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Bangalore Is Waiting for the Butterfly Effect

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The term “Butterfly effect” was coined by Edward Lorenz based on the theory that a single flap of a butterfly’s wings in one part of world could set off a tornado in another part of world. The concept – which posits that small variations at the outset can have profound implications down the road – can be applied to transportation engineering, especially in the context of non-motorized transportation infrastructure. To understand why this is so, let’s look at the case study of Bangalore City.

In Bangalore, pedestrians and cyclists are in the minority, constituting only 8% and 2% respectively of total trips. However their small numbers obscure an important fact – they play an important role when it comes to accessing public transportation.

As part of its efforts to create a more sustainable transportation system, the government plans to unleash a whole host of public transportation improvements – a metro, monorail, bus rapid transit, general bus improvements and a commuter rail. The total Traffic and transportation budget for next 16 years is nearly $12 billion with 79% of the total investment allocated to mass transportation.

By contrast, the total investment planned for pedestrians over the next 16 years is a scant $72 million, or just 0.6% of total investment. The government plans to improve around 350 km of one-way footpaths and construct 68 grade separated crossings with the money. The proposed cross-sections of the arterial and collector roads show cycle lanes but it remains to be seen if any exclusive lanes for the cyclists would ever be built in Bangalore.

While the logic of concentrating on public transportation is good, we should not put all our eggs in the same basket. That is to say, the mass transit improvements should be accompanied by improvements for non-motorized transportation, specifically pedestrians and cyclists. It is no trade secret that access to public transportation plays a vital role when people are deciding whether to take public transportation or not. Attracting the choice riders to mass transportation may succeed by not only improving the mass transportation itself but also by providing safe and comfortable ways for people to access it. Improvements in non-motorized transportation infrastructure are cheap and have the potential of attracting a significant percentage of the traffic.

With the city accommodating a large number of “transportation Challenged” people, a small investment – say if just 3% of the Traffic and Transportation budget went to non-motorized transportation – would generate a sustainable chain reaction. In transportation engineering every action does not have equal and opposite reaction. The butterfly is waiting to flap its wings. Just a small pot of money for pedestrian and cyclists would generate benefits well into the future.