Plenty of concrete suggestions to solve what should be acknowledged as a crisis, but something is missing
Faizi Hashmi | January 25, 2022
The anxiety and chaos that we face on our city roads are endemic, dangerous, and deadly. It emerges from a combination of too many vehicles, road conditions, ineffective traffic controls, poor planning and lack of innovative corrections, loose enforcement, and lacking traffic discipline in the commuters, to name a few. We know for a fact that the sale of automobiles has been rising exponentially as many families have more money, loans are easily available, while the pandemic has goaded people to increasingly opt for personal cars. Add to that our rising youngish, aspirational population eager for better living standards as reflected through acquisitive and consumerist habits. The data from RTO offices, if not from the showrooms, will show how the number is rising on a daily basis.
So, we have a burgeoning number, while the carrying capacity of the roads has mostly remained unchanged. Resultantly, there are traffic snarls in most parts of the urban conglomerate of Delhi/National Capital Region (NCR). It’s almost like a jungle raj or ‘might is right’ on the streets. We witness the craziest spectacle in front of our wind screens and marvel at some motorists’ agility and deftness. The wily driver meanders his way through a delirious zigzag, overtakes the unwary fellow driver and gallops to his destination unmindful of the cascading confusion he leaves behind as many others follow suit. Then we have the frantic blaring of horns causing immense noise pollution and resultant heightened stress levels.
What has been the response of the traffic regulators to this emerging crisis? Hardly any! A new problem needs a newer solution. No serious thoughts seem to have been given to plan how these rapidly growing numbers of cars will move on our roads, resulting in escalated traffic nightmares and hazardous moments for the commuters. Needless to add, that the cyclists and the pedestrians are the most vulnerable lot in this disorderly vehicular mobility scenario. We may count some of the major problem areas along with simultaneous discussion on what could be the possible corrections.
The road engineering and design are inadequate to take the pressure of numbers. The effort should have been to incorporate the maximum clean width available for the motorists with minimum bumps and no potholes that lead to dislocation of the free flow of vehicles. This becomes more critical on the entry and exit points of the flyovers/underpasses and on sharp turns. The design needs a facelift for easing and allowing movement of vehicles that are in motion outside the funnel area, with lesser intrusion from one or the other. At the same time,
engineering solutions like curves in the roads to break the speed of the vehicles may be useful.
Typology of the traffic junctions need upgradation – some free movements for arterial roads are desirable at intersections. Controlled U-turns started a few years ago that usher in the vehicles in a more controlled alley for onward opposite side movement have been good and may be replicated at many points. This will ease traffic by facilitating quicker and safer movements. Further, the span of red light is not very logical at several junctions, especially where some lateral movements are allowed for just about 15/20 seconds only. This creates more complications.
The transition from highways to arterial and non-arterial roads is not smooth both structurally as well as in terms of regulatory devices. There are several internal city roads where traffic congestion has reached the breaking point being very narrow, unauthorised parking or encroachments etc. Two-way movement on many such locations causes increased dislocation. These can be better managed by allowing one-way movement of vehicles on the entire affected stretch. Thus, the vehicles will adopt a loop and have a circular movement on such narrow roads. This movement can be reversed also, like 8 am to 2 pm, only in one direction, 2 pm to 8 pm in another direction and 8 pm to 8 am, and both ways when the vehicular movement is less. These practices are successfully adopted in Kolkata and Mumbai, but Delhi police seem to be loath in experimenting with best practices elsewhere.
Our pavements are pedestrian-unfriendly, poorly designed with all possible obstacles and defective access points. To complicate matters further, the motorcyclists and scooterists routinely enter the pavements, not only disturbing and endangering the pedestrians but also creating massive confusion at the ingress and egress points. Effective barricading of the entry to the pavements is necessary to give dedicated passage to pedestrians and to deter the two-wheelers from entering and exiting it. With health consciousness and other considerations, cycle tracks must become the new commitment to all planning and designs. These must be complemented by providing efficient parking lots at frequent intervals.
Organisation of slow-moving vehicles is a far cry. In the kind of socio-economic scenario we have, these cannot be banished, nor should they be. But some serious thinking to make them more efficient on the one hand and time regulation for their movement on the other will be helpful. Some time frame is there but it’s followed more in violation than in observance.
While the local police and PCR cops riding on four-wheelers are okay, traffic police idling in an Innova is a huge dampener. They should invariably be on bikes which are more agile and quicker to respond while dealing with a traffic offender. This is a crying reform for traffic regulators – they must disembark from their big vehicles and become riders again. Law enforcers must be respected, if not feared, for orderly movement of vehicles. NCR lacks behind all other Metros – Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore in this matter.
The other aspect is working in silos and lack of coordination among the agencies concerned. Direct involvement of at least four-five departments is clearly discernible besides traffic police, i.e., transport, PWD, urban development, local bodies and those who operate other utilities. The maintenance of roads and access to the sidewalks is to be managed through a collective mechanism.
The darker side of the enforcement needs a mention. If every violation is receipted while paying the penalty, the situation would be different, but that is hardly the case. So, who would regulate the regulators? There is no quick answer to this. The rent-seeking practice is reported to run into several crores per week and desired results would be difficult without correction over here. Eliminating corruption is perhaps not possible, but there is no justification for not curbing this nefarious culture.
A large number of vehicles from other states, including non-NCR districts of neighbouring states destined for far-off places criss-cross the length and breadth of the NCR. How are these monitored so far as traffic violations are concerned? Is there a strategy in place, and why not because there is often a tendency in these drivers that they cannot be penalised easily? The offenders who escape to Noida, Gurgaon, and other places in the neighbouring states also need to be brought under the arm of the law by greater interaction and collaboration among the three segments (NCR) of traffic police. Technology can play a good part here by keeping data and acting on it.
The psychology of the motorists must be understood. The anxiety of getting into traffic jams, missing office schedules or appointments etc spurs them further into jumping the red light, overs-peeding and other traffic violations – the low cost of such violations – with the probability of not getting caught, to boot. So, they speed up to reach their destination and are even willing to take the risk of breaking the traffic rules. Besides, most of them are not even aware of the traffic rules, having not been exposed to a good learning class before the grant of the driving licence, coupled with a general apathy to civic responsibility. We know how stringent it is to obtain the licence in advanced countries. The structural deficiency of the motor driving training compounds the clutter. The training and awareness part must be included very seriously in the mandate of the licensing authority. Then we have dangerous driving and over-speeding that cause major accidents, traffic hold-ups besides fatalities and serious injuries. All this needs very stern handling by the traffic police.
We have to live with the number, and we have to live with the far from adequate infrastructure. Once the realities of our life and existence of the problem are acknowledged, correction is possible – different from explanations and denial mode. We have the data that should be used to identify problem areas and look for solutions. It’s causing man-hour losses and thus hampering the modernisation of our urban spaces, which are engines of economic growth and wealth generation. Please note that the usual alibi of the population pressure is not valid for explaining away everything that is wrong in our systems. Large cities in many countries have near-similar concentration and density of population but they have managed their roads better than us.
We may conclude by referring to ‘First Post’ reporting of 6th November 2015, ‘Henry Ford’s captioned remarks (America is not rich – emphasis added), were aptly paraphrased by Prime Minister Modi while inaugurating a mega highway project in Kundli, Haryana on 5th November 2015’ - “the general perception is you construct roads when you had funds but on the contrary if you construct roads, money will automatically flow in.” [Read: ‘Modi endorses Ford: US doesn’t have good roads because it’s rich but rich because it has good roads’: https://www.firstpost.com/business/modi-endorses-ford-us-doesnt-have-good-roads-because-its-rich-but-rich-because-it-has-good-roads-2497530.html] Our daily urban living is badly affected on the city roads where most citizens are spending a good part of their life’s struggle. This misery cannot be explained away by citing the huge population alone but by systemic failures. We have made it worse by refusing to learn and adopt good practices elsewhere and by not doing enough to mitigate the difficulties that the commuters encounter on the city roads on a daily basis. Our *chalta hai* culture must give way to innovate, adapt, construct, organise, coordinate, educate, harmonise, and implement systems, and then get going to enforce order.
Faizi O. Hashmi is a retired IAS officer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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