What is the connection between a city’s urban railways, bus networks, footpaths and the local economy? The average vendor on the street would recognise the link readily, while those who are used to the cool comfort of their cars may not.
Urban planners are generally well aware of the importance of walkable streets and public transport for the local economy. Take for instance, the recent satisfied observation made by London’s Mayor, Ken Livingstone, that the holding of the Tour De France start in the British capital gave a big boost to the city’s finances — according to Transport for London (TfL), by as much as 120 million pounds. So heartening is the experience that London wants to do this sort of thing again before the 2012 Olympics. New York is another city that is moving towards a more people-oriented vision that will put pedestrian and public transport interests ahead of those of others when it comes to access.
When an event such as this is held in a big city, tens of thousands of people turn up. It is impossible for them all to arrive in their own vehicles and neither is it desirable. Thus, the train and bus networks play an important role. Many stores and other services that depend on the patronage of pedestrians will find ready customers in such events.
On the other hand, when you put in a bridge or tunnel for cars, that area is bypassed by the consumer. That may well be the effect when the overpasses in T.Nagar’s Panagal Park area, Mahalingapuram and G.N.Chetty Road are completed. One of the factors that leads to this effect is the low priority accorded to the “shadow” regions beneath bridges: consider the experience with Kodambakkam Arcot Road bridge. Do you know of any business establishment operating in its shadow?
This important message is increasingly lost in the din of motorisation despite the many examples available in Chennai. Take the Chepauk stadium and the big cricket matches held there. At each such event, the elevated MRTS in its earlier avatar upto Tirumailai (Mylapore) operate to full capacity. The local economy of Triplicane with many migrant vendors, would be abuzz. It is a sad truth, of course, that the Chennai Corporation never felt compelled to do its part to make the streets leading to the venue more walkable.
The point that I would like emphasise here is the importance of holding public events that are aligned to the benefits conferred by rail lines, including the new Beach to Velachery MRTS. The Southern Railway could create or upgrade and hire out its infrastructure in the MRTS stations for appropriate social events, which would attract sizeable numbers of people. It also needs to work on the question of upgrading its colonial era stations on the other suburban lines to modernise them for the 21st century.
There is a demand for small halls to hold meetings in Chennai. If these halls are found in or around railway stations the familiar parking difficulties stand eliminated at one stroke. If some of the MRTS stations could provide such halls (insulated against the rumbling trains, of course), the problem of finding space would be overcome. Most of those attending would travel by train, and reduce traffic on roads in the bargain.