To walkway or not to walkway?

walkway‘I’m on a highway to hell.

I’m on a highway to hell.’

 Australian rock band ACDC’s lyrics truly represent an average Mumbaikar’s state of mind when heading towards the business district of Lower Parel, every morning. Once a hub of cloth and wheat mills, this area is now a living testimony to the traumatic state of affairs. The slow placed metro construction eats into more than half of the roads, the mushrooming of commercial complexes adds to the congestion, and the crumbling flyovers are a perfect example of the ephemeral nature of life. This and so much more turn the commute to Lower Parel, one of the most economically important districts of Mumbai, into a highway to hell. 

Let’s understand that Lower Parel is being used as a mere example. There is a large number of areas across the country that mirror a similar situation. In fact, this mindless excess of concrete and construction is not just a threat to the environment but also to the economy. Research proves that top corporate managers are making crucial career choices and skipping important career opportunities in light of this travelling inconvenience.

Moving forward to potential solution, removal of cars is the first-cut idea that comes to mind. Be it Mumbai, Pune, Delhi or Bangalore – many successful or unsuccessful steps have been taken, each revolving around minimizing cars or vehicles. From the odd-even attempt in Delhi to the up and coming car-pooling culture in other cities – nothing has solved the problem. Perhaps it’s time for some kind of disruptive thinking.

Rather than removal of cars, how about addition of something? Maybe all we need is a little help from above. Walkways, to be precise. At least in the central business district of Lower Parel.

Having walkways in congested districts could lead to a bunch of changes:

  1. Those living at shorter distances from their work places can walk to the destination. Rather than 45 minutes in the car, they could make it in 20 minutes on foot.
  2. This will lead to reduction of traffic and hence shorter travel time for those who come from further distances.
  3. Both scenarios would lead to reduction of pollution and a painless daily commute.

While in a utopian scenario, the building of walkways to solve this issue would sound like quite a plan, but not when you are dealing with a complex animal like India. Here are a few cultural, social and logistical issues plaguing the concept of walkways in our country. Perhaps knowing and identifying the problems is the first and the foremost step towards finding a solution.

1.Walkways are hardly secure:Most people are scared of taking the walkway. Period. Unlike local trains where security officers accompany the passengers offering a feeling of a safety, walkways come with no such advantage. No police officers, no gatekeepers, no watchmen, and no security. Most of the Indian walkways are either not well-lit or there is often damage of public property light tube lights. Also, since walkways are free for all, these areas are also home to encroachers, drug addicts and other anti-social elements. The absence of such provisions added to the escalating crime rate in the country, the question is – who would want to walk down this isle of danger?

2. Walkways are aesthetically deprived:India may be home to hundreds of art forms, from Madhubani of Bihar to Village art of Maharashtra – but when it comes to our walkways, there is no sign of India’s artistic heritage. The advantages of art in walkways are numerous – from employment to artisans to public pride – but no one seemed to have thought of utilizing the walkways for this purpose. Benches at regular intervals displaying art from across the country would be such a good marriage of comfort and craft, but the walkways so far remain ignored on this front.

3.Walkways are a breeding ground for filth: Who wants to start or end their day with filth, stench and the threat of bacteria and viruses. The grim fact being that most walkways are filthy and almost appear to be like an assault to the senses.  A large percentage of them don’t bother with a trashcan, and even if there are dustbins, most of them are overflowing and unclean, attracting flies and disease. It’s not really a great option to cover your nose, mouth and eyes – all of them at the same time – and hence avoiding a walkway and using a vehicle becomes the only option in most of the cases.

Having put a certain structure to the problem plaguing walkways, we’d like to also bring your attention to the solutions hiding within those problems. The only thing that will bridge, oh we mean, walkway the gap between the problem and the solution is –

Quick action!

Are you willing to walk a little bit, so that the earth can walk a long way?

dec 1There is a charming little cantonment town in Uttarakhand called Landour. For those interested in delicious anecdotes and sublime writing would also know that its home to author Ruskin bond. Besides being picturesque and literary in its own way, Landour is also a place where people experience walking not just a ‘daily mundane act’ but as a ‘act of pleasure’. Majestic deodars behind metal railings on spotless Landour streets stand out for something very unique – they carry quotations on topic ranging from walking to contemplation, from self-reflection to human-connection. It’s a little bit like being in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden world. When walking from Char Dukan on a long stretch of road, one can’t help but catch a few breaths and savour the words of Tolkien, Keats, Frost. The everyday task of strolling literally feels like an artistic vocation in Landour.

But the reality of walking in a big city is quite the opposite. There are factors that surface as hurdles and curtail any desire whatsoever to walk, short distances or not. Let’s have a cursory look.

The Drudgery of Traffic:You make a reservation at a wonderful new Spanish restaurant, one that is twenty minutes away from your home. You yoga, you shower and you dress up for the evening. And then you decide to walk all the way to your Paella. Very New York City. But hey! It’s Friday night and there is a Kumbh Mela of cars on the road, zipping past, taking U-turns, blocking the road, and overtaking zebra crossings. What happens next? Well your twenty minutes walk turns into forty as you manoeuvre the traffic and by the time your reach the restaurant, you actually lose the table you had reserved.

The Safety Concern: Your grandparents are visiting from a small town. They’re not exactly into couch warming over Netflix so you decide to send them for walk to the park. But guess what? You choose a pretty park that is located at the end of a very crowed market. The oldies leave happily but come back looking devastated. Potential scenarios: their pocket got picked, the aggressive crowd pushed them around, the road divider was overflowing with people, and the pavement chipped when they tried that option. They made it to the park on foot but swore never to go again.

The Pollution & Garbage Epidemic: You walk for five days at a row, through a busy market and high traffic area and for the next twenty-five days – you end up coughing and developing breathing issues. You begin to use an inhaler although asthma was never an illness on your health-form. In the city, the price for walking is equivalent to the doctor’s fee. The absence of trees and plants and the presence of pollution and viruses on the road is reason enough for you to not take a hike.

In the end, let’s just admit that it’s a sorry state of affairs. Long distance or short –  active and consistent walking almost seems like a threat to life and hence one has no option but to reach out for the car, and not happily so, contribute to the already existing  environmental issues. But all is not lost if one is willing to make a change and not focus much on the enormity of the change.

Here’s are a few everyday, small changes you can make:

(a) Start small. Walk short distances.  Be reasonable with your choices. Be aware of the shortcomings of your city.

(b) Don’t walk to meetings that start on specific timings. Don’t do a pilgrimage to the new restaurant on a Friday night.

(c) Walk when time is not a constraint. Walk on leisurely days. Walk to the salon, and to the vegetable market, and to the dry-cleaner. Walk to all places in the neighbourhood over the weekend.

(d) Take a 21-day project to make sure you walk to one place, every single day. Let this routine rewire your brain. Let your brain crave the little.

(e) Increase the distance slowly. Start with ten minutes to the shortest distance from home to the bakery, take it slowly to 20 minutes and make it to a friend’s place on foot gradually.

(f) Walk alone for contemplation. Walk with family for connection.

(g) Plant a tree on the sidewalk once a month. Pick the trash once a day.

(h) Be the change you want to see.

Even if you ditch you car for one hour on each Sunday in the entire year, and choose to walk instead – you will end up saving the planet from 52 hours of pollution.

How about hiding the car keys this weekend?

Would you like to share a ride, and in doing so, the burden of the planet?

oct shared mobilty‘I need my space’ is perhaps the newest slogan of urban India. In the past decade or so, the metros have seen an increased growth in nuclear families, the joint family system is a thing of the past, there are fewer meaningful social interactions – many of these changes can be are attributed to the growing need for personal space. Ironically enough, India may be the most depressed country in the world fighting a micro and a macro identity crisis, looking for someone to talk to – yet it is also turning (in urban cities) into a society that is building taller walls than ever.

Let alone share their homes with their families; people do not even want to share a car ride with someone.  So the big question now is – isn’t this deeply personal choice also negatively impacting the larger picture and harming the planet?  

When we asked people why they don’t use the option of car-pooling or car renting, the answers totally added up to the personal space theory.

The top five responses we received were:

“ No way! I don’t know who I will be sharing the cab with?

“How do I know it’s safe?”

“I do my work calls and private calls when I am commuting.”

 “I don’t like waiting for anyone or having anyone wait.”

 “It’s too much effort to make small talk.”

Urban India must understand that a little bit of adjusting by using innovative public transportation solutions and mobility as a service can go a long way. As more and more private cars go off the road and cars and shuttle services take their place – people will also benefit from a better lifestyle.

The interesting part is that most Indians are not even aware of the existing options and the choices that will soon be available. Mobility services, such as car sharing, rentals and carpooling, are showing great promise. One way of reducing this mental block is to list down the options and enlighten the population. Just the way India has opened up to being connected to their family, friends, friends of friends and even strangers via the internet and social media – which in itself is a shared space, and also share a public wi-fi. We hope that soon new India will be open to using vehicles on the road too, as a connected device, turning it into a collaborative trend.

Here are a few ways of using transport judiciously and innovatively and also contributing to the environment:

One way flexible car sharing:You could rent a car of your choice for a specific number of kilometres or a specific period of time? For instance, chores in the market – 2km. Quick blind date – 1 hour.

One way fixed car sharing:You could use the option of renting a car one way whenever you wish, to be dropped off to a specific place. For instance, you could get dropped off to your co-working space, one way, and come back everyday with the colleague who lives in your neighbourhood.

Round trip car sharing: You could exercise the option of renting the car for a round trip. To and from work. Or even, to and fro from a swimming class.

Peer to peer car sharing:You could call up the new neighbour and share the car with them. And also enjoy the benefit of deciding the fee. Sometimes, in cash. And sometimes, as a lovely meal at their home or your house.

Ready to take your pick, already? 

Are you willing to alter your commuting habits for a better planet?

oct commuting habitsCharles Duhigg’s ‘The Power of Habit’is an eye-opening read. It heightens the awareness about our personal good or bad habits, and also highlights how brands use the power of habit to sell their products and build empires.

However, the fact remains that habits not just influence individuals and organisations, but also impact the society. Take for example, the habit of commuting in a certain way.

After months of research, we identified three types of commuters and their commuting habits. Read closely and you might find yourself in one of the archetypes.

Mr. Mohan Dwivedi | Retired government officer

Dwivedi Sa’ab, as his current neighbours and former colleagues address him, is a retired government officer residing in Dadar. His usual day begins with a morning walk at 5. Dwivedi Sa’ab, in this slow-mophase of his life, has all the time in the world. As a result, despite having a car at home, he likes to walk to the market and to the park and to the dispensary and to the post office. He doesn’t have much of a social life, however, he visits his daughter over weekends and on occasions like Diwali, Holi, Dussera. On those days too, he ditches the car, walks to the bus stop and likes to take a bus. It’s been a habit of many years; in fact he used to go to office in a double-decker bus too. This mode of travelling often delays him and always makes him the butt of jokes and slight irritation. His daughter snaps, “Papa, why wouldn’t you ask me for my driver, he could drive you here. The car is just sitting pretty enjoying floral showers in different seasons. Plus, you are so old, we also worry when you take the public transport.”Dwivedi Sa’ab always has the same refrain. He says, “Beta, it’s too late to change his habit.” Deep down he knows he can’t cope up either – be it commuting apps or the sedentary lifestyle. Sometimes, he also jokes about the buses being empty and that he feels like a king being driven around in a  30 Lacks bus, with only a few passengers for company.

This ‘bus’ habit saves him the trouble of using the apps and also keeps him active. Dwivedi Sa’ab’s personal habit is not just good for his health, but is great for the health of the environment too.

Alisha Deb | Student & Dancer

Alisha is pursuing her Bachelor’s in Business Management, and is a dancer by passion. Her usual week is something like this – five days in college and dance class, thrice a week. A resident of Versova, her college is in Vile Parle and dance class in Khar. Alisha is also a product of a more environmentally aware generation plus too young to have a steady, fat paycheck. Hence, she rides a bicycle from home to college, college to dance class, dance class to home. She began this form of commute right after school. Being part of cyclists’ group in the neighbourhood has exposed her to the joys and benefits of cycling. Now, cycling to nearby places has become a habit.

Alisha also wears a helmet and who knows, she may even cycle to work in a few years. This form of commute keeps two things fit – her pocket and the planet.  The  toxic fumes in the environment sometimes leads Alisha to cough – to combat that, she been planning to buy a pollution mask. Other than that, the eternal optimist has she has no complain being on the road on a cycle – she has, in fact, mastered the art of staying safe in the city’s zig-zag traffic.

Rohan Shastri | Mid-level corporate

Rohan works as an Accounts Management person in an ad-agency. In his mid-thirties, as a middle level manager. He drives to work everyday, he drives to parties every Friday, and he drives to meetings every alternate day. His office is in Goregaon and most of his clients are in Worli. Although, trains are a faster way to get to his destination, but just like the thought of going to the gym never crosses his mind – likewise, the thought of taking the train never occurs to him. Rohan earns enough and can even claim petrol, and so, he doesn’t even think twice before hopping on to his car. His work is so taxing that ceases to push himself even on weekends. Whether it’s to the farmers market or to the salon, Rohan prefers to zoom everywhere in his car.

Rohan has arrived in life and he has made it a habit to arrive everywhere in his car – and by the way, he doesn’t arrive alone. He arrives with pollution, with reduced carbon foot-print, and with blinders.

As you would have guessed by now, it’s pretty clear that economic ladder, convenience, flexibility, peer-pressure define which form of public transportation people use. And the so-called arrived in lifeare the ones who don’t even consider buses, trains and taxis, and as a result, pollute the environment.

As we wind up this piece, the question we leave you with is – does ‘making-it’ in life give anyone a license to ‘break-it’ when it comes to the environment?

Until next time! 


Are you ready to ghost our cars and swipe our environment right?

Are you ready to ghost our cars and swipe our environment right?

A popular automobile brand used a thought-provoking baseline a couple of years ago. It went forth and stirred the consumer by asking – when was the last time you did something for the very first time?

The objective of the campaign was to urge the caught-up-in-the-rigmarole consumers to ‘reclaim their lives’. This idea helped change the narrative around living a meaningful existence and created a sense of independence.

Many years have passed since, it’s 2018 and a good time to ask yet another important question –

If you are a young, working professional – then,

when was the last time you ditched your car to hop into the local train or a bus?

The question in this case may not provoke much emotion, but what it certainly does is open up a conversation about environmental awareness and mindful consumption of resources. A conversation that can offer an understanding about the use of public transportation.

While on the topic of mindful use of means, we found inspiration in Japanese author Genki Kawamura’s ‘If Cats disappeared from the World’. It’s a wonderful account of how the protagonist begins to erase things from the world in exchange for a prolonged life. The book is poignant, at the same time raises a few interesting questions. When you read the book, it is hard to not think of the objects one could remove in order to give more meaning and quality to modern life or just learn from our own roots and go back to humble ways.

This very thought led to a group discussion where people contemplated the following hypothetical question –

What would happen if cars were removed from the world?

We found two polarised views and chronicled this debate for this blog. The debate may have been heated but the conversation around it turned out to be valuable.

Here are the excerpts:

For:Disappearance of cars? Great idea! Mumbai has about two million cars – getting to work will be a cakewalk once they are removed. Besides, less pollution, less congestion, better environment, reduced carbon-footprint. The list of benefits is endless; even the 2 million 2-wheelers should disappear!

Against:It’s not that simplistic and utopian. The disappearance of personal cars and two-wheelers means two issues if not more: (a) increased demand for taxis and autos, (b) far more crowded trains and buses. Currently there are only 4500 BEST buses, 150,000 3-wheelers and around 60,000 taxi-cabs. There may be an equal number of App-based fleet cabs. How do you expect these to accommodate the surplus crowd? Not many people know – but the local trains are carrying 5 million passengers already. Daily.

For:Some radical steps can be taken to fix that problem. It’s the internet-age, we are connected 24×7 through our laptops and phones, why do we need to travel back and forth to our offices every single day? Why can’t we have a better system of 3 days a week or flexi-timings? Working through video calling and other digital platforms is also digital India. If all working professionals begin to work in this truly revolutionary manner – public transport will not be as crowded.

Against:Okay, what about fares? Metro and first class compartment fares are already on an uphill climb for some. If cars disappear, wouldn’t it be an affordability issue as well? Wouldn’t the fares hike further? The costs associated with this option are ever-increasing. This sector would always be exposed to the challenges of viability gap funding to cover the fixed or the build-out costs.

For:It’s worth considering what component of the fares is fixed and what’s variable? If we agree that the roads are built by taxpayers’ money, if the health, education and other public services are supposed to be built using tax-base (which is increasing in India), why should one load the fixed costs on to the fares? Cant we innovate in the application of public finances ? Also, imagine going from Colaba to the suburbs in less than 30 minutes! Forget about metro – why not take the good old bus?

Against:Bus? Come on, who wants to spend over an hour and a half in Mumbai’s traffic, going from suburbs to the business districts?

In the end, the debate about the hypothetical disappearance of cars brought forth some important questions to ponder over:

  1. Could Bus Rapid Transit networks, BRTs, be a solution even in the island city?
  2. Are the Eastern and Western Express Highways fertile areas for conversation? Is it possible to build dedicated tracks for BEST and other private contractor managed buses?
  3. Or can better inter modal mobility systems be promoted? How about people moving from home to work in an all electric mode or  hybrid electric buses?

What’s your take?