Tamil culture and civilisation have stood as a testament to its prosperity and contemporary nature. This symbol of modernity is carried forward by the present-day state of Tamil Nadu. According to the 2011 Census, Tamil Nadu, with an urban population of over 48%, has the highest rate of urbanisation among other states.
The burgeoning rural to urban migration forces the state to grapple with a myriad of urban transport and related infrastructure issues—some resulting in dire consequences. In 2017 alone, the state reported 16,000 deaths related to road accidents. Not very hard to imagine the struggles of pedestrians and cyclists, who not only vie for space but struggle to ensure their own safety.
The ITDP India Programme’s analysis shows that infrastructure for personal motor vehicle—which is just one-third of the state’s transport mode—received far higher budgetary support in quantum, compared to public transport, pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly initiatives. This, consequently, fuels Tamil Nadu’s raging personal motor vehicle usage; growing annually at 2.5%, it surpasses the state’s population growth rate.
Taking note of this worrying trend, the state government administrators engaged with the ITDP India Programme to help decipher the problem at hand. The programme, which commenced work in Chennai in 2009, saw through the adoption of India’s first Non-Motorised Transport Policy and consequently, 140 kms of streets are being retrofitted with better footpaths for its citizens.
The state’s bid to keep excessive urban migration in check, was further accentuated by the Sustainable Cities Through Transport initiative in 2013. The Tamil Nadu Commissionerate of Municipal Administration, with technical inputs from the India Programme, engaged tier-II cities—Coimbatore, Madurai, Tiruchirappalli, Tirupur, and Salem—to identify sustainable transport network plans, budgetary requirements, and their implementation. Following this, Coimbatore, Tirupur, and Trichy were allotted Rs 50 crore to introduce the Public Bicycle Sharing system.
In 2018, the initiative was extended to five more cities, namely Thanjavur, Vellore, Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi, and Erode, under the ‘Transforming Tamil Nadu – Designing Streets for Walking and Cycling’ initiative. With the state government’s support, these cities will identify, plan, and implement city-wide walking and cycling networks. Definitely a step in the right direction.
Looking at the scale of these projects a few hurdles were all but expected, especially in terms of feasibility and implementation. Keeping that in mind, the India Programme has been helping in streamlining the process by providing capacity development workshops. So far, more than 500 officials, from 120-plus municipalities, have been trained to keep abreast with trends in street and mobility designs.
Tackling urban planning issues triggered by rapid urbanisation is a long-drawn exercise, but the wheels of change are steadily gathering pace. These measures implemented by the state administration, with technical expertise from the ITDP India Programme, ensure a sustainable urban transportation model. In essence, allowing Tamil Nadu to move with the times and leap ahead in due course.