I was a delegate at the Urban Mobility India 2016 Conference organised by the Institute of Urban Transport at Mahatma Mandir Convention and Exhibition Centre at Gandhi Nagar. The theme this year was Planning Mobility for City’s Sustainability.
Several participants could not help but realise how the way the Mahatma Mandir convention centre is planned is itself not consistent with the theme of the conference. The Mahatma had said “be the change you wish to see in the world”. It will be good if the organisers of the conference will heed to those words and immediately undertake steps to plan for sustainable mobility for the complex and thus practice what they preach.
It will help safeguard the sanctity of giving themes to any conference and also help show genuine appreciation for Mahatma Gandhi beyond the usual accolades. Let Mahatma Mandir demonstrate highest standards of sustainability.
The convention centre is massive spread over 35 acres and can hold programs attracting a few hundred to a few thousands. A number of programs attract delegates from outside Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad who require accommodation in hotels. The immediate vicinity of the convention centre has no good quality accommodation forcing delegates to stay 3-20 kms away. This calls for long trip lengths, substantial time in transport, use of motorised means of transport and additional costs as well.
Sustainable Transport is the key theme for urban mobility. The principles of sustainable transport have been very well captured in a framework of steps to be taken – Avoid Shift Improve.
It is important to appreciate the need to avoid trips in the first place. If a trip does not take place or a much shorter length trip takes place then the following happens.
- Number of people in a system whether on the road, in metro or in bus reduces, thus reducing crowding and congestion
- If trip length is reduced then a number of people can shift to modes like walking and cycling. A 1-3km length is very favourable for walking and cycling compared with a 10km or more length.
How we use a given land area determines whether people are left with no choice but to take long trips or can conveniently do work with short trips.
The carbon footprint of holding an event at Mahatma Mandir is captured in terms of the sum total of fossil fuel based energy used by the various processes and participants. This consists of the electricity used for lighting and air conditioning the various halls and meeting areas, which uses electricity which is generated from burning coal. The other big component of use is the transport used by people who have to travel to the venue.
There are trips which are avoidable and those which are unavoidable. For those staying in Ahmedabad itself if they have to travel 20 kms one way to reach Mahatma Mandir then there is no way they can avoid the trip. But if there is a delegation of 20 people coming from 10 different cities of the country then it does not matter to them if they are staying 20 kms away, 7 kms away or 1 km away. Anybody would like to stay close to avoid long journey times and costs.
Now in the case of Mahatma Mandir there is no accommodation close to the venue itself. There is a five start hotel 3.5 kms away. Some of us stayed at a budget hotel 7.5 kms away. Every morning we would book three cabs and four people to one cab. A round trip would be about 15 kms – a litre or maybe half of fuel per cab per round trip. There is a corresponding amount of emissions per litre of fuel burnt.
Providing good quality accommodation in a 500 meter – 3 kilometer vicinity of Mahatma Mandir with corresponding vibrant street life, entertainment and leisure facilities will ensure that:
- The carbon footprint of the events organised at Mahatma Mandir goes down.
- There is reduced congestion on the roads leading to Mahatma Mandir
- The delegates save time and money
- Delegates get to walk and cycle to Mahatma Mandir thus enabling zero emissions in their trips besides providing exercise and leisure. The neighbourhood streets of Mahatma Mandir which are otherwise desolate will also see life. They are not cycle friendly currently due to high speeding cars.
- The proximity of delegates staying close by would enable more opportunity for meeting already known industry colleagues from different parts of the country and make new contacts and friends within the industry.
- Possibility of organising informal side events, meetings, presentations would increase. Delegates could potentially hold these meetings in their hotels or specific facilities which could be provided as part of the plan.
Mahatma Mandir and Gandhinagar in general has the scope still to provide for high quality accommodation in various budget categories close to the venue of Mahatma Mandir since there are a number of empty plots. With additional steps being taken a vibrant neighbourhood could be created around the complex making it great for off work hours as well. Great street food, art and culture. The complex and the buildings can become architecture and sustainability delights.
An analysis of the land use around Mahatma Mandir reveals that there are some plots which are completely empty as of now. One such is Sector 13D (shown in image below), which is about ten acres in size. It can be developed along the lines of a Khan Market, New Delhi with a lot of place for eating out and staying besides space for cultural activities as well. It will be good to have some scope for alcohol as well, which is a sore point in Gujarat for out of state visitors.
Khan Market is less than 5 acres and can pack in so much. At 10 acres Sector 13 D could do a lot more. Some elements from the Khan Market typology can be used. A grid of walkable streets would be a great feature.
From Sector 13 D the various entrances of the Mahatma Mandir range from 100-1000 meters at the maximum. The median would be 500 meters. This is completely walkable or there can be small electric buses and cycles for people to choose from. There seems to be some land around Gandhinagar Railway Station and Sector 11 as well.
The following individuals and organisations should be immediately tasked with creating a time bound plan to ensure enough hotel capacity and a vibrant neighbourhood in the immediate 1-2km vicinity of Mahatma Mandir:
- Institute of Urban Transport (the organisers of Urban Mobility India). There are numerous urban planners employed with the institute itself. The MOUD is the patron body and should directly look into this. I will become a member of IUT soon and would like to drive this as a member as well.
- CEPT – there are numerous departments within CEPT which should have already looked into this already but should do so now. Prof. Sivanand Swamy now is Director of Excellence in Urban Transport and the proposal outlined above confirms to excellence.
- There is a group called Sustainable Urban Mobility India Network, of which I became a recent member and on whose organisation (and support from Shakti Foundation) I attended the Conference. It will be good for the Network to engage in this as well.
- There are so many urban designers and urban planners friends and would be good to see them take this up as well.