Saturday, September 30, 2017

City of Cycles, Once Up On A Time!

 “In great cities, spaces as well as places are designed and built: walking, witnessing, being in public, are as much part of the design and purpose as is being inside to eat, sleep, make shoes or love or music. The word citizen has to do with cities, and the ideal city is organized around citizenship, around participation in public life.” … Rebecca Solnit.

Rebecca Solnit, another respected name along with Jane Jacobs when subject is city planning, is an American writer. She has written on a variety of subjects, including the environment, politics, place, and art. Solnit is a contributing editor at Harper's Magazine; no wonder she can describe city & its relation with the citizen is such perfect way. Actually when I read such quotes as well write-ups about the city from the personalities like Jacobs or Solnit, it makes me think about our Pune city always & then I read the news created by our “Mai Baap PMC” & it brings me back to the reality we live in. For e.g. there were three news which came on same day in the news papers, first news was about efforts of govt boosting entrepreneurship i.e. startups (popular buzz word) in the city, by virtue of which PMC has made a policy so the residential spaces (read flats) can be used for commercial purposes i.e. tuition classes, clinics, professional offices, call centers etc. Second news was about publishing the much talked (hyped) cycle plan for the city by PMC & third news was about formation of central special anti encroachment squad by the encroachment dept of PMC for keeping some 45 numbers of main roads along with their footpaths, of the city & prominent chowks on these roads, encroachment free. Well, on prima-fascia one won’t find any correlation between these three news & may feel good that finally some action is being taken for three aspects of the city i.e. un-employment, making citizens environment loving by making them urge to use cycle or walk & taking efforts for decongestion of traffic by freeing roads as well footpaths from ever encroaching street vendors!

But the above three news are very much co-related with each other & let me tell you keeping all due respect for the intentions of PMC, as usual its going out to be another blunder. As do mind policies which are made just to please the masses, often fails miserably is bitter truth of urban planning. To start with let’s take first news about allowing commercial activities in residential units (read flats). As the intention is making more commercial place available to entrepreneurs but what about the side effects & practicability of this decision? As I too live a perfectly residential society where we have only residential users, obviously we love our peace as that’s why we have taken our flat in this society & if now few flats are being used for classes as well clinic or say IT startups who will have any control on number of people visiting our complex & nuisance their movement will cause to other residents. Then there comes issues like security as under the name of visitor or student to such establishments any ill element can enter in the premise of our society. Then what about the burden on services like lifts which are designed for residential use as right from maintenance charges many factors will get affected, one more such aspect is added use of water required for more number of users. Then there is issue of toilet facilities as well in general cleanliness aspect of the complex which will arise due to increased numbers of visitors from all segments of the society. If the flat is being used for Poly Clinic or IT Company, then what about E-Waste or Bio Medical Waste, such units will generate?  And lastly what about parking facilities for such change of use units, as the parking norms for residential & commercial use are different & that’s natural. Apart from that when it’s a use like tuition classes then at particular time many vehicles especially two wheelers will be there & if it’s not possible in the complex premise then the adjoining footpaths are the safest parking lot is what we are already witnessing even with official commercial buildings. So now with this policy we are opening a flood gate for footpath parking is I can assure. Mainly as our traffic police doesn’t even bother nor has enough man power to control suburban area’s footpaths free from parking, is a fact. And then footpaths in our city are like orphans, neither PMC nor the traffic police think they are responsible for the parked vehicles on footpaths. And if its IT company then it will bring along four wheeler parking issue also, for that the adjoining roads of such society’s will become parking lots as we don’t charge a dime for parking our vehicles on public’s property! Here we can give permissions only if adequate parking is available in such buildings as well take an undertaking from the concerned owner for accepting additional maintenance charges he will have to bare to the society, whatever logically decided by the society. Agreed the term logical is bit difficult to define here but when you make such policies then you need to develop a system also which will deliver it!

Now about much hyped Cycle Plan in the city, few decades back this city didn’t need any cycle plan as that was the trademark of Pune, a city of cycles, just the way today Amsterdam is of Europe. But after 90’s things started changing fast, the city started expanding (swelling is proper word though) & people were required to travel distances for the daily chores. At the same time Auto Industries as well IT Industry brought wealth along in the city & outcome was nearly four millions of two & four wheelers which we witness every day are choking our roads. Poor public transport was another aspect of the need or use of these automobiles but the result was not just it chocked the roads but it ended the era of cycles too! Now, even super poor class people also don’t use cycles rather I can bait the number of people on roads cycling for their health cause is more than the number of people who really use cycle for their day to day works! Obviously our entire city planning is being made for keeping in mind the automobiles & not cycles & outcome is today practically there is no band width left for the bicyclers on the road. And in the process to accommodate these four million vehicles we have to expand the roads (easiest solution) killing along all the tree cover adjoining these roads & then parking spaces required for these vehicles did rest of the tree cutting! It’s not just risk to ride a cycle amongst zip zap zoom traffic of Pune but the carbon emission from the exhausts of these four million vehicles makes cycling on Pune roads extremely hazardous for the health also. There are cycle track boards but that’s all we have for the cyclists as what lies below those boards is joke on the name of cycle track, rather how a cycle track should not be is what being displayed under the name of cycle track is the fact! Right from planning of cycle tracks to its surface to its width nothing is right. In many cases these cycle tracks ends as abruptly as they starts, leaving the cyclists clueless as where to go next! Then there is no protection to these cycle tracks from both sides as on one side the commercial establishments along use this place as their birth right & from road side as many cycle tracks are in level with adjoining road surface the commuters driving or visiting these road side establishments parks their vehicles on the cycle tracks, forcing cyclists to get on the road & risk his life to the traffic. There is no plantation or any barrier along the cycle track which will shield the cyclists from the pollution of exhausts of the traffic is one more issue, which I even can’t dream that will be taken care ever! On all this background PMC is asking citizen’s suggestions of cycle plan, great, welcome, but why can’t you make one already designated cycle track in proper shape & then improve from that model is the question I want to ask? And then the issue is of destination or route of these cycle tracks because is the city really in position to make people cycle for their daily needs, ask this first to ourselves! Here I mean planning of the city as we don’t have clearly defined work district like down town & residential areas. We allow any type use anywhere in the city so how we are going to define the destination & the start of bunch of cyclist citizens, if we want to make a dedicated track for them?
 Leave cycling for a while; let’s have a look at the scene of footpaths as third news was about formation of special anti-encroachment squad which will keep footpaths free for walkers. 

Indeed a welcome move but what is accountability of this squad & what about the pathetic conditions of the footpaths which makes a pedestrian impossible to walk on it? Who has stopped concerned departments to repair these footpaths & makes them at least user friendly for pdestrians? Is the said squad will be responsible for that too? Rather I feel deliberately the footpath surfaces are made un-walkable, so that space can be used by every other commercial entity from hawkers to beggars! And it’s not just about private vendors encroaching footpaths, what about flex & hoardings of the so called our leaders many of them are the elected members only, will this special squad dare not just to remove such flex/hoardings blocking footpaths but punish the concerned faces on the hoardings also? At the same time this squad should have authority to fine or confiscate parked vehicles on footpath as that is one major menace city pedestrians are suffering from & it’s in all part of city! Like Pune police has done “Buddy Cop” as well “Police Kaka” help line whats-app groups, we can think of forming ward wise whats-app groups for this special squad by virtue of it, the local residents can upload foot path encroachment snaps on it. Here I will share a noble initiative started by Sandip Khardekar & Manjusha Khardekar, who is elected members of PMC from ward 13. They have formed a group on whats-app & added many citizens of their ward in it along with PMC ward officers from all departments. Any complaint regarding any service citizen can upload & it’s followed by the elected member. The other two elected members i.e. Mrs. Madhuri Sahastrabudhhe & Deepak Pote are also in this group.

Let’s remember, just technology doesn’t make difference it’s the way we use it is what changes our lives! The city do believe in efforts being taken by the system named PMC but just announcing policies of formation of some task force or squad won’t work. Because if the citizens will feel that their life has become a shade better by all such things in reality, then only their belief will converted in to trust on the system we call government & that’s what we call “Achhe Din”! By the way, one more small news item got unnoticed as many thought its good joke; the news was about applying fine of Rs. 25,000 for spitting/ making streets or public places dirty! No one believed it anyways but what I feel is, unfortunately a society where such fine for spitting on road, needs to be applied, such society don’t deserve clean surrounding because can someone fine a stray dog or a pig for being dirty! We as a society, displays worst attitude towards our very own city than even these poor species is a bitter fact, but seems PMC authorities doesn’t understands this fact so keep trying, is all I can say to conclude!

Sanjay Deshpande 

Sanjeevani Dev.

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