On a busy Friday evening, Ramesh Chander, a visitor to Sector 17, crawled his Swift Dzire for 20 minutes around the Sahib Singh parking lot, trying to find some space to nose in his car. During that period, Chander did not even once consider making his way to the newly constructed multilevel parking 500 mt away.
“I have to go to Sindhi sweets and if I park my car at multilevel parking, it will take me around seven to eight minutes to walk up to there. Even otherwise, I have to purchase a number of boxes of sweets for my son’s birthday and it would be difficult to carry them while going back. So it is better if I park here just near the shop as it saves a lot of time,” said Chander.
Having a multilevel parking was an early move by Chandigarh towards becoming a Smart City. The plan was to free up space in Sector 17 by making it a No Vehicle Zone so that the plaza could become a truly public space, with restaurants, recreational and creative activities.
But it appears now that Chandigarh’s first hurdle on the path to a smart city is its unsmart people. The multilevel parking was rejected by Sector 17 traders who said their business would be affected if people were not allowed to park cars right in front of the shops, without considering that they would get more customers if the plaza became a space for people instead of for cars.
Next, car owners who otherwise cannot stop gushing about how organised the traffic is abroad, refused to embrace the idea of parking a couple of hundred metres away from their destination because they are not used to walking.
Back-to-back protests by traders who shut down the city’s plaza for days together is what the authorities had to face when the MC closed down two parking lots in Sector 17 as it tried to shift people to parking at the multilevel.
The civic body finally surrendered to the pressure mounted by the traders. Despite getting a detailed presentation on how beautiful the plaza would look after these lots became recreational areas and other green space without any traffic congestion, the traders did not budge from their stand that their businesses would be hit.
Following this, the numbers of vehicles parked at the multilevel dropped. Against the 800 vehicles being parked at the multilevel daily when the two parking lots in the plaza were shut, the number dropped to 150 vehicles daily when those were reopened.
People even preferred to wrongly park their vehicles at the road berms rather than at the multilevel. But is hamam mey…
While the underwhelming response of Chandigarh’s residents is one thing, the failure of the parking lot also shows up the limitations of the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation, a body whose Mayor changes every year, and for all the sound it generates, has little say in policy-framing for the Union Territory.
The multilevel parking dates back to 2012. Aware of the fate of three underground parking lots in Sector 17 that have turned slushy garbage dumps, the MC believed a multilevel parking lot would address the problems of the other parking lots. A favourite project of the Congress, it was passed without much discussion, either in the House or with the stakeholders, those whom it would affect on the ground. It took a few minutes to clear the Rs 47-crore project.
The BJP blamed the Congress for coming up with a project without discussing its viability. “I had opposed this agenda since I wanted that the House should once discuss it in detail but the Congress went on to pass it without even discussing the financial viability,” said Mayor Arun Sood.
In 2012, when the Congress’s Raj Bala Malik was the Mayor, the rough estimate of the project was passed by the party, according to the BJP leaders. The BJP-SAD alliance had demanded a debate over it but the demand was rejected by the Congress.
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In 2013, Congress leader Subhash Chawla, who was the Mayor then, organised the programme of foundation stone laying ceremony of the multilevel parking. The BJP-SAD councillors boycotted the event.
On all three occasions, the MC was ruled by the Congress. There was little or no discussion with traders or resident welfare associations, the first to be affected by the measure.
Chandigarh has more vehicles than people. Its vehicle density is the highest in the country. Going by the latest RLA records, the city has about 12 lakh vehicles even when the population is just 11.5 lakh. These vehicles are those that are registered on Chandigarh’s number. The city sees vehicle population from Panchkula and Mohali as well. But it is still surprisingly better off than most Indian cities when it comes to providing space for pedestrians; wide pavements — a luxury in other cities — are normal here. Even so, no Chandigarh resident can bear the thought of walking 15 minutes from a parking lot to their destination. Cars have to be parked at the doorstep.
The Municipal Corporation was aware that city residents were not used to walking, following which they provided four e-rickshaws at the multilevel to help people reach their destination. The facility was available free of cost. But even then, there were few takers for the multilevel parking.
The concept of community parking has been successful in other cities like Hyderabad, Pune, Lucknow and Delhi as compared to Chandigarh’s multilevel parking, even though it is the cheapest. For a car, the parking fee is Rs 5, and for a two-wheeler, only Rs 2 compared to other cities where parking at multilevels costs a minimum Rs 20.
Stating that the city cannot become smart until its citizens become smart, Mayor Arun Sood said, “Smart city doesn’t mean smart buildings. Citizens have to be smart. Only for the small convenience that he may not have to walk, a person parks exactly in front of the showroom, leaving everybody in trouble.”
“The multilevel parking is at the fag end and nobody in the city is used to walking too much. This will affect our business as the customers would prefer to go to the shop that is the closest,” said a trader, requesting anonymity.
The year 2016 being an election year for the Municipal Corporation, political leaders too got an issue to politicise.
“Is the Municipal Corporation mad? This project was constructed without any proper planning. How can people walk half a kilometre in such heat by parking their car at such a distance?” asked BJP leader Harmohan Dhawan.
In Sector 17, there are three underground parking lots: in front of the RBI building, 30 bays building (which is a two-storied underground parking lot) and an underground parking lot for two-wheelers and bicycles at the CMC underground parking lot. These parking lots can accommodate 150 four-wheelers and 700 two-wheelers.
Visitors to Sector 17 claim that the ill-maintenance of the underground parking lots was the sole reason for them remaining unutilised, but the authorities say that nobody wants to park their vehicles far off from their destination.
There are no security arrangements for vehicles as the parking lots lack attendants. Garbage is littered all over the place and the authorities have also failed to make lighting arrangements. Even water gets accumulated in the rainy season.
“The surface parking is safe as compared to the underground one. When the underground parking was made, there was no plan to sustain it. No proper awareness was spread among visitors. Until you don’t maintain it, how can you expect people to park their expensive vehicles there?” asked Rishi Kumar, a resident.
Mismanagement of parking lots in Sector 17 has led to parking chaos in Sector 17. In a survey conducted by architect and nominated councillor Surinder Bahga along with other architects in Sector 17, it has come to the fore that 5,400 square metres of parking space was unused in the sector, which is enough to accommodate 170 cars. As per the administration’s own estimate, the sector needs parking space for 15,400 cars, whereas the space available can accommodate only 6,400 four-wheelers.
“There are 22 parking lots, including underground lots, in Sector 17, but they are poorly managed and declared full to capacity even before they actually should have been due to haphazard parking of vehicles,” stated the survey.
As per the survey, at least 5,500 four-wheelers and 4,600 two-wheelers come to different areas of Sector 17. The underutilisation of underground parking was a failure.
So what next? According to architect and nominated councillor Surinder Bahga, the only solutions to ease parking chaos was to have proper enforcement, make people aware and utilise the underutilised underground parkings.
“There is no enforcement here. Why are people allowed to park their vehicles on road berms and pavements?” asked Bahga, adding that a little strictness with violators, and the threat, though empty, of a Rs 3,500 fine for wrong parking on Thursday brought 600 vehicles to the multilevel parking.
The nominated councillor had written to the MC, stating that people have to be made aware of the parking and the rules.
“There are no proper boards that people may get to know about multilevel. It will take little time for the city to accept it but with time, they will get used to and prefer to walk to their destinations,” added Bahga.
There was a need to maintain the underground parking lots too which were in a shambles. If the parking lots are maintained and people are asked to park there, it would create a lot of difference.
In order to make the multilevel parking work, the MC will have to focus on strict enforcement. If the civic body continues its enforcement by asking traffic police to remove vehicles parked wrongly, the multilevel parking is likely to work in near future.
Also, if the surface parking lots are closed for parking, the way it was done in the beginning, people would start parking at the multilevel and walk to their destinations, thereby creating ample space in the plaza with no congestion.