European Heaven… !
By Maxwell Pereira

maxpk@vsnl.com

Every one loves a European holiday. Especially in summer. Some love the cooler clime with which most of this continent is blessed round the year, some just the manicured greens and chateaus of the countryside; and yet others the totally enchanting ambience …and of course their autobahns that make driving around a pleasure! Most friends who went out of India for a European holiday are trickling back now, expecting the harshness of our local summer to have abated - and cursing that it has not… giving them all the more a reason to bray about the 'heaven' they left behind in Europe to return back to home drudgery!

Though mistakenly it may be attributed to weather, 'heaven' here, I was surprised to learn, was a little more than that! Could one have possibly heard of the pan-European Heaven project, which has contributed in no small measure to this 'feel good' heavenly factor that lends charm to an European holiday? Perhaps not ….at least I hadn't! …not until some of these friends spoke about it!! Heaven here stands for 'Healthier Environment through the Abatement of Vehicle Emissions and Noise'. To create a healthier environment in and around large cities by taking a smarter approach to controlling road traffic, I learnt, was the goal of this unique project 'heaven'.. in which six urban centres - Berlin, Leicester, Paris, Prague, Rome and Amsterdam - and a host of international institutes and government agencies had come together to participate.

The project was conceived with the sole purpose of combating pollution! Increasing traffic congestion in large cities was responsible for causing more air pollution. And the smog, stench, particulate matter accumulated and hovering over and across Europe, in major cities was forcing them to contend with the same problem: increasing traffic congestion creating more pollution. Which meant that local authorities are forced to institute traffic-engineering measures - and so left asking themselves the same questions: what do we need to do and when?

To find the right answers to this very dilemma, this project with the ambitiously entitled acronym 'Heaven' was launched in 2000, under the auspices of the Fifth European Framework Programme for Research and Development. This was done to provide policy makers with tools to take appropriate decisions that would enable them to initiate needed traffic measures! Answers to questions like - If the air quality approaches or rises above a given threshold limit value, whether as a traffic controller one was to close-off roads, decrease the maximum allowable speeds, or restrict the flow of traffic? Should the people be warned not to go jogging at certain times of day or issue other health warnings? Or worse yet, should they be advised to keep their windows closed? Project 'heaven' was created to provide traffic managers with a means of answering these kinds of questions.

As part of this ultra-multidisciplinary project, not only emission levels were measured, but motorways were remodelled; provision was made to allow planners to calculate the air quality of any industrial stretch based on density and composition of traffic, and so on. Researchers used their initial traffic model to create a customised model for the diamond-shaped section of motor-ways surrounding Rotterdam. With the help of hardware and software provided by a Dutch traffic and transport consultancy firm a dispersion model as the basis for the Decision Support System (DSS) as the ultimate goal of Heaven, was prepared. Planners fed real-time traffic data into the DSS, combined it with the meteorological data and passive sampler data from the surrounding area, to come up with total real-time air quality. This enabled one to see the immediate effect on air quality of any traffic measures taken.

In one of the busiest arteries of Netherlands particularly hard hit by traffic emissions, municipal health authorities who were partners in this 'heaven' project provided health counselling to the residents, including an internet site that lists the air pollution levels on an hourly basis. In other cities participating in the project, the fringe benefits helped make the local government policy more transparent. In cases of extremely bad local air pollution, restriction of city access to traffic with odd and even number plate vehicles permitted on alternate days brought in major results - though the measures taken were considered a bit drastic. The beauty of a DSS was found to be that it would allow traffic managers to act with much greater precision, with better and more effective results.

Traffic managers in Delhi have for long practised these very methods - like for instance restricting the movement of trucks within the city to limited hours, and banning entry of non-destination truck into Delhi. But all this, without the backing of a coordinated effort or support from all the institutions and government agencies concerned, to make it a meaningful effort or to achieve the desired level of impact. We Indians I believe excel in individual endeavour… but fail miserably, where collective and collaborative effort is needed.


800words: 18.06.2004: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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