Editorial: Crowded Out by Cars

Instead of cursing traffic jams, collaborate to find a solution

There is a footpath lining the highway in Gangtok, and yet parents are not comfortable sending children out on their own. Two decades back, children would rarely stay at home, gathering in groups and heading outdoors. That is a luxury which is denied the generation now in school because outdoors in the capital is a now a jumble of parking lots and dangerous traffic. People have been noticing the increase in traffic on Gangtok roads, many have even ventured explanations and some have stuck their necks out with criticism, and all have come to the same conclusion – Gangtok has been taken over by cars. Cars have captured public spaces and pushed everything else away. The neighbourhood streets, even those which lead to dead-ends, have been consumed, and the town still needs to come up with more and more ingenious ways to park its cars. Despite the obvious glut on the roads, the rush is showing no signs of abating. Some years ago, a study by the Central Road Research Institute [yes, there is such an institute] revealed that vehicles were occupying almost as much space [10.8%] as the forest cover [11.5%] in the National Capital Region of Delhi. Anyone who has watched the explosion of vehicles in Gangtok will agree that Sikkim’s capital too is trying hard to bring vehicular occupation at par with its green cover. Here, the plant life might not be getting hacked away to make space for more parking lots, yet, but it is being choked to death by the swarm of idling engines stuck in impossibly long traffic jams which grip the roads during peak office hours nowadays. There might not be too many people who remember how long a pony ride from Ranipool to Gangtok took in earlier times, but it could not have been much longer than what it takes to make it from Tadong to MG Marg in a vehicle nowadays. Admittedly, all this description is not required because it is obvious to every Gangtokian that traffic and cars have become a problem and a nuisance. What has still not been accepted is that this problem needs to be addressed. The only initiative taken to address the problem of too many cars has been the commissioning of more parking lots some of which are built and ready but await an inauguration. While more parking is definitely required, this is not enough of a solution primarily because the parking space being created will already be too cramped by the time the structure is completed. For another, more parking space does not address the problem of vehicular movement. In this regard, Gangtok’s topography and building practices play spoilsport, making the creation of alternate roads impossible. The only real option then is to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads. This cannot be achieved by stronger legislations [in case someone is floating that idea], but can be pulled off with an approach which combines structured parking fees, safe and spacious parking in the outskirts [of the congested areas, say beyond Deorali or Tadong at one end or Burtuk at the other end or even along the bypass] and fast, frequent and reliable public transport. Bigger cities around the world have worked this combo quite well and there is no need why Gangtok should not try out the model as well. This is but one option that can be mulled and what would be even better for Gangtok to attempt will be a series of brainstorming meetings aimed specifically at addressing its traffic and parking challenges. Experts from diverse fields can be invited to study the problem and offer solutions. Think about it the next time you stare aimlessly out of the car window at another one Gangtok’s traffic jams.