Thursday, November 12, 2009

If you want to decongest roads, start thinking of tomorrow

If you want to decongest roads, start thinking of tomorrow

Just what is Project Bangalore? It is an attempt by DNA to look at Bangalore's key concerns and focus on outcomes instead of highlighting problems

Traffic snarls have become a major cause for worry. A rapid increase in vehicular traffic, lack of traffic sense among commuters, haphazardly parked vehicles and erratic movements of pedestrians are further adding to the pressure. But Team DNA finds that there are solutions



Consider these real-life cases highlighting the pathetic traffic situation in Bangalore.

G Mahadevan, Mechanical engineer
He arrived in the city by an evening flight from Mumbai, and found to his utter disappointment that the time taken to reach his destination in Jayanagar was more than the 80-minute flight duration from Mumbai to Bangalore. And the delay was not due to the 35 km distance between Bengaluru International Airport (BIA) and the city, but the choking points within the city itself.

Sachin Louis, Software engineer
This twenty four-year-old, working with an IT giant, almost lost his job when he reached an hour late for a client call at office. "There were people waiting for me, the call got delayed, it was an embarrassing situation, but I couldn't do much in the traffic," says Louis. "The number of vehicles on the city roads is far more than what the roads can handle."

Lakshmi Gopalaswamy, Dancer
For her, it's a common thing to have butterflies in her stomach while catching a flight. She once missed her flight due to a severe traffic jam, and ever since it's a nightmare for her, expecting to miss a flight. "It is never a comfortable feeling when you go from anywhere to anywhere in Bangalore, and it is all because of the traffic congestion."

It is not surprising that during peak hours Bangalore traffic can be one of the meanest things to happen to motorists and commuters alike.
Why is this happening? What are the solutions before us to ensure that we have free-flowing traffic that could ensure people reaching their destinations as planned, and on time?
Additional Commissioner of Police (traffic) Praveen Sood feels the current Bangalore traffic scene is like pouring 2-3 buckets of water in a single bucket. According to the city traffic department, the number of vehicles on Bangalore roads is growing at an annual rate of 7-10 per cent, reducing peak-hour travel speeds to as low as 15 km/hr.
The numbers tell a startling tale. Bangalore has 4,500 km of pliable roads, with a capacity to handle about 8 lakh vehicles. Instead, there are close to 33 lakh vehicles on the roads – more than four times the capacity.
A telling factor causing this disturbing explosive growth is this: "There are almost 3.5 lakh vehicles registered in Bangalore every year, which is about 1,250 vehicles every day. But the infrastructure remains the same," explains MN Sreehari, chairman, Traffic Engineers and Safety Trainers (TEST), and advisor to government of Karnataka for traffic, transport and infrastructure. "The traffic problem in the city is due to this uncontrolled growth of vehicle population and the lack of infrastructure to support it only compounds the situation," he adds. There is just one thing that impresses on all: Bangalore is not geared up for heavy traffic.Worse, even motorists rampantly violate the traffic rules, making the situation worse.
"There are only 10 per cent of motorists in Bangalore who follow rules, the rest 90 per cent do not, which is a huge task," points out traffic top cop Sood. It is a bad situation that the traffic police are acutely understaffed with just 2,000 to handle a vehicle population of 33 lakh in the city.
"Also, during heavy rains and processions there are severe traffic jams, and when people violate laws at these times we are not able to reprimand people as we have to manage the traffic flow," he says.
Sivram Lakshmi-narayan, a public relations executive, agrees that most motorists do not follow traffic rules. "People drive rashly, cut lanes, and there is no traffic discipline. So, before blaming the government and the authorities, the motorists have to start following the rules," he says.
It is not as if Bangaloreans have not tried anything to solve the traffic congestion problem. Car pooling has been tried out. Some are able to carry on with this initiative of sharing one employee's car to reach office and return home from work. But various problems bug this initiative, one being the over-dependence on someone else's mode of transport.
A Mumbai-based businessman, Vishwajeet Joshi, says he always finds it difficult to be punctual for his appointments in Bangalore, but it is extremely convenient to do so in Mumbai, despite that city having a much higher population density with a higher degree of congestion.
"Mumbai has a robust public transport system; they have trains that help most people commute. In Bangalore, we don't have that kind of public transport. So the city's public transport needs to be improved to ease the traffic problem," explains Sood. The only solution therefore is to provide a relevant alternative to force private vehicle owners to public transport – mass transport systems.
"Shifting to public transport would not only decongest the city roads, but would also reduce the number of traffic violations significantly," feels Sood.
Sreehari feels optimistic. He says, "Bangalore can expect better traffic conditions in the next three years as work has started to improve the situation, and in the long run people will have a smoother ride."
The stress would be on infrastructure development, which would override the shortage of traffic policemen on the roads.
As Sood says, "We can increase the number of traffic policemen from about 2,000 to 5,000 but that does not improve the infrastructure. To improve the traffic situation in the city all the agencies have to work together and find a feasible solution; only increasing manpower is not going to help."
A bitter pill of promise
The present works across the city are perceived as a bitter pill that would treat the city's traffic ills.
"The interim period for the next two years will be difficult. There is work happening across the city, flyovers are being constructed, the Metro project is underway, so on many roads in the city, four lanes are being crunched into two lanes," says Sood. "But all this is for a better future. There are eight flyovers being constructed at the same time on the Outer Ring Road, so traffic is diverted. But once these flyovers are operational it will be a smooth drive. All these infrastructure enhancements will have to be done sometime for the city, it is being done now and in the next few years the people will be able to enjoy its fruits." He has a piece of advice for Bangaloreans: "People should accept that problems they face today are short-term ones, and once all the projects are completed, these issues will no longer persist."

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