By Ram Wangkheirakpam
It is a worrisome trend that all the streets of Imphal have become car and motor bike parking area. The whole stretch on both sides of Babupara road where offices like BSNL, Old and New Secretariat, Transport Department, Police Department, CM Bungalow and Post office are situated have become parking lots. The roads of Paona Market, Nupi Keithel and Thangal Market have become parking area for cars and motor bikes and are a nightmare for all. Even those who wanted to come and buy things are not able to access the market easily anymore.
Try cycling or even walking on both sides of PWD office, it is full of cars and motor bikes. They have occupied almost half the road space. Then also try inside Gandhi Avenue area, Nirmalabas School, Nirmala Hotel, Shops – you are just overwhelmed by vehicles parked over there and mindless honking of cars and bikes.
While in some places, walking spaces have been converted into car parks like the one in front of the electricity department, cycling has become extremely difficult as the safer road side has been taken over by parking lots. Even the footpaths of Imphal Hotel have become a car park – imagine the boldness of the hotel owner to put ‘Parking’ signs on a Footpath.
Why is it that municipality, traffic department don’t understand the need to leave road sides free from parking as this space is used by pedestrians and bicyclist. The fact that these departments are allowing cars and bikes to park on road side indicates their sheer insensitivity to those who cycle and sheer lack of understanding that by making cycling difficult you are pushing them to take up cars or bikes as means of transport which then increases traffic and need for more parking, and that too in a state where there is no public transport system.
In a recent announcement, the government decided to convert underground of Nupi Keithel into a car park. This is the second such space, after the covered Naga River which was supposed to accommodate cars and bikes for parking so that they do not enter the bazar area. We are also informed from reliable sources that there will be more multi parking spaces coming up in Imphal area. An indication of insatiable car parks from ever increasing car owners!
The faulty logic of all these is that, we need to provide space for parking for the ever increasing number of cars and motor bikes; and the thinking of car owners that it is their right to get a private parking space in a public land (such as road). The idea of providing more and more spaces for parking to cars and motor bikes is a skewed motor friendly policy where it only helps increase in their population. And in the absence of a pro cycling and walking environment or a policy, you end up forcing those walking and cycling to shift to cars or motorbikes.
One should ask, whether the roads of Paona and Thangal Market and other places around the market will be freed from parking if the cars and bikes goes under Ima Keithel or will it be that it will become an additional occupation of yet another ‘free’ space by an ever increasing demand by car and motorbike owners!
If we agree that our streets are crowded, jammed and polluted and that cars and motor bikes are eating up our roads and cycling and walking spaces, and that we cannot continue to expand our roads anymore then we must find a solution all together.
Urban land is valuable and scarce. The government must levy high parking fee that represents value of land occupied possibly equivalent to the real estate value. Graded parking fee can recover the cost of the land, which might mean that car parking in Paona Market can cost 50-100 or more for an hour which currently is 20 for whole day! If there are arguments such as those of households in the market area, then they must make their own parking within their plot. They cannot expect to use public road for their private parking. And for those shopkeepers, cars and bikes are not the best way to come as it adds up to the traffic and the noise. And if one is buying bulky items then there can be service available such as home delivery, rickshaw or bike carrier or even a trolley that can help you carry to your car or home. There are also arguments of the shopkeepers that they are not able to sell goods if Paona and Thangal market is made vehicle free. The alternative argument is that, once you free up the road from vehicles then more buyers can access the market which otherwise is occupied by vehicles. Most importantly, it will be pollution and noise free which is good for the health of shopkeepers in the long run. One need no reminder here that there is real health effects when exposed to vehicular emission and noise.
Public transport vehicles and non-motorised modes of transport should be given preference while designing roads and for allocating parking space. They should be privileged for the fact that they pollute less and carry more people unlike a car which in most cases carry one or two passengers and occupies more space than a public transport. Like in the past, buses can be allowed to ply through Paona and Thangal market with proper stops where commuters can hop in or hop out and can even can carry their goods. In case of other parking lots, like the stretch of CM Office and Secretariat the government can discourage parking by charging fees that matches economic and social cost.
The moot question is about, reducing cars and their parkings and not increasing it. In fact, more provision for parking means encouraging car buyers and car users. Cutting parking spaces will mean cleaner city, less pollution, less noise, and a better place to live and work – in short a livable Imphal.
(The writer is President, Manipur Cycle Club)