The Saat Rasta Project

Jacob Circle is a circle with no purpose

I lived just north of Jacob Circle in Mumbai for three years. It is a traffic circle in search of a purpose. The circle is the intersection of two main arteries, K K Road and Arthur Road, and four smaller roads, Bapurao Jagtap Road, Ripon Road, Anandilal P Marg, and G Babu Sakpal Marg (I have no idea why some roads are officially recorded as “road” and other as “marg”, and will leave that to parsers of Marathi nationalist politics). The whole area, Vaishali Nagar, is constricted between the Western and Central rail lines. Arthur Road runs parallel to both, and continues on for a while in each direction. But the other roads, running more east-west, all have to end quickly.

K K Road to the West almost immediately crosses over the Western line, including a flyover of the famous Dhobi Ghat open-air laundry, to tee into Dr. E. Moses Marg at the Mahalakshmi racetrack and train station. To the East it almost as quickly intersects N M Joshi Marg and becomes the “S” bridge to Byuculla. Both of these interchanges are constantly congested, but Mahalakshmi gets the worse of it. Traffic regularly backs up all the way to the circle.

Ripon and Bapurao Jagtap Roads head off into the neighborhoods along the central line, but Anandil P Marg and G Babu Sakpal Marg both immediately turn right and head to the Arthur Road jail, which Arthur Road already goes to.

The Saat Rasta Project

I ran across this idea to do something more sensible with those roads. If you continue both of their initial courses out of the circle, they would meet up with Dr. E. Moses Marg after its turns around the racecourse. The architects here plan to build two underpasses beneath the Western Line and turn K K Road into a pedestrian-only green space.

This sounds really neat at first blush. The Western Line already suffers from a shortage of crossings, which contributes to the annual death toll as people try to cut across to avoid a multi-mile walk. Currently K K road is the only crossing, for vehicles or pedestrians, between Lower Parel and Mumbai Central. In contrast, the Central line has one vehicle and two pedestrian crossings at Currey Road, the vehicle bridge at Sane Guruji Road, two pedestrian crossings at Chinchpokli, the “S” Bridge, the Expressway flyover, and Nesbit road in the same North-South distance.

History plays a role here, of course. Back when the mills were still in operation, the Western Line was the track that you either lived on the right or wrong side of, and making it harder to cross that track fulfilled a societal function. But the mills have been shuttered for thirty-five years, and are starting to be redeveloped with the same kind of posh residences and businesses you used to find only west of the tracks.

That aside, widening and extending the two smaller roads seems like a great idea, assuming an underpass is actually feasible (we’re basically at sea level here). That would break up traffic into cars going north and cars going south on Dr. E. Moses Marg, and pedestrians just trying to get across the tracks or to the station. But, yeah: widening. There it is. The space is tight there already, and there are stores, chawls, temples, and a mosque hard against the narrow existing road. So I would imagine the political resistance here would be pretty high.

Do you think the track could bend?

A third little datum for this is that apparently the monorail that languished through the three years I lived there has finally been finished and actually runs trains down to Jacob Circle. This means there’s at least the potential for even more foot traffic in the area.

I don’t really understand the purpose of the monorail. Most of Mumbai’s transit is oriented north to south; the island is about 5 times as long as it is wide, but it can be faster to get downtown than across town in a lot of cases (see above about the history there). The monorail, at least in the south, doesn’t seem to address that at all; it jogs diagonally at one point, but that’s it. I just don’t see what its actual purpose is. I know transit can create its own ridership, just like roads with traffic, but I also don’t see what business or political purpose that traffic serves.

Green space would be nice

The part about the project that sounds best is that it juts several acres of green space east from the racetracks into the center city area. In practice this means making the mill town look and feel a little more like Old Bombay (at least in terms of scale and openness), which has all of the pros and cons that come with making poor parts of a city feel richer (though in practice that ship sailed years ago). I’d like to see more about this plan, and I’m curious to see how it’s received.

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