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New model for city roads

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Tender SURE
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A NEW COLLABORATION ON BANGALORE’S ROADS

Mobility woes are similar across Indian cities. Our planners favour motorised private vehicles at the expense of other modes like public transport and non-motorized options like cycles. Walking is not even considered a mobility mode and they are often left to manage with what’s left of the road! Consequently we see unplanned road widening projects to make more space for motorized vehicles. This is particularly the case for Bangalore where the government has experimented with TDR (Transferable Development Rights) as currency for road widening.

Bangalore also happens to be a test laboratory for a new experiment on how to improve the existing road network using a new paradigm. This project called ‘Tender SURE’ (Specifications for Urban Road Execution) is a work in progress initiative between civil society catalysed by business (the Bangalore City Connect Foundation - BCCF) and the Government (State of Karnataka (GoK), the City Corporation (BBMP) and Bangalore Metro Rail (BMRCL)). The idea of City Connect is based on a core premise – if folks outside of government can work with government on areas of urban governance, there can be better, beneficial outcomes to improve quality of living in cities. The City Connect members bring in ideas, angel fund proof of concept projects and involve volunteers.

The genesis of this initiative lies in a design project undertaken in 2009-10 on a 300 metre stretch of Vithal Mallya road where a prestigious mall, UB City, is located. The developers Prestige Construction were keen to improve the road in front of the mall. BCCF got involved in designing the road and getting the multiple government agencies (BBMP, Water & Sewerage board (BWSSB), Electric utility (BESCOM), etc.) together to make the project a reality. It remains one of Bangalore’s best road stretches and proof that existing roads can be brought on par with international standards. Based on this experience, BCCF approached GoK with a proposition. BCCF was willing to invest their money and effort in designing an urban road and tendering manual and do detailed project reports (DPRs) for 2-3 roads if the government was willing to execute them from their funds. This was acceptable and BCCF started work in late 2010 on the project which was christened Tender SURE with the technical assistance of the Indian Urban Space Foundation (IUSF).

Around last quarter 2011, the manual and draft tender documents were ready. The government on perusing the documents went ahead and provisioned nearly Rs. 300 crores (USD 60 mn) to be shared by GoK, BBMP and BMRCL for about 50 roads in the city centre in their budgets in Feb 2012. BCCF was asked to provide DPRs for all these roads. BCCF offered to do about 15 road DPRs and peer review the other DPRS done by BBMP vendors in order to help build capacity in the system. As the details was worked out, it was realised that further budget provisions had to be made for the new utilities (particularly water and waste lines) and about 26 roads in all (30 kms) was considered feasible for execution with the budgets allotted. The current position is as follows – 18 road tenders (about 21 kms) are underway and 5 road DPRs (5.5 km) are ready for tendering.

The key elements of the Tender SURE project for road design, tendering and execution are the following:

Pre-planning and detailing is key

Currently road projects in Bangalore are commissioned on very ‘thin’ project proposals. Sometimes they are started with just a paper sketch of what needs to be done. Under Tender SURE, Lincoln’s maxim of “If I have 6 hours to cut a tree, I will spend the first 4 hours sharpening my axe” is followed. There is a lot of time spent in planning what needs to be done including studying ground realities, soil tests, total station surveys, traffic studies, etc. The terms of reference that arise was clearly spelt out leading to better contracts. While this should be par for the course in any road project, it is not done. Just detailing these aspects at the outset improves the odds of getting better outcomes.

Hierarchy of road users

The pedestrian is at the heart of the plan under Tender SURE. They are followed by provisioning for cycles, public transport and lastly motorised private vehicles. So whenever there is a design conflict to be resolved, this hierarchy will guide the decisions. For example, to the extent possible, pedestrians’ crossing at grade is desirable. This also aids in traffic calming measures. Cycle lanes need protection from motorized vehicles. Public transport is acknowledged as the necessary mode for sustainable mobility over time. The design ensures smoother flow for them and provisioning for bays, accessibility modes is paramount.    

Right of Way (ROW) as start point

Under the Tender SURE guidelines, 32 road widths in the city have been mapped and classified into Arterial, Sub-arterial, Collector, Local and Sub-local. For these ROWs, model allocation of lane widths for the multiple modes is set out. Traditionally pedestrian lane width allotment is based on what’s possible after the motor vehicle needs are taken care of. Under Tender SURE, they get pole position in the plan. Another trait of city roads is the varying width for motor vehicles depending on land availability. Under Tender SURE, the motor vehicles get uniform lanes and in the city centre these could be even 3 metre lanes. The surplus land area is used to provide islands, bus bays, hawker zones, etc. Another important focus of Tender SURE is the entry and exit from premises – in traditional execution this is not considered and often the pathway abuts into the road lanes. Detailing varying cross sections in considerable detail is another important element.   

Think life cycle costs

Road cutting is a huge menace and disturbance for commuters across the city. This is because there is a need to access utilities for repair and the utility firms often have no clue of their asset lines below the existing roads and footpath. If one reckons the initial capital cost of the roads and its subsequent maintenance / repair costs, there is a case of underground duct provisioning at the outset (higher capital outlay) that leads to low running costs. The latter approach is advocated under Tender SURE. Over a 15 year period, the life cycle costs of the Tender SURE designs with underground duct (including cross ducts) provisioning  work out cheaper than the current methods that also have sub optimal designs for pedestrians, cycles, entry/exit, etc. Storm water drains in many areas are next to house properties and not next to the roads! This is uniformly planned alongside the roads and the guidelines suggest cylindrical drains over the traditional box drains.

Integrated tender across departments

Another major innovation is getting multiple government and private utilities as part of the road design and execution at the outset. Normally this is done in silos leading to repeated road cutting for access to utilities (new and old). Under Tender SURE, all utilities are part of the apex project team and they plan for their needs in conjunction with the others. The tender is also a unified one where there will be a lead contractor (roads & footpath) with sub-contractors specialised in laying utility lines. This experiment in Bangalore is the first of its kind in the country.   

Project monitoring

Volume II of Tender SURE contains the draft tender conditions. These have been designed to be compliant with GoK guidelines. There is provision for third party inspection and use of project management companies. The execution and monitoring of the project is the responsibility of the government agencies with BBMP as prime agency. It is hoped over time that with increasing transparency of government project execution, there would be space for interested citizen volunteers to be part of the project implementation phase.

In terms of sequence, BCCF’s Tender SURE is the third such street / road design initiative in the country. The earlier initiatives around the same period were by UTTIPEC in Delhi and ITDP in Ahmedabad. Indian cities need more such initiatives if the mobility infrastructure is to improve. The Bangalore experiment has an additional element – there has been an informal memorandum of understanding that the City Connects’ efforts in this space (final spend Rs. 85 lakhs) will be reciprocated by Governments’ willingness to implement the suggestions on a scale basis (Rs. 300 crores currently). Execution is currently underway and while the jury is out on how it pans out finally, this experiment represents the potential possibilities of civil society and government working collaboratively to make a difference in Indian cities.