Note: A group of students and researchers toured cities in India and China in January as part of the National Science Foundation Partnership in International Research and Education (PIRE) grant. Learn more about the Winter School 2016. The students share their observations on this blog.
Observations of India by Kate Gurke
The city of Rajkot is covered in miles and miles of citizen painted murals. Every Sunday residents have the opportunity to volunteer to paint a ten by ten foot section of wall, and they are displayed one after another throughout the main roads. One mural in particular resonated with me. The mural says “Repeat after me. I am free” and I can’t help but think about how that statement relates to the presence of a transportation system.
Transportation allows us to go places we could otherwise not due to time and physical abilities. Rajkot has built a bus rapid transit (BRT) system to allow for this movement. The bus rapid transit system starts with two lanes in the center of the road exclusively for buses and is sandwiched between lanes for cars, motorcycles, rickshaws, bikes, and walkers. This provides a space to freely move throughout the city using whatever mode you desire.
The BRT is a product of “if it is built they will come” however it does raise the question, what if “they” are already there? The presence of what has come due to the BRT is seen on the first half of the ride; the second half is much less built up. However, there are people there already. It raises a lot of questions regarding how both can co-exist.
This is a problem that we often see in the United States as well. Specifically in the Twin Cities, the development of the light rail has raised concerns about access and gentrification. There were some neighborhoods along the newest line that were originally going to be bypassed until neighborhood organizations addressed this problem. However, having access to this development can be a huge source of change to neighborhood socioeconomic status and racial demographics.
On one hand, systems like the BRT can be a tremendous improvement to a city. On the other, there are very specific groups who often feel the negative impacts when housing becomes too expensive.
Being able to move around safely is unfortunately not an assumed right. Walkers and bikers may not be able to safely use a road that is congested with traffic, women are advised not to walk at night, and waiting for a bus on an exposed road can be dangerous. The BRT is clearly trying to address some of those issues by providing separate lanes for each mode to safely commute and interact with the city. Rajkot has a number of sites that are worth a view that are now accessible through the BRT.