Heaven’s Got No Parking Space

Cartoon Source: The Bengal Archives

TRAFFIC Police have been quite active recently. Sporting batons and laser receipt printers, they warn you with their cameras and order you out of your parking spots. This sight has been common in Srinagar’s Lalchowk and is now entering the city's downtown areas as well. The move to decongest the roads is a welcome one but if it isn’t too much to ask, where must commuters park their wheels?

While Lalchowk has come up with multi-level parking spots which shopkeeper’s can’t afford, Downtown seems to be perplexed as no road leads to a parking lot. There’s none. This is quite a metaphor for the smart city of Naya Kashmir. There’s the facade of order which shrouds a rumble of discrepancies.

Smart city has lately been a buzzword lately. The facades of Srinagar have been dressed in the best looks. The city walls have been painted with large murals which stare at us as we are stuck in traffic jams. There are serpentine diversions which make no sense. Even though roadside parking has been fined, new expensive parking spaces are hardly the answer.

Inherent to the problem of jamming and traffic disorder is the absence of proper parking spaces, both in city heartland and in peripheries. Vehicles are often fined for parking their vehicles at wrong spots, genuinely so, but it must also be thought out simultaneously if there are appropriate parking spaces available around. The parking spaces must be conceived and constructed keeping in view the traffic density in a particular area and the parking charges must also be fixed in such a way that makes it convenient and attractive to the vehicle holders.

While one talks about parking tariffs it is pertinent to note that Srinagar’s much hyped multi-level car parking has failed to decongest the traffic mess in the city because of the high tariff it levies on commuters for parking their vehicles. While there are parking spaces, poorly functional or otherwise around city heart, no such facilities are available in Downtown which remains equally buzzed with traffic. Similarly, the recent move by the administration to shut down the parking space around polo-view which caters to the parking needs of shopkeepers and customers sparked demonstrations and backlash from the market. The shopkeepers complained that it will only add to their miseries and make their businesses suffer.

Cosmetic and superficial measures to add to the looks of the city look farcical when they are limited in their capacity to add anything meaningful in how the city operates.

Crooked and narrow roads are yet another cause of concern and road widening is the need of the hour in many parts of the city. The congested and narrow roads, streets and lanes often result in traffic jams of the worst order which devour our time. This problem of frequent traffic jamming has lately been an issue of grave concern and different measures instead of solving the problem have aggravated the same.

Diversions in the middle of roads and blocking of crossings at various points like Karan Nagar crossing, Bemina highway crossing, crossing around Regal and other places only adds to the frustration and inconvenience of commuters. It literally makes little sense to think of smart vehicles and smart parking spaces while our roads are festering with the traffic jam they can’t contain. The intensity and frequency of traffic jams is such that long hours are lost maneuvering long queues and navigating through the grid locks which now seems to be a defining feature of our roads and traffic system.

Traffic management, despite the installation of smart signals and availability of men in uniform to smoothen the flow, seems far from solution and with increasing number of vehicles on roads, the problem becomes more nuanced.

While we are discussing the issues pertaining to traffic, it is pertinent to note that there are many routes in Srinagar on which no transport services are available. It doesn’t only escalate the miseries of those living around these routes but also fosters the menace of differential progress and differential treatment to various areas which results in inequitable progress and local inequalities. As a welfare state, it is very much the responsibility of administration to direct JKSRTC to mobilise its men and vehicles on all routes and in all parts of the city to rescue people of their commuting problems. The absence of passenger sheds at proper places is another problem that commuters are facing.

It makes little sense to prematurely announce the launching of services like electric vehicles while a large portion of the population (both rural and urban) lack basic access to primary public transport facilities. It equally makes no sense to think of electric vehicles, the infrastructure for charging when a proper EV policy is not in place. What the administration shall be primarily concerned with is the high density of traffic on roads, the frequent traffic jams and the lack of ample number of passenger sheds, earmarking of bus stops and also the restoration of women special bus service which was called off a few months ago. So, before one can even contemplate the contours of a smart city and the tech-ease it has to offer, it seems more appropriate to first address the facilities that are lacking on date and which make the life of its inhabitants a scene of discomfort and hardship.

Similarly, the faulty drainage system as it exists across the length and the breadth of the city is nothing unheard of. A day-long rainfall is enough to expose the lacunae and technical snags underlying our drainage network. No sooner does it start to rain that our lanes and streets become a spectre of flash flood like situation – all because of faulty drainage. Despite the recurrent problems that this situation imposes upon the residents, both in downtown and upper town areas, little attention is paid to it and as a result, the problem remains unattended.

The problem has only escalated and risen exponentially with the mushrooming of new colonies which keep cropping up on the peripheries of the city now and then. The ill planning and the lack of proper structural, architectural and spatial management which characterizes these colonies only adds to the existing drainage mess and makes it more convoluted. These new colonies in themselves represent a mess and mismanagement which lies at the bottom of their physical structure adds to the list of existing managerial and administrative problems.

For any activity which aspires or claims to make the city smart, what is of fundamental importance are the services, facilities and amenities available within the premises of the city. It should not be a spectacle of inconvenience for those who live and breathe in the city. The city is its people.

  • Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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Amir Suhail Wani

The author is a writer and columnist

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