Odd and Even: Then and Now
Viewpoint: When it comes to public spaces and the rights of citizens, Delhi could take a lesson from Paris
Rajendra Ravi Delhi
About a year ago, in 2015, the Eiffel Tower of Paris had almost become invisible thanks to the growing air pollution that had almost wiped out transparency of air. It was not easy to see or even to point it out from a distance. For the Parisians this was an ominous sight to see. Earlier, there had been similar other sights (or rather non-sights) in Beijing, Delhi and other cities. However, the French had never been so unlucky even in their nightmares of such an accident in their own city. The evil effect had especially percolated to the urban area abutting Paris. The Environment and Health Minister of France thereby cautioned old women/men, expectant mothers, people suffering from breathing troubles and children to guard against this effect of air- pollution . The government insisted on people to prefer sharing bicycles, and opt for electric cars and public transport. The Odd-Even system was extended over the entire city.
This was the third time the Parisians faced such a nightmare. Previously, such a situation had arisen in 1997 and again in 2014. Since then the City Corporation, as an emergency measure, had been insisting upon the odd-even scheme, observance of car-free days and preference for public transport. Despite this, hardly any long-lasting effect was seen on air pollution, traffic jams and road accidents. When the situation repeated itself in the city, Anny Hindalgo, the Mayor of Paris, decided to implement the age-old exercise as an emergency measure; it was publicly opposed by Segolene Royale, the Ecology Minister. She said that there cannot be any escape from problems of transport, air pollution, road-jams and other problems without a detailed plan.
The political struggle and public pressure forced the Mayor of Paris to introduce new and abiding development schemes and also provided fresh opportunities. She immediately started footpath work on the disappeared ‘Paris Squares’ under the ‘Reclaim Public Space’ and ‘Pedestrian Paris Scheme’ for democratic rights on streets
Actually, however, Hindalgo has failed to initiate any ‘real transport policy’ and has only kept repeating the old hackneyed programme over and over again. It is interesting to note that both Hindalgo and Royale -- both are members of the Socialist Party and are arraigned against each other on this point. The Mayor of Paris alleged that the Ecology Minister was giving the situation a political twist whereas the latter alleges that the mayor was only trying to cover up her failure.
Despite the disputes between these two, the public pressure went up so much that the two had to willy-nilly come together. While today Paris is vigorously active in extricating itself from this immediate problem, it has also stated active action on plans having a long-term effect.
Paris is also known as ‘The City of Lights’. It can be seen in the city architecture especially in the heart of the city. For allowing the natural light to seep in unhindered there is a ban on multi-storeyed buildings. However, the Eiffel Tower is an exception. The open public spaces in the city are a constant reminder of the openness of the city and which are remembered as ‘Paris Squares’. The green grass, the open air and light is easily accessible to every citizen. With the passage of time, motor vehicles went on occupying public places and ‘open public spaces’ went on shrinking.
This political struggle and public pressure forced the Mayor of Paris to introduce new and abiding development schemes and also provided fresh opportunities. She immediately started footpath work on the disappeared ‘Paris Squares’ under the ‘Reclaim Public Space’ and ‘Pedestrian Paris Scheme’ for democratic rights on streets. For further development of Paris Squares for public purposes, she made a provision of $34million and also initiated the work immediately. All the seven squares would be developed for walking on foot and for riding bikes and other facilities for leisurely talk would also be there. Their design would be such as to prohibit motor cars. It has been said in the context of the ‘Pedestrian Paris Scheme’ that this is the time to re-think about the entry of cars in cities and their use and inclusion of quality life to citizens and restoration of their rights on public places. The main support of the new political programmer work is urban mobility and public places. It would bring about 180 degree change in Paris and indeed city life would become more alive and kicking.
The Department of Road and Mobility has been on a continuous campaign for new changes in Paris in public places. The roads on 185 hectares land within the city have been left for cyclists and walkers on foot. Parking of cars would not be allowed there. Redesigning of public places has been going on briskly. As a consequence, automobile traffic has fallen by 25 per cent and ownership of cars has also come down by 37 per cent. The speed of vehicles within the city has been reduced to 20 mph. This scheme is the outcome of the new look of the local bodies; under it the monopoly of motor cars over modern roads has been ended. In its place the daily practice of equal rights for all has been adopted.
While driving on these roads you have a special experience. The administration, through surveys, has been gathering statistics so that there would be continuous improvement and changes could be effected and it would also help in further extending the plan and also get help in extending this scheme. Consequent upon these fundamental improvements, there has been increase in the use of public transport. On account of reduction in the distance and troubles in travel from start to finish, recourse to public transport has become easier. This is the reason why Paris is fast becoming a forward-looking guide for other cities.
The Odd-Even Scheme was implemented in Delhi for the second time. This time the Delhi government gave this slogan: ‘Delhi speaks from the heart – Once again Odd-Even’. When this was operative for the first time the people had gladly accepted it and worked vigorously for its implementation. However, this time is has to face challenges from every corner. One reason for this is that emergency measures cannot be implemented again and again or else its importance and the edge of its discipline get blunted. The message the present government so far does not support that the car and the motor is a problem and they desire to liberate the city-dwellers from it. The spokesmen of this government and their entire leadership appear to stand together for the benefit of motor vehicles. During their entire election propaganda they conducted a struggle against BRT and when the government came to power decided to dismantle it and even celebrated the event. There has been a relief under the Odd-Even scheme under different categories and their number is also quite impressive. None of the political leadership of the government presents itself as an ideal but rather appears to be immersed in efforts to show that all such ‘reliefs’ are correct and are engaged more in showing that they are better vis-à-vis others.
Redesigning of public places has been going on briskly. As a consequence, automobile traffic has fallen by 25 per cent and ownership of cars has also come down by 37 per cent. The speed of vehicles within the city has been reduced to 20 kmph
From the decision and action taken by the Delhi government from time to time, at least in the transport section, there is no such measure which can provide a real reassurance about the future. As against the decisions taken by the government so far, nothing concrete seems to have been done whereas some of its steps are in the interests of car and motor vehicles. The latest example is that there is a plan to have separate lanes for pedestrians, cyclists and rickshawallas. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has inaugurated flyover routes a number of times, but, till today, there is no sign of an alternative model for pedestrians, cyclists and rickshawallas and nobody seems to be interested in pursuing the matter.
Another story is about the two BRT corridors under construction by the Delhi government. The Government had announced that it would be double-storyed of which one would be for cars and the second for rest of the vehicles. The BRT buses will also operate on one floor. Obviously, the dream cannot be realised in the absence of facilities to reach the buses at that level. How can passengers, lacking facilities for reaching buses at the road bus stops, hope to reach the bus stop on the flyovers? Is it indeed a plan for the ordinary people of Delhi or is only for some chosen people?
They have enjoyed car free days, but even that could not reach beyond few hours. The purchase of buses, CCTV cameras in them, bicycle on rent, sharing of cycles, construction of new bus depots -- all these are essential but more urgent is to put a check on the ascending graph of vehicles so that roads could be built for pedestrians, cyclists and rickshawalas to operate and to restore their rights over them. The designing of the roads should look towards the social needs of the collective, and not just needs of a few people. Indeed, there seems to be no vision on the ground.