Changing mobility patterns, rising chronic diseases

How do we make mobility planning “Healthier”? What does Delhi teach us?

By Shoba John, Ashok Bhattacharjee
Published: Friday 25 July 2014

How do we make mobility planning “Healthier”? What does Delhi teach us?

Ashok Bhattacharjee & Shoba JohnIndian cities have undergone rapid industrialization and expansion in recent decades. The emergence of new cities with their increasing population raise serious mobility concerns for their residents and urban planners. The exponential spurt in the use of private vehicles for daily commutes has not only created transportation challenges, but has also limited the scope for physical activity and access to healthy, local produce to its residents. No different is the case of Delhi.

The resultant sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy eating are two major risk factors for the rising number of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in the country. World Health Organization estimates that these diseases-heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, cancers and lung diseases- along with injuries- account for 62 per cent of all deaths in India.

While low intake of fruits and vegetables account for about 20 per cent of cardiovascular diseases globally, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease mortality by 15 per cent. Similarly, whereas obesity and lack of physical activity may account for 20-30 per cent of major cancers such as that of the breast, physically active women have a 30-40 per cent lower risk for the same.

Delhi’s challenges

Urban design and mobility planning determines the scope for physical activity and access to healthy food in cities like Delhi. While mobility planning can be effectively leveraged to promote the health and well being of Delhi’s denizens, the city’s existing approaches and systems present several challenges.

The city of Delhi was developed on the basis of Master Plan-62. This plan primarily followed the low-density, auto-centric planning approach practiced in American cities of 1950’s and ‘60s. This approach led to urban sprawl and car-dependency, paying little attention to the mobility concerns of the majority of the population. Unfortunately, the same planning principle was followed in the subsequent Master Plans of 1981 and 2001. The absence of public transport in the context of lengthy daily commutes to and from the city has considerably increased the dependence on private motor vehicles not only among the rich, but across the socio-economic strata.

Private, auto-centric modes of transport such as cars and two wheelers occupy more than 80 per cent of road space, limiting space for walkers and cyclists. Despite the fact that 35 per cent of all trips in Delhi are still by walking and 4 per cent by cycling, the increase in fatal road accidents among pedestrians and cyclists create unfriendly and unsafe road conditions for these groups. Forty per cent of the Delhi’s roads do not have footpaths for pedestrians and 62 per cent do not have zebra crossings. As the planning is focused on smooth flow of motorized traffic, the fatality rate went up from 5 per cent to 8 per cent since 2006. The non-availability of safe spaces reduces walking and cycling attempts both by vehicle owners and others.

Further, auto-centered planning often comes at the cost of open spaces and playgrounds that facilitate physical activity or markets that supply fresh fruits and vegetables. Not to mention the air pollution in the city that exceeds Beijing’s levels, with incidence of respiratory diseases escalating in winters.

How can mobility planning advance health goals?

People-centric mobility planning focuses on moving people, rather than vehicles. A well-integrated network of roads, cycle lanes, footpaths and public transport would improve public mobility, while affording opportunities for physical activity. When health goals are woven into mobility planning, it can offer alternatives to sedentary lifestyles and promote physical activity and healthy eating alongside addressing public transportation needs. Some such opportunities are discussed here:

  • Last-mile connectivity that includes walking and cycling lanes

    Apart from short-distance journeys, users of public transport also undertake the first and last mile journeys on foot, by cycle or cycle rickshaws. Hired or shared Integrated Public Transport (IPT) feeders in fast and slow modes form an integral part of Delhi’s existing public transport system. Walking and cycling can be effectively integrated into these trips to complete the final leg of the commute. Public spaces segregated from motor vehicles for walking and cycling within the influence zone of all metro stations and bus stations would facilitate seamless, healthy and safe commuter movement.
  • Non-motorised transport for moving healthy produce

    In addition to cycles and cycle rickshaws that move people, a variety of non-motorized vehicles such as hand and cycle carts can transport produce in neighborhoods. Integrating their mobility into city planning would enhance availability of healthy and fresh produce in local communities. Non-motorised transport needs to be prioritized in overall city planning and promoted at settlement/neighbourhood level.
  • Improving access to healthy food through effective mobility & town planning

    The Master Plan of Delhi-2021 recognizes the contribution of street vendors to the city’s economy and highlights their role as a source of employment and services in the economic fabric of the city with reduced needs of floor space and investment. Based on the National Policy on Urban Street Vendors, the 2021 Master Plan has outlined a policy recommending their location and concentration in a manner that allows the public to access their services en route daily commutes, in conjunction with public conveniences and garbage disposal mechanisms. Including fruit and vegetable carts in the vending zones around metros and bus stations and within walking distance in the neighbourhoods can improve public access to healthy food during their daily trips. Implementation models involving resident and vendor associations along with enforcement agencies can help ensure hygiene and nutrition standards.
  • Active streets enable women to pursue an active lifestyle

    Street Design Guidelines (SDG) of UTTIPEC´Çú elaborates how hawkers and vendors can be accommodated in the street space to serve as the ‘‘eyes on the street’’. They also make the streets vibrant, active and safe, encouraging walking and cycling trips. Multi-use streets that accommodate non-motorised and pedestrian movements and vending tend to be active and well-populated. Such activities create a supportive environment for women to venture out for physical activity or to procure healthy food from local markets.
  • Non-motorised transport improves lung health

    Increased use of walking and non-motorised transport for mobility is expected to reduce the dependence on auto-centric modes of transport. The World Bank report "Reducing Air Pollution from Urban Transport" informs that safe and comfortable walking, bicycling, and other forms of non-motorised transport can improve air quality. Studies from countries that have taken stringent measures to reduce air pollution show drastic reductions in adverse health effects and improvements in life expectancy.
  • Healthy mobility planning reduces injuries

    A joint report by IIT Delhi and the University of Michigan, Transportation Research Institute, pedestrians and cyclists constituted 60 per cent of the fatalities among road users in Delhi between 2001 & 2005. A major reason for this being the skewed focus of planning on the smooth movement of motorised traffic, at the expense of poor infrastructure for the slow moving, non-motorised traffic that constitute the majority (60-80 per cent) of road traffic. A host of infrastructure measures ranging from segregated paths for pedestrians and non-motorised transport, zebra crossings, traffic lights and speed breakers along with stringent enforcement of traffic laws and public awareness could help prevent and reduce road injuries.

Health Dividends form mobility planning –country experiences

Weekly “No Driving Day” program – Seoul, South Korea

In Seoul, citizens voluntarily observe a Weekly No Driving Day in response to an announcement by the Metropolitan Government in 2003. Compliant participants receive incentives to use alternate modes of transport on the selected days. The incentives range from free car washes to discounted petrol, congestion tax, tolls, insurance premiums, parking and repair charges and social discounts for bike rentals, book stores. The cars are electronically tagged and the city monitors the programme using a RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) system to ensure compliance and provide incentives.

Since July 2003, the program has improved Seoul’s air quality, reduced congestion and saved energy. According to UNEP, it has reported 30 per cent participation, reduced traffic emissions by 10% and traffic volumes by 7 per cent, increasing traffic speed by 13%, with an annual fuel savings of US $ 600 million. The system indirectly promotes public and non-motorised transport, besides encouraging interactions among citizens in public places.

Multi-component mobility planning, Mexico City, Mexico

Since 2005, Mexico City has been progressively introducing a multi-component plan to improve the livability, mobility, and quality of life of its citizens. The city’s BRT system, Metrobus, has bus-only lanes that facilitate rapid public movement. It introduced a public bike system (Ecobici) with bike stations positioned close to public transportation stops. It is planning to expand biking lanes throughout the city. It has introduced a “Don’t Drive Today” programme that prohibits a segment of private vehicle traffic once a week. This has been augmented through a campaign “Move by Bike”, that blocks cars on select streets on certain Sundays to allow recreational activities among pedestrians and cyclists. It has also piloted a comprehensive on-street parking reform program (Ecoparq) using parking meters and a large team of enforcement officers.

15 per cent of the Metrobus users reported commuting by car previously, reducing the city’s Carbon Dioxide emission by 80000 tons annually. The bike-sharing programme has registered over 50000 bike trips in the city between 2007 & 2011. The car prohibition programme witnessed daily average reduction of 3,42,000 cars on Mexico city roads, easing road mobility. Additionally, it is helping the residents to explore the city’s public places and enjoy its social and cultural opportunities.

Public Bicycle Sharing Pilot Project –New Delhi, India

A bicycle-sharing project was piloted in the Rohini area of the city by Delhi Bicycle Private Ltd for a period of 9 months from July 2010 to 31st March 2011 with approvals from Delhi Metro Rail Corporation and Municipal Corporation of Delhi. The project aimed to encourage the use of Delhi metro by improving last mile connectivity through an environment-friendly mode of transport such as cycling. Public could hire bicycles from neighbourhood stands or the metro stations in Rohini using a pre-paid smart card of Rs.350/-. The smart cards were issued against identify and address proof. The cycles, along with lock and helmets, were rented out at an affordable rate of Rs.3 for 15 minutes.

The firm owned, operated and promoted 50 bikes for this pilot. The project registered 20000 trips and had 152 commuters regularly utilizing this service during its 9-month trial phase. The project has the potential to significantly improve physical activity and provide last mile connectivity to its users, while promoting the use of public transport and improving air quality through an environment-friendly mode of transport in the city. Plans are afloat to introduce the system in the Dwarka sub-city of Delhi. The next step is to develop a robust business and operational model that could replicate this system through the rest of the city and the country.

Key recommendations for “healthier” mobility planning

Based on existing guidelines and best practices, the following lessons from Delhi’s experience would be useful for integrating health goals in mobility planning in other Indian cities.

  1. Active mobility and access to healthy food needs to be part of town and mobility planning.
  2. City streets are to be designed and developed to ensure equitable distribution and integrated use of road space.
  3. Minimum 30 per cent of right of way space in local and distributor roads and 40 per cent in Sub-arterial- arterial roads are to be reserved for activities other than motorised movement.
  4. All amenities to facilitate safe and comfortable movement of pedestrian and Non-motorised transport, including safe crossing facilities are to be provided.
  5. Walking and cycling network plans and designated vending areas are to be prepared at zonal level and implemented to ensure barrier free continuous movement with safe and easy access to metro stations, transport terminals and bus stops.
  6. In addition to mandatory planning and development for cycling and walking corridors and vending zones, management and enforcement to prevent misuse of such facilities is critical for their effective utilization.
  7. The implementing agencies and enforcement agencies need to work in coordination for quality implementation, maintenance, management and enforcement of the well-designed streets.
  8. Public Outreach programmes through media, Non Governmental Organisations and Government communications are to be proactively initiated for public awareness regarding the diverse benefits of active mobility and access to healthy food.

Ashok Bhattacharjee, is currently a Consultant with the Centre for Science and Environoment. He is the Immediate Past Director (Planning) of the Unified Traffic & Transportation Infrastructure Planning & Engineering Centre (UTTIPEC) of the Delhi Development Authority. An expert in urban design, planning and transport Planning, he lent leadership to the development of Delhi Street Design Guidelines, Transit Oriented Development (TOD) policy and projects, Multi-modal Integration and Transport Chapter of the Master Plan Delhi-2021 that would guide the city’s sustainable development in the coming years.

Shoba John is the Programme Director of HealthBridge Foundation of Canada and set up its Noncommunicable Diseases Prevention programme in India. A member of the Technical Resource Group of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, she supports the implementation of Government of India’s national programme on Non-Communicable Diseases. As a development expert with decade-long experience working on health concerns, Ms. John brings a unique people-centric and multi-sectoral approach to public health and public policy concerns, including to urban planning.

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