An efficient public transport system and pedestrian-friendly roads could be the ideal way out of the city’s parking mess, but for now what Pune needs are immediate solutions and the civic body’s attention to the problem, say experts. They suggest both immediate and long-term solutions to tackle the growing concern of shrinking parking spaces with more than two lakh vehicles getting registered in Pune annually.
Providing mass parking solutions in high-density areas and introducing public and non-motorized transport solutions and making the city pedestrian-friendly are some of the solutions that town planners and traffic engineers offer. Urban planners say that if more parking spaces are added, they should come at a premium charge to check the demand.
For now, the city needs parking hubs, which experts say can be created near major commercial streets. Architect and urban designer Prasanna Desai compares roads with on-street malls. “Malls are popular because they provide adequate and safe parking space underground and then carefree pedestrian space on top where even children can roam freely. Our Laxmi Road can learn from Nanjing Street in Shanghai, which is fully pedestrian with a battery train, parking hubs at both ends and the metro running under it. The key, however, is to barter parking with better pedestrian facilities which would add to the colour and vibrancy of the road,” he said.
There is also a need to use the existing parking lots of the civic body better. Of the 32 off-street parking lots of the civic body, four are lying defunct. Many others are caught in contractual issues. At least a part of the city’s parking mess could have been sorted if the existing lots were used better, say activists.
The Pune Municipal Corporation is not serious in addressing the parking problem, said R N Gohad, a retired town planning expert.
“Pune was known as a cycle city in the 1970s. With more purchasing power, people have gradually changed their mode of travel. Development plans for the city have stressed on the need to provide an effective public transport system, even if it’s an elevated one. That has not happened. Rather, the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) has spoilt the entire landscape of the city. Even reserved parking sites have not been acquired by the Pune Municipal Corporation, which is currently just skirting around the issue,” he said, urging the civic body and the city’s traffic police to work more cohesively to be able to solve the traffic mess.
In cities like London, Tokyo and New York, it’s the pocket-pinching parking charges and more importantly their efficient public transport systems that discourage many from driving their private cars.
Closer home, metros like Delhi and Mumbai are contemplating radical solutions to tackle the problem of too many cars, including rules for vehicle owners to furnish proof of available private parking space before registering their automobile.
Transportation studies around the world confirm that widening roads and building flyovers only attract more vehicles, points out architect and city planner Christopher Benninger. “A city cannot build its way out of congestion. People and ‘pedestrians first’ is the rule in cities like Granada, Paris and Manhattan. All of these municipalities have well designed footpaths, pedestrian paths, green pathways and public open spaces. To tackle the problem of automobiles, we have to first solve the problem of the pedestrian and provide alternative methods of affordable, safe and comfortable public transport. But other measures can be taken to discourage automobile use also, such as steep parking charges, creating colour-coded parking zones, among others,” he said.
The answer lies in seriously constraining the available parking space, believes Sujit Patwardhan, trustee of Parisar, a city-based non governmental organisation. “There is no point in building more parking, as there can never be enough of it. Here people find it difficult to even pay a small fee for parking. It’s high time the authorities understand that private transport is the biggest problem. Car owners are a minority and the civic body would do better to focus on the needs of the pedestrians. Providing good quality public transport is the key. Non-motorized transport like cycling needs to be encouraged,” he said.
The way out of the parking mess in Pune will remain unclear unless the civic body, the traffic police and experts draw up a practical plan together to tackle the chaos. The ideal solution is an effective public transport system. The city administration and the state government need to recognize and address Pune’s increasing vehicle load, quickly implement projects such as the metro rail and also ensure that BRTS corridors, which have eaten into road space, are operational. A lot of public money was used to build the infrastructure for these dedicated bus lanes. However, a few immediate steps can bring some relief – PMPML must be strengthened financially for it to operate its fleet optimally, or even add to it; the civic body should ensure that all of its parking lots are functional, and use the revenue generated to maintain these off-street spaces; colleges, like schools, should have bus services across the city to check two-wheeler density on the roads; and major firms should encourage employees to use company-provided transport.