Faizal Khan on behalf of Clean Air Asia speaks to Prof Geetam Tiwari at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi where Prof Tiwari teaches transport planning and is the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) chair. Her research interests in transportation issues are of special relevance to low income countries. These include planning and designing road based public transport systems, safe pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and analysis of heterogeneous traffic movement.
1. Is there enough academic and institutional research, not funded/supported by the state and central governments, for solutions to the traffic woes inflicting India?
If the question is whether it is enough, the answer is No. Very few academics are working in this area. There is a lot of emphasis on trying to find solutions for vehicle congestion.
However, the change has started happening in a small way.
2. As someone who spearheaded a bicycle master plan for Delhi, what to do you think is the relevance of non-motorised traffic in the area of research for design solutions in the country?
The potential is huge. The more number of people who work in this area, the more solutions we will have. That will become easy for the government to implement. The potential is huge, so is the relevance.
The concerns in the 21st century are different from those in the 20th century. We now know the climate change problem. Therefore, we have to look at an alternate paradigm now because our constraints are different now.
3. What long term and short term steps will India have to take to bring back the focus on non-motorised transport (walking, cycling, rickshaws, etc) and also shift the rising motorized mode share towards NMT?
We already have a large share of NMT. Our challenge is to retain that share because the trend is towards people leaving this mode. In the short term, the concerns would be to address the safety requirement in NMT. In the long term, it would be from the academic level, teaching different paradigms to our students, training engineers to become sensitive to the needs of NMT and coming out with guidelines and design manuals to help practitioners. Importantly, at the policy level, the growth and development has to be associated with how or what you do well for the pedestrians and bicyclists. The media also have a huge role to play here.
4. How do you see the transformation of academic institutions into centres of excellence of urban transport? Do you see any general improvement in the way the civil engineering, planning and architecture students are exposed to NMT?
The transformation is happening. It will be expedited if there is close interaction between the civic bodies and the academics.
5. Do you think the National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) has been a success or a failure? What is being done for improving NMT under NUTP?
The NUTP has a progressive statement that says we should design our cities for the people not vehicles. But surveys show that 50% of the funds for transport projects under the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Rural Mission has gone into building car-friendly infrastructure instead of NMT and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure. We know the weaknesses now and we have to work better in the implementation and monitoring of the policy, which is a good step.
6. How has the training of officials shaping up and what has been the impacts?
The Urban Development Ministry has initiated workshops. It is too little right now. If you want to bring about a change, you have to do much more.