I am sitting in a room with my body maintaining steady 37 C in an AC-induced 25 C and looking out at a sunlit city road that I assume to be roasting at 50 C and getting hotter by the minute.
Many of us are unaware that when the weatherman declares maximum for the day to be 44 C, he is not referring to what the scorching road feels like, as he is looking at a thermometer placed in shade measuring air temperature. In Ahmedabad, during peak summer, you may even get a reading of 60 C on the temperature gauge of your car.
Ahmedabad is HOT. Hot as hell. But, sitting inside AC rooms, all of us, more importantly our city administrators have forgotten what it means in terms of biology.
We humans are warm-blooded animals. We need to maintain our body temperature to approximately 37 C regardless of the temperature of our surroundings. This means that if our surrounding gets bellow 37 C we need to produce internal heat, and if it gets above 37 C, we need to find a way to dissipate the heat. In addition to the heat arriving-from or departing-to outside, our own body produces heat through activity. This works well for those living in colder climate as heat generated through body activity is useful for heating up the body, but, for unfortunate amadavadis like us, heat generated through activity augments to our trouble as we need to counter, both, internal and external heat.
In hot climate, a human body unaided by technology cannot hope to continue burning from both end, and hence has no option but to reduce activity (or die of over-heating). In simple terms, in a 40+ C town, you can’t hope to have people walking.
If you are a transportation planner, you must be aware of this metabolic reality that humans can’t hope to transcend. In a 44 C city, you can’t install a mass transport solution that demands people to walk-ride-walk and hope for it to take over from the point-to-point solution that a self-owned two-wheeler provides to the citizens.
Mass transport system is a great idea, especially when vehicular pollution is becoming a major threat for our planet, but it cannot be an aped solution that discounts local climate. The continuous increase in two-wheeler sale figures post-BRTS are a clear indicator that people have spoken. BRTS has not enticed people to leave their vehicles at home.
BRTS is not unique to Ahmedabad, as more than 30 countries across all continents use it. So, what is different about Ahmedabad (and many other Indian cities where the aping is being aped)?
If someone had taken trouble of carefully going through the maximum temperatures of the hundred-plus cities that use BRT system, they would realized that not even one city with BRTS has 40 C as its normal summer temperature.
There is no denying that, even if it causes some teething inconvenience, people must be shifted from individual to mass transportation for the sake of our planet, but Ahmedabad BRTS is highly unlikely to cause people to shift purely because of local weather conditions.
I have always felt that our urban planners are discounting our local ecology and our climate while providing modern-looking solutions to problems of our city. Unfortunately, no amount of technology or good-looks are going to change the fact that Ahmedabad is a city located close to the tropic of cancer and is part of the desert-belt circling the earth. This means that solutions from other parts of the globe with dissimilar climate can’t hope to work in Ahmedabad without appropriate acclimatization.