Automobile Dreams: 1. Laws of Physics: O

Lying in my downtown Bangalore apartment at night, the sounds of the city float in the open window: calls and chants from the nearby mosque, the occasional auto-rickshaw put-putting down the narrow lane below and, beneath and around and through it all, the grumble and honk of Bangalore’s 24-hour traffic jam. It’s a background buzz, as unnoticeable in its ubiquity as the creak of crickets in a Southern summer.

I’ve spent a month fighting the exhausting traffic (my 4 km commute to work at Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy can take 40 minutes) and hearing people complain about how bad things had gotten since “everyone” had gotten a car. Thus, I was horrified to stumble upon this statistic: the automobile mode share for Bangalore is somewhere in the neighborhood of 6-7%. (See, for example, this report.)

So actually, practically no one has a car, and the city is already at a halt.

This makes it more than a little dismaying that the city government just gutted its first major attempt to have a parking policy, which was to have included charging for on-street parking and requiring proof of a parking space before you can register a car. Because of the labyrinthine nature of Indian municipal governance, the plan was created by the State transportation department, but when it got to the City, the Councillors knocked the teeth out of it.  Granted, the proposal was not without its problems. The proof-of-space requirement makes car ownership even more the exclusive purview of elite Bangaloreans flocking to swanky suburbs. On the other hand, when you’re dealing with a mega-city that was not originally built for cars, retrofitting to make it easy to get around comfortably without a car seems a whole lot more realistic than thinking we can retrofit to squeeze in 10 times as many cars than what clogs the streets today. Parking policies that place the full cost of vehicular ownership on drivers — including the cost of storing the car when it’s not being driven — is an important piece of that equation.

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