Recently, my Gandhi Nagar area WhatsApp group was abuzz with messages. The topic of discussion was the recently-announced Mega Streets Project.
The Mega Streets Project is an effort to transform arterial and sub-arterial streets to “ensure greater mobility, livability and utility.” These aims are set to be achieved through widening of footpaths, cycle-sharing systems, improving last-mile connectivity.
Six streets have been chosen for the project, based on factors such as high intensity of visitors, potential for transformation and streets along transport corridors.
The news that our street had been one of the chosen ones was not universally well-received. Some residents were sceptical of the project and its stated benefits. They were openly derisive of the need for such a project and its ability to deliver any impact.
I was cautiously optimistic about the project and attempted to counter their arguments, particularly because I was excited for better facilities for pedestrians, on par with what I had seen in other parts of the city such as Harrington Road in Chetpet and 2nd Avenue in Besant Nagar.
Which are the streets, really?
However, the more I went through the publicly available information on the project, the less convinced I became. Firstly, different newspapers seemed to be saying slightly different things. An article in The Times of India on 24th August said that in Adyar, “the consultants … have selected a loop connecting two MRTS stations along the West Canal Bank Road and Canal Bank Road.”
But a piece in the Hindu on 19th August stated that the Adyar project will run along Ramachandra Aadhithanar Road, which runs perpendicular to Canal Bank Road and meets it at Cancer Institute. Citizen Matters reported on 21st September that the project would run along “Taluk Office Road, West Canal Bank Road, and Canal Bank Road”.
Try as I could, I am not aware of a Taluk Office Road in Adyar, and couldn’t find one on Google Maps either. An older article in The New Indian Express from 13th February of this year states that Sardar Patel Road and LB Road in Adyar would be considered.
So, which street is it that’s part of the project? It’s a bit concerning that two articles published five days apart mention entirely different streets. Not to mention the fact that a seemingly non-existent street, Taluk Office Road, has also been identified.
Rationale behind selection
Another crucial question that remains unaddressed is why these streets have been chosen. The articles present these choices with an air of finality. But there is scarce information on the criteria used to narrow down on these streets.
I lived in Gandhi Nagar without a personal vehicle, and have a lot of experience walking on Sardar Patel Road, Ramachandra Aadhithanar Road, and Canal Bank Road as part of my daily commute and chores. Canal Bank Road has relatively little pedestrian traffic compared to Sardar Patel Road, and it seems to me that the latter would be a better choice. Not to mention, Canal Bank Road is not a continuous stretch, broken up by the median along Sardar Patel Road.
It is puzzling to me how these streets were chosen and what features made them good choices for this project. Rather than presenting these choices as final, it would have been useful if we were told which prospects were considered, how they were scored, which streets didn’t make the cut, and why.
No participation by the citizens
It seems like an officious move to tell someone that streets in their neighbourhood have been chosen in an opaque manner with no input or information about the project. This is what I think irked my fellow Gandhi Nagar residents whose first contact with the project came through a news report stating that work was to begin soon.
While I understand that COVID has made it difficult for the city Corporation to communicate and interact with residents, the lack of direct communication with the officials involved can be quite disheartening. It feels like a top-down imposition of the city government’s will without any consideration for what residents want or need.
Perhaps most importantly, the specific plans for each area has not been communicated yet to the residents of the streets. There are exciting terms being mentioned like “last-mile connectivity”, “greenway networks”, “pedestrian/cycling infrastructure”, “non-motorised transit” etc but not enough information is available about how this will be experienced by residents. Such details are necessary to get residents excited about the project.
As an individual who is constantly looking for improvements in my neighbourhood, I fervently hope this project goes well and provides its intended benefits. However, I think the lines of communication have to improve, along with more specifics about the exact nature of the project in order to convince the residents of the need for such an initiative.