Bengaluru: The makeover of Church Street was supposed to kick-start Bengaluru’s attempt to build pedestrian-friendly roads.
But less than four months after the 715-metre road was reconstructed, it has invited strong criticism from some citizens including Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw.
The Kasuti-patterned cobblestoned carriageway that was touted by the government as the show-stealer is already coming off in a few patches. The surface of the road that suits pedestrians may not be ideal for motorists, some of whom have complained that it gets particularly slippery during rains (it rains in Bengaluru through the year).
On 24 June, Mazumdar-Shaw, president of Bangalore Political Action Committee (BPAC) and also the chairperson and managing director of Biocon Ltd tweeted: “We must bring road contractors who do shoddy work like Church St to book n slap them with severe penalties n even jail if they don’t rectify. Moreover what quality audit procedures do we have? If cobblestones in Church St r coming off, who signed off?"
“I went (to Church Street) in early May and loved what I saw but if it’s been done shoddily, what’s the point? The public can’t be short-changed in this manner," Mazumdar-Shaw told Mint later on Monday.
However, the Bengaluru mayor R. Sampath Raj responded to Mazumdar-Shaw’s charge, saying that the damage to the road “appears to have been done deliberately".
“We have sought a report (from Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike or BBMP) and the damages have been fixed," he said.
It’s too early to judge whether the Church Street makeover will work.
V. Ravichandar, chairman, Feedback Consulting and chief catalyst, Bangalore City Connect said that the project (that has been implemented by BBMP), has infirmities but these are early days.
“It’s a learning curve. These are not your normal roads so there will be teething issues. There are challenges of leakages and some parts of the road are unfinished," he said.
It’s important for Bengaluru to get the Church Street project right especially in a country where pedestrians are a neglected lot.
The Church Street reconstruction aims to promote walking by providing actual infrastructure—well-designed pavements—to people. It used the Tender SURE template and took it further, with its tactile tiles for the visually challenged, wider footpaths and ramps at crossings for those on wheelchairs.
Tender SURE—or Specifications for Urban Road Execution—is a template for designing urban roads that involves getting utilities like water, power, electricity and sewage together before planning any road project in order to minimize the need for subsequent road digging and repair. It encourages wider pavements and walkable roads in a city like Bengaluru, whose population of around 10 million in 2011 is expected to more than double by 2040.
The goal of the Church Street makeover—to promote walking in a safe manner—is laudable but some experts are questioning the way in which it was done.
Swati Ramanathan, who heads the Jana Urban Space Foundation and had introduced Tender SURE as a manual, said in a text message that while Tender SURE had been used as a template for Church Street, it wasn’t adopted wholesale.
“In the Tender SURE roads I have designed, I have used only asphalt and concrete for the vehicular road surface. I have preferred to stay away from cobblestone surfaces because I am not confident of the capabilities to execute on the ground. Besides, it is high cosmetic cost..," Ramanathan said.