Between 1991 and 2011, the population of Delhi and its adjoining suburbs more than doubled, from approximately 10 million to 22 million. Despite the presence of mass rapid transport networks in the city, the number of private motor vehicle trips nearly doubled between 2001 and 2008, not only increasing congestion, but also earning it the dubious distinction of being the “world’s most polluted city.”
Recognising the need for a major transformation in the way the city manages urban growth, planners embarked on an overhaul of the city’s planning regulations. City officials now recognise that the city needs to begin integrating land use and transport planning, and discouraging the use of private vehicles. Toward this end, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) approved a new transit-oriented development policy in early 2015.
Promoting intense development around transit stations
At the core of the policy is a provision to encourage higher densities within 500 m, or a 10 minute walk, of rapid transit stations. These areas are called ‘‘Influence Zones” in the Delhi Master Plan, 2021.The policy aims to reduce trip lengths by enabling a greater portion of the population to live in these influence zones. Higher floor-area ratios (FAR)—up to 400 per cent of the plot area—are now allowed for redevelopment projects larger than 1 ha. The policy also mandates mixed use in developments in Influence Zones, with a minimum of 30 per cent of floor space reserved for residential uses, 10 per cent for commercial uses and 10 per cent for community purposes. This mixed-use approach is expected to eliminate private vehicle use for daily errands, while creating a higher concentration of jobs and residences within easy reach of rapid transit.
Creating safer public spaces through urban design
TOD is not just about higher density. Good urban design can help Delhi transition from being a “rape-city” to a “safe-city” by creating a better public-private interface that makes for more eyes on the street. By eliminating setbacks along main building facades and mandating transparent fences where setbacks are allowed, the policy ensures that there is an active interface between activities inside the buildings and on the street.
Building inclusive streets for transit access
Besides addressing the design of the private realm, the policy also aims to improve the public realm through people-centric street design guidelines. Pedestrians would have wide footpaths and at least 5 crossing opportunities for each kilometre of street length. Twenty-one per cent of Delhi’s land area is already used for roads. With these street design guidelines, Delhi’s TOD policy looks at ways to better manage existing road network to balance the needs of all users.
While incentivising development around transit, the policy also establishes disincentives for the use of private motor vehicles. Due to the presence of unrestricted, cheap on- and off-street parking in Delhi has meant that car users have remained reluctant to switch to public transport. To address this, the policy restricts parking supply by allowing a maximum of 1.33 equivalent car spaces (ECS) for every 100 sq m of built space in TOD areas—far lower than parking permitted in other areas poorly served by public transport. Only a fraction of this parking is to be used for cars. Provision of cycle parking is mandatory in all developments. Additional parking can be built only in the form of paid, publicly accessible, shared parking.
Using pilot projects to demonstrate the feasibility of proposed reforms
Many city planners were initially sceptical of a TOD approach in Delhi’s context. They raised questions on the availability of physical infrastructure—including water, electricity, sewage, and solid waste management—to support higher densities. To address these concerns, DDA worked with planners, urban designers, and infrastructure experts to test TOD concepts in a pilot project at Kadkadooma. Their analysis proved that high population density can be achieved along with ecological, social, and economic viability. It showed that developments can easily be designed for mixed income groups, with various compatible uses and with decentralised infrastructure for water, solid waste, and electricity. DDA has adopted a public-private participation (PPP) approach to speed up project implementation and support needed infrastructure investments.
By adopting a new planning approach to meet the demands of the nation’s capital, Delhi’s transit-oriented development policy can go a long way in furthering sustainable development in the country.