February 01, 2003

World Bank to Sign Major Urban Transport Loan for Bombay

The loan is an important first step after years of misdirected municipal government investments. Prior to this project, Mumbai’s major development was an elevated highway bisecting the city on which public transit vehicles and pedestrians and cyclists were banned.

While NGOs in Mumbai have mixed feelings about the loan package, there is agreement on several areas of concern. While the loan purportedly helps pedestrians, in fact it finances 30 poorly designed pedestrian underpasses along two major arterials primarily aimed at getting pedestrians out of the way of motorists.

Meanwhile, the loan does next to nothing for pressing pedestrian infrastructure needs in other parts of the city. The NGOs feel the loan should be used to convince the MMDA to develop an overall pedestrian master plan, and pilot pedestrian safety projects.

A large share of the loan funds will support widening of two East-West arterials, and some flyovers that separate road traffic from rail traffic. While ITDP’s local partners feel that these links are necessary, there has been no effort to integrate pedestrian trips into these plans. While the World Bank claims including sidewalks on the new roads is a condition of the loan, photos show the new facilities contain no sidewalks.

The loan also includes significant funds for an area traffic control system (ATS) for the downtown section of Bombay. The system is likely to increase road travel speeds for motorists at the expense of pedestrian safety. A more effective strategy would combine downtown traffic calming with the creation of safe pedestrian corridors.

Commendably, the project will increase by 40 the number of trains on the commuter rail system and shorten lead times, allowing 15 rather than 13 trains to run on each line. Currently, Bombay’s commuter rail line is one of the most overcrowded in the world, with more than 5,400 people crammed into train cars designed to hold only 1,700 people.

Funds are also included to improve several train stations. NGOs generally support these measures but feel they are too little, too late.

NGOs also feel the loan is a missed opportunity to implement some changes that would make an important difference, like pilot busways on some of the main arterials, or pilot traffic demand management measures, or model pedestrian zones or traffic calming facilities.

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