March 27, 2012

“Flyovers ruin planning” 

Proper paid-parking facilities, government policies that impose punitive taxes on cars, infrastructure that is not disconnected from the streets and life, bicycle tracks, pedestrian safety and a good transit system… the list is endless.

But if there is one thing that is most crucial to urban planning, it is the right use of land because everything else can be rectified later, said American entrepreneur Mark Gorton, on Tuesday.

Based in New York, Mr. Gorton is also an anti-automobile crusader and an advocate for liveable streets and alternative transportation. He was in the city to spread the message of the various problems an automobile-based transport system presents to the world.

He also highlighted how modern technology, including crowd sourcing, GPS tracking and alerts and a variety of open source applications can help citizens participate in urban planning. Flyovers are a terrible idea, he opined, because they would only encourage more people to travel by car. “People of New York have realised their mistake now. Many flyovers are being pulled down because they ruin the planning of a city,” Mr. Gorton said.

 Mark Gorton

Gorton's involvement with urban issues began in 1999, when he founded OpenPlans, a non-profit organisation devoted to the pursuit of smart planning and civic engagement through digital tools. Since then, he has helped launch the New York City Streets Renaissance Campaign, which advocates a dynamic use of public space. Under the programme, the city of New York became open to street closures that had no traffic, with emphasis on promoting cyclists and pedestrian safety. “Space from parking lots was given back to people to reclaim their streets. Generations of Americans have grown up thinking cars are very important. This was just to give them an experience of how life is possible without cars,” Mr. Gorton said.

“But there needs to be civic and political will to make such changes. It is about getting people open to policy change and to think that there can be better ways to do things. It is easier to start organising ourselves from neighbourhoods first,” he said.

Mr.Gorton believes in a government policy which works towards automobile suppression, including punitive taxes on cars. He also added that traffic undermines the liveability of the city. Many countries have realised this, and limit driving by putting in place stringent parking norms, he said. “Copenhagen reduces its parking space by 2 -3 per cent every year, while in Tokyo you first need proof of parking space before you can buy a car,” he added.

Similarly, Singapore has a limited number of slots for automobile licences which are auctioned every year and in Denmark, the sales tax on cars is 270 per cent, he said.

“By adopting the automobile as a transportation model, Chennai is trying to do the physically impossible,” Mr. Gorton said, citing how Asian cities such as Bangkok with just 14 and Beijing with just one car per 1,000 people in 1963 now have over 300 cars. “India has the historical advantage of being able to see the damage that automobiles have done to cities in Europe, America and China. It can decide not to commit the same mistake, and choose a world for people over a world for cars,” he added.

The lecture was organised by Transparent Chennai, an NGO that seeks to empower citizens by mapping civic problems.


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