As several Asia-Pacific and Indian cities undertake plans to construct a metro link to facilitate public transport, certain essential issues remain to be addressed. Although the metro and monorail projects endeavor to create options for faster travel, their impact on the rest of the city is seldom recognised.
Urban design is a dynamic and holistic process and responds to several complex urban issues simultaneously. Besides primarily being a transport system the Metro has immense potential to transform the city of Chennai.
Each Metro station has a unique character and function depending on its location. The Metro station proposed at Central Station has the potential to complement the existing iconic railway station, while being sensitive to the heritage buildings around it. Since it would also receive travellers from outside the city, the Central Metro, could emerge as an important node of arrival into the city. In the larger context, this metrostation, like the Les Halle in Paris, could gradually impact activity between the Central Station and the Egmore station and act as a transition between the suburban lines and the bus- routes, emerging as an inter-modal transport hub.
In contrast, the Metro stations along Mount Road have the potential to revitalise the artery. Chennai’s residents have invariably perceived Mount Road to be a dividing line between Anna Nagar and Adyar. With an appropriate design, the introduction of the Metro station is expected to facilitate a greater connection between the disparate neighbourhoods of the city and decongest roads experiencing incessant traffic.
Cities in Europe have evolved stringent standards for urban infrastructure. Several such large-scale projects are undertaken in collaboration between the government, urban designers, architects, transport planners and Universities. Since elevated metros have been planned, it would be pertinent to initiate design projects to appropriately utilise the space below these structures. Invariably, lack of light or over designed structures at times, could make them prone to misuse. Often they become garbage dumps, being inaccessible to public activity. The Japanese system also has sound barriers and is designed to structurally withstand earthquakes.
Detailed environmental assessment reports on the felling of trees, protecting urban open spaces and playgrounds, inclusion of dedicated pedestrian paths and cycle paths are mandatory in European cities. In Vietnam, the environmental report of the Ho Chin Min City Metro rail includes an exhaustive study of the impact of the construction, vibration levels, noise, visual impediments, steps taken to mitigate inconvenience to daily life and the impact of tunneling. City renewal plans need to include the lifespan of the structure and record when it has to be demolished and rebuilt.
In the Asia-Pacific, large infrastructure projects invariably generate an influx of migrants from rural areas, who are most often subjected to poor living conditions. New standards to enforce and protect the rights of migrant workers require to be promulgated to mitigate the risks of crime, health and hygiene ensured with fair wages and safe working conditions. Assessing the urban context and the specific design of Metro stations can become a collaborative exercise between citizens, Universities, urban designers and the metro authorities to create better urban spaces for Chennai in the long term facilitating transport as well as other urban needs.