Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
I’ve been riding in a lot more cars (and rickshaws, of course) here than I normally would in Seattle; at home, I am frequently walking, biking, or taking the bus through my daily life. My life is much more compact in Seattle, while my life in Bangalore has proven to be sprawling, tumbling, and nearly devoid of habit.
Bangalore is a city of never-ending sprawl-- urbanization is continuously stretching its spiny fingers further and further, greedily grabbing up land in the name of development. Land is cheaper on the outskirts of town, and developing land further away from the city center can seem to make financial sense. American cities are known for this. But sprawled development can easily end up costing a city much more in the long run-- when you factor in transportation costs (1). These externalities include vehicles, upkeep of roads, time wasted in congestion, public transportation systems, and air pollution from engine emissions, to name a few. Additionally, public transportation struggles to remain efficient and effective in cities with sprawled development patterns, and so it becomes that single- occupancy vehicles dominate the transportation system (2).
At least all of this is what I tell myself as I take my third Uber of the day. Is this how I want to experience the city? In many ways, the crowded roads are the veins of the city--life flows through them, and millions of people rely on them every day. But--to me and my passion for socially and environmentally sustainable transportation-- the emission-heavy roadways do not speak to the best that Bangalore has to offer.
Bangalore has a very new, still in construction, metro system called Namma Metro (“Our Metro” in Kannada). In many ways it reminds me of the newer European metro systems that I have been in, and I certainly can’t help but draw parallels between it and King County’s Link Light Rail. The train cars are very modern and air conditioned (I’m looking at you, London Underground). Like Seattle’s Link, this rail system has been a long time coming, with construction officially commencing in 2007. Two lines have been significantly built out, (although not finished) while three new lines are slated to be finished by 2023 (3).
The Namma Metro has a mix of underground, street-level, and elevated tracks. Especially as I was flying by on the long stretch of above-ground rail, I felt deeply connected to the city, in a way that is difficult to describe. The elevated rail tracks give passengers brief glances into the backyards and rooftops of their neighbors. Simultaneously mundane and intimate, I could see flashes of clothing hung to dry, colorful water tanks, and tangled, interwoven power lines. This is how I like to experience new places--not by private vehicle, but by merging with the population on communal forms of transportation. On a crowded metro on a Tuesday, one can observe many things.
A young man watching a Bollywood TV show in his lap.
A middle-aged mother holding her child with one hand and the handle with another.
An office worker in a tie smiling at his phone.
A pair of old women draped in colorful saris silently moving in sync.
Each person lost in their own thoughts, music, podcast, or conversation, yet each momentarily united on this commute. Here, people are temporarily pushed together, forced to exist in synchrony, until they soon leave each other with the same inconsequential lightness that brought them together. It is wonderfully mundane and surprisingly intimate.
This is how I want to experience Bangalore.
2) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228424951_Urban_Sprawl_and_Transportation 3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Namma_Metro