A large influx of tourists implies increased levels of pedestrian activity around the station. The limited pedestrian infrastructure is ripe for improvement. Developing and promoting pedestrian infrastructure around the station could transform the area into a vibrant, walkable community space; the extremely dense land use already facilitates the inclusion of walk-only zones directing additional local, small scale business trade.
The door to door distance between the railway station and bus terminal is around 400m. The number of people walking between the two important transportation hubs creates venues for increasing multimodality. The proximity between the two nodal centers of travel in the city opens up opportunities which could allow seamless transfers, combined rest areas and organized pickup/drop-off.
The station has seen a host of upgrades in the last five years – re-tiled and clean platforms, solar paneled roofs and a new façade are just some of the improvement projects undertaken at the station. This shows the extent of interest that the authorities are showing in developing the railway station. The ongoing flyover project on GT Road indicates a substantial allocation of funds towards infrastructure projects concerning the station.
Lack of Parking Bays
Narrow right-of way, high traffic and pedestrian volumes, mixed traffic, undirected vehicular movement and a large-scale construction project – the railway station zone is a recipe for disaster. To make things worse, the occasional bus traverses the road section outside the station. A lack of driving sensibility, poor design and inadequate traffic flow management augments the congestion in the area. A fundamental component to the problem is the surprisingly high number of unregistered auto-rickshaws populating the area and the city in general. The limited sidewalks (footpaths) creates a spillover effect where pedestrians are forced to share road space with the vehicles, further increasing delays.
The modes available at the station for passengers arriving in Varanasi include auto-rickshaws, cycle-rickshaws and private taxi services. Parking at the station is currently barely scratching the surface at an organization arrangement. A zone outside the station has been allocated for cycle-rickshaws to park, which is a welcome change. However, there is no dedicated space for auto-rickshaws or private taxis. The ingress and egress for vehicles is not streamlined either. The mayhem that ensues is the seed that sprouts out into the Varanasi traffic; this sits at the crux of the larger congestion issue.
Apart from the stationary, fixed establishments, the railway station area is home to vendors and street food operators making their business on pushcarts. These temporary, mobile salesmen setup shop on the sidewalks (footpaths), along the curb, on the edge of the road – on almost any space they find. This encroachment of the already confined right-of-way just adds to the larger congestion issue. Once again, in navigating around the vendors, the pedestrians are forced to use the road, compromising their safety.
As observed from the land surface temperature analysis, there is a high inverse correlation between green space and surface heat. The field observations confirmed the virtual understanding; the copious amounts of dust and vehicular pollution worsen the heat levels.
Lack of Visible Tourist Information
Illegal Dumping Sites
For a first-time visitor, Varanasi can be overwhelming. The tourists had arrived with a fixed agenda, either for medical treatment, admission into an educational institution or sightseeing. The tourist information center inside the railway station is well-staffed, albeit with limited maps and information brochures to give away. The main concern regarding this center is its lack of visibility – only after weaving across the station in search of the booth can it be located. The foreign tourists claimed to have difficulty navigating around the station area, due to the lack of multilingual signage and wayfinding.
Although the station and the area immediately around the station have an adequate number of dustbins (trashcans), the waste management process away from the source is abysmal. Open dumping of waste is unfortunately common practice, and the fact that the unauthorized dumping sites are so blatantly visible and uncovered projects a negative image of the railway station for visitors and locals alike.
The noise pollution levels were collected through an Android application, “Noise Capture”. As the high levels of congestion would suggest, the number of vehicles blaring their horns contributes heavily to the decibel levels that are above the acceptable limits. The air pollution significant contributions from the prevalent dust and emissions from vehicles – of the five data collection points in the city, the station area reported the worst levels. When asked about the pollution effects, the citizens reported breathing ailments and skin disorders.