Jerom Theunissen Photography


January 12-14

City in Context

The city of Ahmedabad is a historic city established in 1411 A.D on the eastern banks of the river Sabarmati. Since the times of its inception, it has been a center for trade and commerce. It is well-known for its cotton-textile industry and was called the “Manchester of the East”. Today, the city limits cover 466 km with a population of 6.4 million and density within the municipal limits as high as 11,800 people per square kilometer. The city is the 7th largest metropolis in India. 

Ahmedabad is known for its forward-thinking urban planning that encourages mixed land-use and transit-oriented urban development to accommodate an additional 2.4 million residents by 2021. Compact city structures and hierarchical road networks ensure that movement of people is facilitated while maintaining a rich urban fabric. The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) follows the mechanism of the Development Plan-Town Planning Scheme, a comprehensive plan which aims to transform the city into a more liveable, equitable and sustainable metropolis that supports a dynamic multi-sector economy. Calls for higher densities around transit nodes offer the urban transport system an additional source of revenue via exemptions for higher floor area ratios (FAR) than typically permitted. These methods are also employed to great effect in cities like Singapore and Hong Kong to address the proliferating problems of pollution, worsening traffic conditions and inadequate affordable housing. 

AMC unveiled its plan in line with the Gujarat State Urban Development Year 2005 after intensive public consultations and with the inspiration and leadership of Chief Minister of Gujararat Narendra Modi (today he is the Prime Minister of India). The four key elements of the plan are to unlock land potential through urban reform; invest in environment and infrastructure; ensure inclusive development to address issues of the urban poor beyond basic needs; and capacity building and institutional strengthening.

To learn more about Ahmedabad’s integrated land use and transport planning, click here for a presentation by I.P. Gautam, Vice Chairman & Managing Director of Ahmedabad Metro Rail Company.

Janmarg – India’s Leading BRT System

The main reason I wanted to visit Ahmedabad was to see how the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) or “Janmarg” successfully addressed the public transportation needs of a burgeoning population. Remarkably, Janmarg was the first full-featured BRT in all of India, the first with stations in the median and where tickets are bought before entering system stations,to allow for quicker boarding of the buses, and fewer delays. The stations are well-designed, accessible spaces that provide shelter from the elements. Buses are boarded at-level, making for a more accessible experience for the elderly, handicapped and parents with small children. This attention to the user experience is evident from Ahmedabad Municipal Commissioner I.P. Gautam’s statement that Janmarg “focuses on moving people, not traffic. We believe all people, men and women, young and old, physically challenged, should be able to move around in comfort. Efficiently, affordability, safety and security are central to the plan” (source).

Image source: Wikipedia

"[The focus is] on moving people, not traffic... We believe all people, men and women, young and old, physically challenged, should be able to move around in comfort."

- former Ahmedabad Municipal Commissioner I.P. Gautam

Janmarg incorporates several features that make it a high-level BRT system, including:

  • median busways with strong longitudinal segregation and good pavement structure
  • changes in road geometry to accommodate new traffic patterns, including split flyovers, as well as new pedestrian and bicycle facilities
  • real bus stations,located in the median, with prepayment and level access to the buses
  • renewed vehicle fleets with special design, including wide doors on both sides
  • frequent service to improve passenger convenience
  • electronic fare collection
  • centralized control and user information systems

City residents unilaterally embraced the BRT system—as of June 2011 there were 115,000 trips each day on Janmarg, carrying residents to work, to school and elsewhere.  Today, 350,000 trips are made. The positive benefit in terms of sustainability lies in the switching from bus to private cars and two wheelers. In addition, all public transport now runs on CNG, thus reducing air pollution significantly.  BRTS has seen public transport usage increase tremendously and has created a catalytic effect along BRT corridors.

Key to the success of the project was thanks to following the systems approach, which combines infrastructure, vehicles, operations, technologies and user education to comprehensively consider all the aspects of a successful BRT.

For an excellent presentation about planning, implementation, operation, BRT applicability and replicability prepared by the Center of Excellence in  Urban Transport, CEPT University, click here.

Parting Thoughts

Ahemedabad left me happy I had stopped there on my 12 day trip through India. Being my third city in the country, I was already acclimated to the inevitable traffic, noise, and air pollution, but the city set itself apart with its incredible architecture and human-scale old quarter. I spent an evening in the old walled city, where narrow streets curve in a way that prompt you to find out what lies beyond every twisting corner.

I visited the Jami Masjid Mosque at sunset. Built by Ahmed Shah in 1423, the massive Jama Masjid ranks as one of India’s most beautiful mosques and it certainly didn't dissapoint. While there, I saw people young and old craning their heads towards the sky, teeth gritting with determination. I had the good fortune of being in Ahmedabad for the Makar Sakranti festival. The Hindu festival is a celebration of the end of short days, and families all over India gather to feast. But the favorite part of the festival for many is the kite flying. Far above the city, small paper kites would dance in the sky. The string that guides the kites are designed to cut other kites loose. Throughout the city, unsuccessful kites hung from telephone poles. The fierce battle that ensued across the sky was an absolute treat to witness, while the city below rumbled on.

Celebrating Makar Sakranti with some kind locals on their rooftop!

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