Town planning: bump in the road (coastal)

The much-vaunted 10.58 km long coastal road, which is being built from Marine Drive to Worli by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to speed up commuter journeys to and from South Mumbai, will fundamentally change the way the city ​​moves.

But even as the sprawling concrete lane is expected to help accommodate more cars and commuters, questions are now being raised as to whether the current design of the mega road will prevent Mumbai residents from running out of waterfront space. sprawling city.

Interestingly, while there is a global trend to “retire” or demolish highways that run through cities and help create more connected and walkable neighborhoods, Mumbai will become one of the few cities to build an eight-lane highway. right in the heart of the city which will run parallel to the city’s waterfront.

In light of this, a group of architects, urban planners, designers and directors of colleges of architecture in Mumbai had written a letter to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra in March asking for a realignment of the way the coastal road had been planned.

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The architects suggested that a slight realignment would significantly improve Mumbai’s waterfront revenue and tourism potential in addition to allowing residents more open space. The BMC, for its part, says that with 50% of the project already completed, there is no possibility of structural change.

The Coastal Route as proposed by the BMC

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) had planned the Mumbai Coastal Highway on the western side of the state capital to provide an alternative north-south route to improve mobility as well as the development of public open spaces leisure and greenery.

The proposed coastal road has a length of 29.20 km along the western coastal stretch of Mumbai. The project must be built in two parts; the first part is the 10.58 km long southern section, which would connect Princess Flyover Road to the Worli Sea link for which work is currently underway. The second phase is to connect Bandra Sea Link to Kandivali Junction. Work on this section has not yet started.

The first phase of the project to be constructed at a cost of Rs 12,700 crore also involved the reclamation of land from the sea. According to the plan, around 111 hectares of land were to be reclaimed. Part of it would be used for the construction of the road while the remaining reclaimed space is to be used for the construction of parks, cycle paths, jogging paths, boardwalks and open green spaces.

In accordance with the current BMC proposal on the basis of which construction is underway, the coastal road will contain a 20 meter wide promenade adjoining the coast which will consist of a sidewalk, a cycle path and a green zone. It will be followed by a 17 meter wide four lane carriageway, an 11 meter wide median followed by another 17 meter wide four lane road. Adjoining this stretch of road will be a large open space approximately 135 meters wide. This width of free space will vary along the entire length of the coastal road.

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According to the BMC, the coastal road will transform the way Mumbai travels, adding that the proposed green space will provide much needed recreational spaces for the city. He also claimed that these bathing facilities would be easily accessible to the common public, unlike these spaces being private backyards of the few or places of unsightly encroachments.

“Mumbai has only been able to add 320 ha of public amenity space, including green space, over the past two decades. It has not been possible to expand the city’s open space area due to sheer unavailability of land, as the city has a limited land area, high population density, and no place to expand,” according to a report commissioned by the BMC on the coast road.

The report highlights “the extremely poor access to open space in Mumbai, stating that the ratio of open space per 1,000 people in Mumbai is only 0.03 hectares compared to the planning standard of 6, 2 Ha per 1,000 people.

The report states that the massive rehabilitation that is underway for the coastal road project will generate 70 hectares of green space along the seafront in perpetuity. This open space can be developed for the public by creating cycle paths, boardwalks, landscaped and theme parks.

While BMC is betting big on the Coastal Road as a project that will not only improve travel around the city but also make the areas around its neighborhood more livable for Mumbai’s public, many architects and urban planners wonder if the project will revitalize really the visual and economical aura. from the west coast of Mumbai.

The changes sought by architects and urban planners

On March 2, 70 architects, planners, planners and professors wrote a letter to BMC Commissioner IS Chahal, CM Uddhav Thackeray and State Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray expressing their views on the need to undertake a “minor realignment” of the coastal road which they said would significantly improve the revenue and tourism potential of Mumbai’s waterfront.

The letter was written as many of these architects feared that the existing alignment of the coastal road would sever the link between Mumbaikars and the waterfront, not only limiting access but also acting as a visual barrier for people watching. towards the sea.

The proposal presented consisted of moving the proposed open spaces towards the seaside.

“Given the level of reclamation, while retaining the road in its entirety – we think it is wise to move as much open space as possible to the seafront – this would allow for a world-class seafront. open to all citizens while retaining the essential view of the open and unobstructed horizon… specifies the letter.

The architects also raised the point that ideally for a project of this scale, provisions should also be made to ensure that a continuous open space should be made available to the public for people to walk or do cycling from one end of the coastal road to the other through a connected seafront.

Below the existing alignment there is a 400 meter span and a 100 meter span of the promenade which is disconnected.

“Adding continuous bike lanes the full length of the reclamation would allow cycling the full length of the city, reducing the load on the road, as well as public transport on the north-south corridors on the west side.”, the letter reads.

Architect Alan Abraham, one of the letter’s driving forces, said the reason for sending the letter was to ensure that city residents have a universally accessible waterfront with access without hindrance.

“The proposal we submitted is feasible, but at a slight cost due to design changes. These changes, however, are worth it in the long run for the city, as this infrastructure being created is here to stay. Making these changes will ensure citizens have more open spaces to use,” Abraham said.

Some of the architects proposing the changes said that making these changes and pushing the open spaces out to sea would ensure that these spaces are preserved in perpetuity and not open in the future for commercial development.

“The recovered open space is a veritable real estate gold mine. While the BMC has assured that no commercial development will be allowed on this open space, the fact that our leaders have been known to tweak the rules relating to real estate is well known. By moving the open space towards the sea, these open public spaces will be better protected from future built development proposals,” said another architect who signed the letter.

The architects also raised questions about the justification for having an 11 meter wide median which the BMC proposed to divide the two carriageways. A median of 11 meters wide is equivalent to a three-lane road and the architects claimed that reducing this median could further allow the BMC to increase the total area of ​​open space. The median on regular city roads and highways is between one and two meters.

Pranav Naik, another architect and letter signatory, said open spaces closer to the sea can allow them to be designed as a “coastal resilience zone” where the force of the tides can be buffered.

“Having open spaces closer to the sea can allow them to be designed as ‘coastal resilience zones’ where the force of the tides can be buffered, as well as ponds for the floods that occur regularly” , Naik said.

He also pointed out that bus lanes laid out on a “highway-like road” with no connection to residential spaces are unnecessary. “Overall, there is no clarity on what is being built. While we suggest changes, we also ask for clarifications. We can help, as citizens and architects. We have the brightest architects in the country signing this letter,” he added.

BMC’s point of view

The BMC, meanwhile, said the vessel has already sailed in regards to any realignment of the project. He claimed that more than 50% of the physical progress of the project is already made in line with the current alignment and therefore any change at this stage is not possible.

“The suggestions of the Group of Architects, Urban Designers cannot be taken into account at this stage of the project for the following reasons. The current alignment has been planned in such a way that it meets the geometric alignment requirements according to the IRC code guaranteeing the suitability for the high-speed urban road with a speed of 80 to 100 km/h and the technical feasibility of the interchanges to connect the coastal road to the existing road. network,” said Ashwini Bhide, Additional Municipal Commissioner (Eastern Suburb) and Head of Coastal Roads Department.

The architects, meanwhile, said that while the suggested changes might end up costing the BMC a bit more money, the changes might be worth it.