In the 1970s when Joni Mitchell crooned “Big Yellow Taxi”, not many realised the clairvoyance and the forewarning that the song’s lyrics expressed. Though every bit of the lyric has its own essence and social messaging, the starting couplet is resounding. The verse—“They paved paradise, And put up a parking lot”—held a mirror up to society, and here we are four decades later, perplexed and baffled as to how we got here.
Automobiles are the scourge that drive up emission levels and other environmental issues, yet their numbers continue to rise unabashed. As per a report by the Centre for Science and Environment (Delhi), it took India 60 years (1951-2008) to cross the mark of 105 million registered vehicles. The same number of vehicles were added in a mere six years (2009 – 2015) thereafter!
But when you throw ill-conceived parking systems into this mix, it is like taking gasoline to a firefight. The backlash of this self-inflicted problem is found in every nook and corner of our cities, in all sorts of positions (angular, parallel, perpendicular) and scales (on-street, multi-level, automated).
In India, the conversation surrounding parking management is kindled every now and then, only to be impounded with plans of creating more parking spaces. Or even worse, buried six-foot deep with a parking lot as a symbolical headstone. Irony at its best.
So, why is it that dialogues on parking and its management generate public ire, whereas implausible measures—such as unchecked on-street free parking and multi-level parking—venerated. The answer lies in the psyche of vehicle owners and commuters in general, who lay fodder to a whole bunch of myths regarding parking management.
Now, what are these myths and how do the arguments hold; well, not as solid as the ground their vehicles are parked on.
Let’s deduce this argument with the adage, “Your liberty to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins”. A citizen has the liberty to own a vehicle, but it doesn’t entitle them to occupy a public space of their fancy. Furthermore, no text, context, and subtext of a right allows for the infringement of someone else’s right. Whereas, parking poses as an obstruction for someone to use that common public space from walking or cycling.
Clearly, parking is not a right or an entitlement, but a privilege which needs to be charged and heavily at that. A parking fee must be charged proportional to demand, factoring in criteria such as location, time of day, duration of parking, and category of vehicle (defined by size and type).
Take the case of Ranchi, where a pilot parking management project on the arterial MG Road stretch led to a 12-fold increase in parking revenue. Even the state of Jharkhand, spurred by the revenue spike at Ranchi’s pilot parking management project, invested efforts to regulate parking as a statewide policy. According to reports, Greater Chennai Corporation stands to gain Rs 55 crore per year in revenue from the pricing of about 12,000 ECS (equivalent car spaces) of parking in Chennai: a whopping 110 times increase in revenue from what it presently earns.
Cities can innovatively use parking revenue to encourage sustainable modes of transport. For example, Bicing—the public cycle-sharing program in Barcelona—is financed by its parking revenue. London’s Freedom Pass, which allows elderly (60+) and disabled residents to use public transport for free, is funded by the parking fees collected in many boroughs. You can find more about these cases and other best practices in ITDP’s publication, Europe’s Parking U-Turn: From Accommodation to Regulation.
As per Dalia Research, the average global commute time per workday is 1 hour 9 minutes, India’s commute estimate hovers around 1 hour 31 minutes. That figure helps us to the third spot in the global list, behind only Israel and the UAE. So does the solution of offering more parking space offer a concession on congestion, the answer is and has always been in the negative.
An analogy often used while talking about urban commute is “Travel time was so much lesser when there were lesser vehicle!”. Hence, parking is to private vehicles, what flame is to moths. More parking only begets more private vehicles to hit the road.
An excessive supply of parking will only encourage people to use personal motor vehicles—even when good public transport is available. Cities, therefore, need to limit total parking supply, including off-street and on-street parking. Based on the capacity of the road network, cities must set caps on the total quantum of parking available in each zone.
Most cities invest in developing multi-level car parks to resolve parking woes. But examples, from across the world and India, clearly indicate that it is a myopic attempt. Over time such infrastructures only turn into ‘big white elephants’.
Take the example of Bengaluru’s 11 multi-storeyed parking complexes—Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Company (BMTC) owns nine and the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) owns two. According to a Bangalore Mirror report, these “ghost storey” parking lots barely have 20-30% occupancy, reason being parking on roads or pavements is easier, since it is free and the safer.
“Multi-level car parking doesn’t solve parking woes, better on-street management does. Multi-level parking structures remain empty while people continue to park on the streets as long as it remains free and unenforced,” said Shreya Gadepalli, ITDP India Programme Lead. Thus, cities must manage and enforce on-street parking effectively before building any off-street parking facilities, public, or private.
In 2009, Janette Sadik-Khan, the then transportation commissioner of New York City, envisioned Times Square to be a car-free zone. That is, the hub would be less of a conduit for vehicles and an urban space where people could freely walk, sightsee, dine, and take in the magnanimity that is New York. Though there were initial reservations, the results were quite remarkable and by 2010 the changes were made permanent. Citylab reported that “business for merchants in the area was booming, and travel times for cars actually went down”.
There are plenty of such examples be it Hong Kong—where demand for commercial establishments rose post pedestrianisation, Copenhagen—a pilot pedestrian project from 1962 has since reclaimed 100,000 sq.m of motorised transit. Here in India, the Mall Road in Shimla, Temple Street in Madurai, and Heritage Street in Amritsar are examples of how reinventing urban design to focus on pedestrianisation does not affect commercial establishment as feared.
People over parking: regulations allows better streets, better cities, better lives
In conclusion, the need of the hour is to regulate parking, not to take it off the table. Policies which focus on parking management not only help in easing congestion, emissions, and travel time, but also are a feasible revenue generation model for a city. A robust management system clearly defines parking zones, pegs user fee to demand, and uses an IT-based mechanism for information, payment, and enforcement—discussed at length in ITDP’s Parking Basics.
The conversation revolving around parking management has been catching up, with ITDP India Programme offering plausible solutions to cities. Leading the conversation is Pune, which is on the verge of implementing a parking management policy—a demand-based parking system that smoothens traffic movement.
Multiple studies allude that personal cars and two-wheelers occupy most of our street space, yet serve less than a fourth of all trips. They also sit idle for 95 per cent of the time—consuming over a third of street space that could be used more effectively as footpaths, cycle tracks, and bus rapid transit (BRT). The discourse over urban mobility shouldn’t revolve around parking, rather the onus must be on transit-oriented development. Wherein, last-mile connectivity and rapid system of transit ensure movement of people and not just vehicles. As cities evolve, there is an urgent need to step away from an oblivious “man proposes and parking disposes” mentality.
More resources from ITDP on parking management and reforms:
“I would like to see Transit-oriented development materialize on the ground”, stated C.P.Singh, the Urban Development Minister of Jharkhand, at the public consultation workshop held in July, for the adoption of the Jharkhand Transit-oriented Development Policy (JTODP). The workshop, organized in Ranchi by the Urban Development and Housing Department (UD&HD), thus backed by political will, was an important step towards realizing Jharkhand’s vision of making its cities safe and sustainable.
The Jharkhand government has set high goals to this end in the proposed State Transit-oriented Development (TOD) Policy. According to this policy, by 2026, public transport, walking and cycling will become the predominant modes of transport for over 80% of the city trips, thereby reducing usage of personal motor vehicles to less than 20%. Quality public transport will be accessible to a majority of the population within a 400m walk. Further, more than 50% of the residents in larger cities will have access to rapid transit at the same walking distance. Reduced trip lengths have also been aimed at. Once adopted, the policy will guide the future growth of all cities in Jharkhand.
The 21st century has seen an increase in Jharkhand’s urban population by 32% from 2001 to 2011, totaling at 7.9 million — 67% of which is constituted by 11 cities with a population of 1 lakh and more. Unplanned rapid urban growth in these cities has translated into low-density urban sprawl, longer commutes, increased dependence on personal motorized vehicles, congestion and pollution. This disastrous outcome is a result of conventional car-centric planning and insufficient development of sustainable modes of transport such as walking, cycling and public transport.
By 2031, the number of city inhabitants in Jharkhand is expected to further double to 13.85 million! With its cities urbanizing at such quick rates, Jharkhand faces the challenge of planning this transition in ways that will ultimately provide a safe, affordable, sustainable and inclusive environment for its citizens. The state is looking to bring about this paradigm change by adopting a TOD-approach.
In contrast to the current method of development, TOD involves actively planning for future mixed use developments — residential, commercial, and other uses — within a compact city form, so that most citizens live, work, and play within walking distance of public transit. Well designed and fully realized TOD areas can play a transformative role in the city’s economic and cultural well-being, creating vibrant and lively places for people of all ages and income groups. Adequate parking fees and overall reduction in parking supply can disincentivize the use of personal motor vehicles.
At the consultation workshop held in Ranchi, Ms. Shreya Gadepalli – Regional Director, South Asia, ITDP – presented the key features of the Jharkhand TOD policy. She reinforced the primary principle that streets are meant for people rather than for cars and stressed the need to adopt a transit-first approach to help achieve social inclusion, safety and resource efficiency. The presentation also sought to bust many parking myths and laid emphasis on managing and pricing on-street parking to restrict private vehicle use. The necessary changes to be made to the bye-laws and institutional framework were then elaborated.
Following the presentation was a dynamic discussion with the stakeholders — including Principal Secretary and Director of UD&HD along with town planners; Municipal Commissioners of Ranchi; Director, State Urban Development Authority; members of CREDAI and Architects Association of Ranchi. The discussion brought out the likely challenges in implementing the JTOD policy and sought solutions for the same, such as selection of transit corridors for TOD-transformation.
The consultation workshop witnessed Vision 2026 being received with promising welcome and endorsed by most stakeholders – along with a much needed political backing. It can be expected to soon transform Jharkhand’s urban spaces into people- and environment-friendly pockets, giving way to safe, sustainable and inclusive cities!
Ranchi, capital of Jharkand- one of India’s youngest states, is taking incredible strides to transform itself into a livable, healthy, and sustainable city in a very short span of time. With focus on improving the quality of life for its citizens, Ranchi is embracing people-centric planning practices including strengthening public transport services, implementing a progressive parking management system and adopting transit-oriented development principles for urban planning. These efforts were reflected in the city’s Smart City Proposal (SCP), which was selected in the fast-tracked second round of India’s Smart City Mission in May 2016.
Originally, Ranchi was not among the first twenty cities to be selected under the Smart City Mission. The proposal, which selected a greenfield development with focus mainly on drinking water, sanitation, sewage and solid waste management, failed to address the challenges of urban mobility posed by Ranchi’s rapidly growing urban population.
Until recently, the city’s transport problems were on the back burner. Although half of all the trips in the city are made on foot or cycle, footpaths and cycling lanes are almost non-existent. In the absence of a formal bus service, high polluting and unsafe informal paratransit caters to two thirds of all the motorised trips. Further, the limited financial capacity of the Ranchi Municipal Corporation (RMC) has been a major hindrance in changing the status quo.
However, in mid 2015, the city began to take its first steps towards a sustainable transport transformation. RMC assumed responsibility of overseeing city bus operations and is working towards expanding and improving the service. The city has also initiated the process to adopt a progressive parking policy to tackle traffic congestion. To test the policy, the city is working towards implementing priced parking on a heavy traffic commercial zone. The parking prices, which are pegged to parking demand, are approximately four times higher than the current rates. Building on these initial steps, Ranchi’s revised SCP, improved with technical inputs from ITDP, embraced multiple sustainable transport initiatives.
Caption:The rendering (above) shows the proposed design of a major intersection, Albert Ekka Chowk (existing photo), on the Main road in Ranchi—with all elements of a complete street.
Over the next five years, Ranchi aims to increase its modal share of public transport to 50% by expanding its bus fleet by more than five times—from existing 65 buses to almost 375 buses. An intelligent traffic management system will help improve efficiency and service of its bus fleet. Further, to provide comfortable access to its public transport and encourage walking and cycling in the city, Ranchi aims to redesign 31.5 km of its streets as ‘Complete Streets’ with wide, safe and continuous footpaths, safe crossing facilities, clearly demarcated parking bays, and uniform carriageways.
The greenfield area based development is proposed to adopt a transit-oriented development (TOD) approach with dense, mixed-use neighbourhoods planned along frequent, fast, and reliable high capacity mass transport lines. The smart city proposal reinforces the city’s intention to curb private vehicle use by managing parking through market-based pricing.
With definite funding from the national and state governments towards these tangible improvements planned in the city, Ranchi is en route to transforming itself into a sustainable and equitable city. ITDP is a proud partner to the city in its mission to embrace this bright future.
Like most Indian cities, Ranchi, the fast-urbanising capital of Jharkhand, is struggling to provide efficient transport solutions to its urban population. Despite a high share of non-motorised transport modes, pedestrian and cycling infrastructure are non-existent. Lack of formal public transport systems mean that much of the population is dependant on shared auto rickshaws for commuting in the city. While these problems affect all sections of society, lack of safe mobility options acutely affect women, often forcing them to rush home before dark, severely affecting their access to education, jobs and opportunities.
A transport assessment led by ITDP last year, threw up some worrying facts. Almost 90 percent of women in Ranchi depend on walking or use semi-formal shared auto rickshaws to go to college or work. Even though almost all women surveyed said they felt unsafe in the share autos, only 1 percent said that they would consider switching to cycling. This is hardly surprising, considering 46 percent of women cyclists mentioned being teased on the roads and 59 percent were afraid of cycling down lonely roads. While this is not just a transportation issue, lack of reliable and affordable public transport, coupled with poor quality of streets and public spaces, only increase their exposure to these dangers.
ITDP presented these findings at a two-day workshop, ‘Building a strategic framework for women’s safety in Jharkhand’, organised in Ranchi on 17th and 18th February. The workshop, hosted by women’s rights organisation Jagori and supported by the Oak Foundation, brought together multiple civil society organisations from various sectors to discuss gender issues in Jharkhand.
The role of better public transport infrastructure in improving women’s safety was also reflected in the findings from women’s safety audits presented by Jagori. The audit, conducted as part of research on Women’s Safety in Public Spaces in Jharkhand, used a mobile app Safetipin to evaluate perception of safety in public spaces in two cities – Jharkhand and Hazaribagh. Using various parameters like lighting, openness, availability of transport and people density, the audit evaluated areas frequented by women and children such as bus stops, parks and marketplaces. Findings from the audit highlighted the need for well-lit streets and well-designed public spaces that provide ‘eyes on the street’. In addition, the audit also recommended the need to increase availability of public transport so as to provide comfortable and reliable services that can be used at all times of the day.
Both these studies indicate that good urban planning practices that provide better public transport facilities, improved street design with better lighting, creation of safe cycling environments can go a long way in furthering women’s access to public space. Improving public transport systems in Ranchi and creating better walking and cycling infrastructure, will not only provide affordable and sustainable transport options for all, but will also play a crucial role in empowering women by improving their access to opportunities.
Women now are claiming their right to urban spaces, to study work and lead a life free from any form of fear and sexual harassment, said Sunitha Dhar from Jagori. A collaborative effort from different organisations and stakeholders would be required to achieve this. “A core team including women’s groups should be set up to lead the process. Tribal dominated areas should also be integrated in the intervention plans,” said Reshma from AALI, a participant at the workshop.