What can we do to reduce air pollution in New Delhi?

P1110601-300x225We are probably overwhelmed by the news about hazardous air pollution in Delhi in the last weeks. When I saw this news for the first time on television, it reminded me of my trip to Delhi about two years ago. In the morning rush hour, when people need to get to their workplace, it was interesting to see how these people fulfilled their mobility needs. I saw people took busses with “BRT” written on it, but those busses do not have dedicated infrastructure. I saw five people sitting on each other’s lap on the back seat of a rickshaw and probably two people on the front seat together with the driver, whereas a rickshaw can only transport maximum four passengers on the back seat and maybe one person adjusts with the driver. This way of performing mobility is very creative in my opinion, but also dangerous at the same time. Of course, many people also use the well-known Delhi Metro. I almost did not see cyclists as cycle paths are absence in most main roads. Thus, safety in the traffic is not guaranteed. What fill up the roads are of course cars.

Nowadays, the Indian government is struggling to solve this air pollution problem. Although there is no accurate data about how many percent of the air pollution caused by the mobility sector, mobility has certainly a significant contribution. Taking action to make this sector more sustainable will significantly bring down air pollution.

Learning from the lessons from European countries and other countries in other continents that have been successfully promoting sustainable mobility, we will see that mind-set change is extremely important in this matter. Many European city centres with car traffic that we saw decades ago are now car free ample space where people can walk without any disturbance from motorised traffic. This is also known as “walkable city centre”. Public transport routes are laid on the edge of the city centre square and car users must park their car outside the city centre.

We will see this concept applied many more whenever a city government in Europe decides to improve their city centres. The mind-set has changed. The priority used to be: car – public transport – cycling and walking. Now it is completely the other way around: cycling and walking – public transport – car.

I agree that we should not blindly compare the European situation with the situation in Delhi. But I believe that this sustainability concept can be perfectly implemented in Delhi:

(1)    Promoting cycling and walking by first providing the infrastructure. It is widely accepted and also logical that if you provide safe walking and cycling paths, pedestrians and cyclists will show up.

(2)    Attracting more people to use public transport. To be able to compete with cars, public transport must be fast, safe and comfortable. For such a big city like Delhi, a full BRT system is indispensable.

(3)    Harder requirement on the acceptable limits for exhaust emissions of busses. In Europe for example, emissions standards were defined for vehicles (including bus public transport) sold in EU member states (click this link for more information). This measure will give a direct impact to the quality of life along the bus routes as it limits exhaust emissions of, among others, NOx and PM which can harm our health.

(4)    Construction of highway networks at some distance away from populated areas.

This concept is not only creating sustainable urban mobility but also starts with measures with low investment requirements.

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