Most of you will be familiar with the award-winning television show The Sopranos, with its iconic image of mob boss Tony Soprano driving from the Big Apple to the refuge of his family home in North Caldwell, New Jersey. There he is in his 1959 Chevvy cutting through New Jersey's ugly coastal cities using America's famed elevated highways on his way back to the tranquil suburbs. As a commuting Mafiosi, his journey was the carbon copy of more law abiding citizens who had bought into the dream of the safe suburban home, complete with white picket fence.
To facilitate their commute, elevated highways were erected allowing commuters to fly over the congested cities from the haven of suburbia to the CBD. That was then, but now most American planners are reversing this practice, viewing the elevated highway as a costly blunder. Verily was it said that the road to hell was paved with good intentions…Back in the 1920s, New York's West Side Elevated Highway reigned supreme pre-dating the boom in 1956 when Eisenhower's Federal Highway Bill lead to 40,000 miles of modern roads, connecting America from coast to coast. Incredibly, this had nothing to do with efficient commuting but was primarily built for national defence purposes: to play catch up with Germany's autobahn.
Which brings me to my point: why in the name of all that's foolish has 11,000 cr been earmarked for an elevated corridor project in the budget for Namma Bengaluru? Are we going to war with Sri Lanka or the Maldives? This poorly-conceived, ugly, inefficient monstrosity will displace existing communities, destroy the quality of life of urban residents, require the felling of 12,000 trees, endanger some 800 acres of valuable urban public space on which Bengalureans could live, work and meet: all of this would be sacrificed on this moronic folly hollowing out our city core.
Le Corbusier, who conceptualised Chandigarh, had a grand vision for streamlining cities and highways. It called for a Tughlaq style approach: demolishing older sections and replacing them with high-rise towers, with residential and commercial areas strictly zoned. Brilliant in theory, but, as we have learnt to our cost: disastrous in practice. You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs; which is fine if you're the chef and not the egg or the local who is relocated to facilitate development. Those who bravely stay face the unattractive prospect of dealing with the noise and pollution of the elevated highway. Let's face it: the automobile is not going to help cities compete with suburbs; besides our roads just can't handle the level of traffic that rampages through them without severely harming the quality of life.
Another point to consider is that we don't just have the worst track record of public infrastructure, we also number among our population a disproportionate number of the world's worst drivers. Think about the mayhem that would result with bad drivers on poorly constructed flyovers and the bottlenecks at the entry and exit points. Back in 1960, a city planner named Moses dreamed of modernising what he saw as a cluttered, messy New York City with a series of superhighways, both below and above ground. He got his comeuppance from architectural journalist Jane Jacobs, who held rallies with the affected residents of Little Italy an SoHo to oppose the plan. Commonsense, Jacobs and the residents prevailed, and Moses' commandments and the expressway were rapidly shelved. Local joke: Jacobs KO's Moses.
In his first stint, this CM was instrumental in starting Namma Metro; it would be a terrible waste if the 14,000 cr already spent on this project were allowed to go to waste. Increasing the frequency of trains and improving last-mile connectivity, while de-stigmatising public transport, implementing punitive taxation of cars and congestion tax are some of the ways in which we can solve or at least mitigate our congestion problems. But all of this takes political will which our CM has amply demonstrated when he hiked taxes on diesel and petrol. Now he needs to double down, as they say in Vegas, and show that he is a man of steel. Not a promoter of steel flyovers....