Cities & Architecture

The Coastal Road is an Expensive Mistake Mumbai Should Avoid

Mumbai's citizens are closely connected to their coastline. (Photo: Marc van der Chijs)

Mumbai’s citizens are closely connected to their coastline. (Photo: Marc van der Chijs)

 Mumbai is planning to build a coastal road along the western edge of the city. Most of the politicians and traffic experts claim this as the only solution to ease traffic congestion in the city. But is it? The history of urban planning suggests otherwise. In the 21st Century why should a hyper dense city like Mumbai to rely on failed solutions from the West? Are Mumbai citizens being short-changed again for the comfort of a few? These are important questions to ask. Here are some of the reasons why we think the Coastal Road will cause more harm than benefit the city of Mumbai in coming years.

Out-dated planning models

Twentieth century cities in the developed nations were faced with the challenge to keep up with the growing demands of the industrial revolution. One of the most impressive inventions was the rise of the automobile, which, along with other industries, soon became the emblems of progress and development. City planners were quick to make special provisions within the city to accommodate factories and cars as the primary mode of commute.

The delicate balance of cities with its people that had existed for centuries was redefined in more than one way. Factories and industrial ports defined the waterfronts and city centres while highway projects were used to divide neighbourhoods segregating the rich from the poor, white from the black and natives from the migrants. However along with cars and factories came the issue of increased social inequity, pollution, accidents, and rise in lifestyle diseases resulting in the overall deterioration of public health and wellbeing.

The last few decades of city-building across the developed world have seen a major shift in the thinking about the relationship of the city with its people. The factories are now systematically moved out or replaced with cleaner industries; at the same time, cities all around the world are beginning to embrace their coastlines, to become world-class waterfront destinations. Where innovation and research are the new drivers of economic growth, the next generation of decision makers are now putting their priorities for people – and pedestrian – oriented public infrastructure.

While much of the West has moved-on from focussing on cars and the manufacturing sector, India on the other hand has woken up to this model. As a result, here we are in the 21st century, stuck with on out-dated planning and development ideas. India will now adopt a copycat formula of building the future Detroit in Chennai; a Cincinnati in Jamshedpur and a Las Vegas in Goa. All of these will be connected with the deadliest highways in the world. Mumbai too is not to be left behind—it will get a brand new Coastal Road, a 35 km highway from Nariman Point to Kandivali, being touted as one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in Mumbai, which, if executed, will be blunder of catastrophic proportions.

The sea is part of Mumbai’s identity 

Mumbai city has one of the lowest per capita open spaces in the world. Given this scenario, waterfront areas like Girgaum Chowpatty, Juhu Beach, Bandra Bandstand, though varying in their size and quality, offer every Mumbaikar an opportunity to connect with the sea. It provides everyone a sense of openness and a sense of belonging that eventually becomes a part of the citizen’s identity. But, only 1/3rd of the 149 kilometres long coastline is accessible to the public. The Coastal Road now threatens to take away even this remaining access to the water and with that it threatens to take away every Mumbaikar’s identity.

Like the Coastal Road, the Bandra-Worli Sealink project had promised creation of new open spaces along the highway. What happened in the end? The newly constructed promenade and open spaces are the one of the most unreachable and unsafe spaces in Mumbai. The new open spaces along the Coastal Road will be accessible only by dark and dingy tunnels to cross the wide road and therefore will be unsafe and almost unreachable. Given the track record of maintaining underground pedestrian subways within the city, the new tunnels shall be home to squalor and diseases. The massive grade separated interchanges at Haji Ali, Bandra Bandstand, Nariman Point, will destroy heritage views and the connection of parks and open spaces to the sea. The Coastal Road infrastructure will be a huge physical barrier that will disconnect Mumbai’s residents from its coastline and the water’s edge and will take away the access to the coast for most people. Mumbai’s centuries old connection with the sea will be lost forever.

The myth about easing traffic and increasing connectivity 

In the 1990s, the idea of 55 new flyovers was introduced in Mumbai, promising to solve all traffic problems within the city. However in 2015, those flyovers have only increased the car dependency in Mumbai and the traffic is even worse than that in 1995. These big highways along the coast shall be redundant by the time they are constructed. Ninety-two percent of Mumbai’s population travels by non-private vehicles. We need equitable measures of diverse public transit options to solve Mumbai’s mobility problems. The Coastal Road will only further add to congestion, as moving people directly from one end of the city to another and emptying the cars into the dense southern Mumbai areas, with little infrastructure, will strangle the already congested city.

By encouraging more people to drive to work, the city will be the target of unprecedented pollution from vehicle use, which will choke the existing streets and neighbourhoods. Maharashtra already has one of the highest numbers of death on roads. The new Coastal Road will lead to unprecedented deaths on the roads of Mumbai, as speeds of 90 kmph with Indian driving habits will be lethal for most people.

Loss of mangroves

The proposed Coastal Road will impact the sensitive ecology of Mumbai’s western coastline including its beaches and mangroves. It will require reclamation of a whopping 168 hectares of land, excavation of beaches, destruction of existing mangroves, construction of roads within creeks and drilling of the seabed to construct underwater tunnels which will adversely affect the marine ecology of the city. The Mahim bay floods every year after the reclamation for construction of Bandra-Worli Sea Link. Similarly, the Coastal Road will cause increased flooding due to loss of ecology and natural buffers. The Coastal Road, even where it is built on stilts will destroy mangroves under the bridges due to construction activity and block any light and nutrition to the wetlands.

A costly proposition

At Rs 12,000 Crores for construction of the Coastal Road, this project is more expensive than constructing Elevated Metro Corridor for the same length. This road will serve only 8 per cent of the city population that travels by private vehicles;the rest either take public transportation or walk to work. To create a Coastal Road to cater to such a small percentage of private vehicles is a gross injustice and a waste of public money. Buses or Metro along the Coastal Road will not be feasible as majority of the people will not be able to reach the bus stops so far away. Also, the catchment area for any public transit option is better served if the route passes through existing city area on both sides rather than from one side, as will be the case of the Coastal Road. This project shall only benefit the rich and the upper middle class reducing the overall quality of life for the huge lower middle class population and the poor. A 12,000 crore infrastructure project of such a scale, built with public’s tax payer’s money, is a disaster whichever way one looks at it.

There are several fishing communities along the western shore that earn their livelihood due to diverse habitat along the coast. The Coastal Road will impact the livelihood of this Koli Samaj and their settlements. Heavy construction and excavation will negatively impact any fishing activity and make it redundant. Interchanges in Khar Danda, Juju Moragaon, Malad and Kandivali shall adversely impact the sensitive coastal ecology and subsequently any thriving fishing activity.

Leapfrog to a new model

Mumbai must learn from the mistakes that the West made in the 20th century and leapfrog to a new urban planning model. World-class cities are removing highways from within their city limits. Cities like Seattle, Boston and Seoul have already dismantled highways and Coastal Roads to increase quality of life and health of citizens by improving walking and cycling infrastructure. Some cities like Vancouver, have managed to keep away from any highway infrastructure within the main city and along its coast, instead focusing on high quality public transit and pedestrian infrastructure. It has increasingly devoted its resources to a priority list that puts the pedestrian in first place, followed by cyclists, transit users, and then the car drivers making the city, a leader in developing high-density neighbourhoods organised around greenways and public transit. No surprises that Vancouver has ended up being, in survey after survey, the most liveable city in the world.

Mumbai is a public transport dominant city; almost 85% of trips (including walking and cycling) are carried out by public transport daily. This ingrained culture of the city is something that city planners and the government should appreciate and build upon. All transport and city level plans should put enhancement of public transport and accessibility to it as a priority and discourage projects like the Coastal Road. Furthermore the city’s geographic setting lends itself perfectly to develop its eastern and western coastlines as public open spaces, which would go a long way and transform this great metropolis into a people-friendly, world class waterfront city.

The writers are with Studio POD, an urban planning consultancy based in Mumbai

  • ashok759

    For a moment, one may lay environmental and equity related issues to one side and ask a simple question : How will this project pay for itself ?

  • Shama Zehra Zaidi

    Shift as many bureaucrats, planners and politicians out of Mumbai as soon as possible to a spanking new smart city capital suburb near the new Panvel airport. They can splurge on that instead of this godawful coastal road. It will also get them out of our hair and lead to better connectivity to areas across the bay. And whatever happened to the earlier plan for increased connectivity through rapid water transport?

  • NARENDRA M APTE

    (1) Protection of
    environment is not known to be a strong priority of the BJP-Shiv Sena
    government in Maharashtra nor was it of the earlier Congress-NCP government. (2)
    Neglect of public transport is of course a common factor which is present throughout
    regimes of all governments. Just as construction of flyovers was claimed to be
    for the masses, construction of the Coastal Road too is being claimed as
    essential for economic development. (3) We have all along ignored
    socio-economic costs of private vehicles (both cars and two wheelers) for which
    both the flyovers were or are being constructed. The environmental concerns with
    regard to construction of the Coastal Road about which the authors have written are
    serious but in all probability they will be simply brushed aside, irrespective
    of which party’s government is in power. (4) Incidentally, let us not forget
    that Shiv Sena has opposed the proposed nuclear power project in Jaitapur,
    Ratnagiri district as it claims to be dangerous to environment in that part of Konkan. But same
    Shiv Sena is supporting the Coastal Road project with all is might.

  • dibp

    This project is the need of the hour. It is set to increase open spaces. And will also have a mass transit Bus System. It is set to form a wall along the coast to guard the city against sea level rising. There ll be beaches ,parks ,promenades along the coastline… And is estimated to benefit around 10lac people (which is 5% of the population).

  • Mukund

    The fundamental problem in India is excess population, destruction of forest, uncertain rains, no water management, opportunities only in limited cities forcing rush from other parts of countries to place like Mumbai. Another important point is nexus between politicians, builders and municipal authorities which led to lot of illegal and unauthorized construction. More emphasis on private transport than public transport similar to more MERU type taxis than black and yellow taxis. This has led to complete mess of Mumbai with no solution. Another reason is vision of our rulers/authorities as we only think for next 10 years and never 100 years is the main reason our planning fails. British people when constructed Kalyan Railway station 125 years back was with great vision of all possible routes to Pune and Nashik. Any train can be. taken to any platform, If complete station is closed for any reason, there are bypass routes from yard to Pune as well as Nashik. Same kalyan station can handle easily traffic even after 125 years. This is just a small example of how planning should be. Shortcuts and fast track solutions never work. The third point is about bad habits which are hard to die as many like to stay in a congested manner as we do not keep wide roads, enough distance between buildings, sufficient vacant place around the building etc.
    The basic contradiction is one side we talk about smart cities and other side we just try to do some patch work to the already congested cities like Mumbai giving them higher FSI, concept of super built up, TDR etc. City like London which is over 1000 years old, most of the residents stay in 2 story or 4 story buildings and very few stay in towers barring commercial offices etc. As Mumbai grew fast and on the brink of going out of control because of opportunities, it can again shrink with following measures.

    1) Eliminate the concept of TDR, super built up and FSI more than max. 3 to halt the uncontrolled growth.
    2) Open space around the building leaving carparking area has to be too high so that there is at least 50 M distance between any 2 buildings and enable people to breath freely.
    3) Maximum public transport and very less pvt. transport. Cars should be sold on auction and not as a right to control the car population. Each car or taxi should have defined life beyond which they should be seen obsoleted.
    4) Coastal metro line or rail line like in Sri Lanka should be preferred than coastal roads.
    5) New smart cities not near Mumbai but other parts of the state should be developed with modern infrastructure so that there will be diversion of Mumbai population to spread in such cities.
    6) Any new road has to be enough wide for at least 4 lanes on each side.
    7) Today all our buses travel in zigzag manner which means for bus stop they come to left side of roads and while running they run near road divider. Instead let all the buses should run near the divider and wherever there are bus stops the divider has to be wide enough to accommodate passengers but for passengers there has to be a bridge supported by escalator so that no one will cross the roads and it will be easy for all to travel.
    8) Heavy vehicle movement has to be only between 9 PM to 7 AM. Rules should be modified to allow shops to load the goods in night. Water tanker, buses, garbage trucks could only be exceptions to ply in a day time.
    9) Even or odd no cars to ply on a particular day to control car rush and heavy charges for car parking to be applied discouraging people to take their car out. These charges should not be applied in case of hospitals etc.

    These are some of my suggestions. Corrections / improvements are always appreciated.