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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.

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  • As an activist for pedestrian rights and a one time resident of Bangalore, I have found all of your posts exciting to read- at last someone who shares the same concerns I do for the right to walk safely along a street!
    I have written a post myself in the blog section of my website, bemoaning the fate of people who, like me choose to walk, or like millions in Asia who have no alternative or are forced onto motorbikes exacerbating the traffic problems.
    Keep up the good work!

  • sre

    are there any groups in bangalore who champion such advocacy ?

  • Dear Sir,

    Yes, the government statistics which formulate the plans puts across that figure and as you have rightly predicted its all due to our modelling disasters. Not many people know that Walking is considered as a trip mode; hence any number of cordon counts/Household surveys which provide input to projections always gives such minute figures. Since the government has such figures in their hands they never bother to improve the infrastructure.
    Please access the link for the government statistics : http://bangalore.praja.in/book/export/html/343
    Please access the link for my paper :
    http://www.cleanairnet.org/caiasia/1412/article-72580.html

  • “In Bangalore, pedestrians and cyclists are in the minority, constituting only 8% and 2% respectively of total trips.”

    I do not believe that walking accounts for only 8% of total trips. Such a statistic can only come from a survey that ignores short trips! Short trips are real trips with real purposes and should be counted just like longer trips.

    If these numbers came from a survey, then my guess is it only counted trips longer than a certain distance (say 500 metres) or longer than a short time duration (say 10 minutes) or the survey ignored trips that do not cross a boundary between the zones in their transport model.

    Delhi in around 2000 was reported to have around 37% who walk or bicycle. I would be extremely surprised if Bangalore’s real % of walking trips was not well above 20% and may be much higher than that if counted carefully.

  • Mac Koteshwar

    Key Stakeholders such as local business leaders, government representatives and the travelling public should be asked to participate in a study/survey about access to pedestrians and cyclists, in different areas of the city. Feedback collected can perhaps then be used to identify improvements, and also the survey will help to improve local participation.