according to the locals, is that there are huge traffic pile-ups, before, after and even on the flyovers. The Corporation concedes this and has offered to make certain structural modifications to allow for better access to the side roads when the new flyover is built. The civic body is also, for perhaps the first time, considering introducing pedestrian subways in the proposed structure.
Residents, however, contend that the new flyover will only add to their woes. The new structure will further restrict the side roads, and access lanes will become highly constricted. They fear that in the event of a fire accident, there will be no space for fire tenders to make their way to the site. Residents also point out that even with the existing flyover the space beneath and along the sides is practically unusable. Civic maintenance in these areas is also wanting, as conservancy trucks find it difficult to move about.
Local opinion has it that the Corporation is looking at the problem from the wrong angle. They contend that all plans are only with a view to please the shops and establishments in the area, many of which have built huge retail outlets in gross violation of all rules and regulations. This has caused great congestion in what was once a well laid out locality. In addition the presence of so many retail outlets has resulted in a huge number of shoppers and that, in turn, has encouraged hawkers who spill over on to the pavements. The Corporation has made an effort by housing the last named in a building constructed for them but this effort has met with limited success. The residents of the area feel that the civic body has to work towards bringing the big establishments to heel – getting them to conform to rules and provide for parking spaces for the shoppers. If this is done they feel the area will get freed up and not have any necessity for flyovers. But all that requires enormous political will. It is much easier to steamroll the objections of the common folk, is it not?