Road widenings are commonplace across cities in many developing countries. Cities in these countries are a work in progress, the chaotic and unplanned result that emerges from a series of piece-meal developments. The need for road widenings are the inevitable result of such development.
Among all the major Indian cities, Hyderabad has been at the forefront of road-widenings. All the major city roads have been subjected to atleast one, sometimes multiple rounds, of widening. The state and local governments have innovated on several approaches to obtaining the consent of land losers and acquiring land.
However, there are a few unintended consequences of such widenings. I am inclined to the argument that unwittingly road widenings have turned Hyderabad into a city without footpaths and where hawkers run riot on road margins.
1. Public perceptions of road widenings are restricted to widening of the carriage-ways. However, such widenings are accompanied by a series of other actions - construction of drains and footpaths, and shifting of utility services (water, sewerage, telephone, and electricity lines). In fact, carriage-way expansion forms only a small share of the total cost of widening. All these accompanying activities involve co-ordination across numerous departments and therefore take time.
However, local governments start on road widenings with limited resources, most often only enough to cover the carriage-way and at the most, drains. Further, given the long drawn out nature of the work, the carriage-way is laid over the utility lines (and this explains the frequent cuttings on newly laid roads!). Footpaths are invariably given the short shrift.
It is therefore no surprise that in comparison to cities with less road widenings like Chennai and Bangalore, Hyderabad roads suffer from lack of footpaths. In fact, Hyderabad could count as one of the most pedestrian unfriendly cities.
2. Another feature of road widenings is the irregular nature of the widened roads. This is a result of the refusal of certain individuals along the alignment to part with their lands and the court litigations that invariably follow. The non-shifting of electricity poles and lines, coupled with the aforementioned problems with land acquisition ensures irregularly developed carriageways. In the absence of footpaths, these irregular spaces (which cannot be used as carriage-way) get occupied by street hawkers.
This problem of under-utilized carriage-ways is also a result of way in which road widenings are carried out. Urban planners frame the issue as one of expanding width instead of adding lanes. Width becomes the negotiating point, thereby creating roads with anomalies like 2.5 and 3.5 carriageways. I have blogged earlier about the implications of such framing.