Traffic management and decongestion

Traffic management and decongestion
anita cheria and edwin

Like heart attacks, traffic congestions are a lifestyle problem. When arteries get clogged we get heart attacks. When roads get clogged we get gridlocks. Drastic surgery—such as one-ways and flyovers [analogous to bypass surgeries]—help in the short term.

We need to ask the fundamental question: has the commercial and residential space within the city increased so much for the traffic to increase? If yes, then who gave the permission without considering the impact on the infrastructure? They must be held accountable. Planning decongestion is a onetime affair. Creating one ways, modifying zonal restrictions and tinkering are like heart surgery—useful only once. What the city needs is a change in lifestyle, a new approach to planning and design. Tinkering will not help.

More long term solutions demand a change in lifestyle, in this case a changed attitude towards city planning. The days of lethargic planning for a pensioners paradise are over. Fortunately, city planning is a science, whose principles can be applied. The first principle is that those involved in the management of a city plan together. This means the police, the BWSSB, the BDA, the power and utilities companies should sit and have a common vision. When BDA builds a futuristic bus bay—perhaps one of its kind—opposite Cantonment station, and the police promptly turn the road into a one way in the opposite direction, it is clearly a waste of resources.

Including those with vision in planning is another important step. The days when the state was the leader in growth are over. Now growth is privately led. Of the 100 largest economies of the world, 52 are private companies. The growth of Bangalore is currently driven by the software industry. The turnover of some software giants rival the state government’s budget. Getting the captains of industry to forecast their needs for the next decade or two is an important part of planning. The political class need to have a vision of where they want the city to be in the same time. If it is to become a knowledge hub, then facilities and infrastructure for futuristic knowledge based industries such as bio-tech, nano-tech, and meme-tech must be part of the plan as also power, water and waste management and disposal. Despite being a hub for IT, and being promoted as a health tourist destination, Bangalore has no master plan for the disposal of IT or biomedical waste.

Once the facilities for ‘growth drivers’ are in place [as part of the vision] then comes support services. This includes space for schools and higher education that the knowledge workers would prefer for their children, recreation, and residences. These need to be close enough to be walking distance from each other. This brings us to the next principle: concentration and decentralisation. Concentrate the growth drivers in a place [like the electronic city] but ensure that the support services are decentralised enough so that the commuting is eliminated as far as possible.
Newer layouts, both government and private, need to be fully self-contained. They need to be designed for the new citizen—meaning broader roads, water harvesting—with a timeframe for putting in infrastructure. For instance, cutting roads for water and power connections should not be permitted two years after the layout is formed. This will not only husband resources, but will prevent land speculation.

The civic authorities need to be held more accountable. While demolishing buildings for violation of plans must not be permitted, an absolute ban on parking vehicles on the roads will certainly do the trick. Another path is to get the engineer to certify each floor as it comes up. Each building, no matter how big or small, commercial, residential, educational, religious or recreational, should be able to house all the vehicles of its customers/residents. In existing areas, where the violations have already taken place, the parking fee can be made competitive. Then the incentive for violations goes down. When it becomes apparent that violation does not lead to profits—for where will customers be without parking—then conversion of basements into shops will cease. With parking space becoming more expensive, there will be more pressure—and commercial sense—for parking lots. Conversion of houses into software offices—as has happened in Indira Nagar and Koramangala—or ‘play homes’ or letting out multiple portions of the house on rent, will stop if all parking has to be inside the premises.

Traffic management for free flow needs to be based on minimum restrictions, and maximum penalty for violations. Even in arterial roads such as MG road, buses routinely turn right from the extreme left lane. The lanes are marked so broadly that lane discipline becomes a joke. Synchronising traffic lights so that a car moving at the speed limit does not get caught in another one if going straight down the road is a normal practice in metros, even in India. But in Bangalore this is not done even on MG road, or in the ring roads or—the worst offender—in the Hosur road. Synchronised signals ‘reward’ the conscientious driver, and ensures the smooth flow of traffic. More foul-ups are caused by stop-start traffic than by a steady flow—no matter how slow or fast.

Decongesting traffic can be done by six simple, but inter-related steps.
1. Improve the public transport, both in terms of quality and frequency of service. This will keep most private transport off the road.
2. On designated days [Sundays in some countries] have the transport free. The cost can be offset by a slightly higher tax on business, since most people will use the day for shopping.
3. Remove all parking on roads, specially one ways.
4. Have strict speed limits, and follow them. For instance, arterial roads could have 35 kmph, and residential areas 20 kmph. For those who wail about 35 kmph, remember that a steady flow at 35 kmph will get you to your destination faster than today’s limit.
5. Have designated lanes for slow moving traffic. Have good footpaths. At present we have a pedestrian subway in front of the race course, but none in front of a hospital or on MG road.
6. Ensure that the civic authorities and elected representatives travel by public transport.
In fact the last alone will suffice. In the coming elections, let us elect only those who will travel only by public transport. When the mere walk of a chief minister can do wonders for the upkeep of a road, the entire breed of politicians and administrators using the same facilities as the rest of us day in and day out is the surest way to traffic decongestion and world class public transport.