Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Bangalore Traffic

You can't venture out on Bangalore roads without noticing the chaotic traffic. This holds true for all major and even minor roads. Often, there are circular dependencies created by mindless people driving their mindless vehicles. Auto-rickshaws, cars, trucks, tractors and cows ALL contribute equally. If someone wants to be a sane citizen on the road and not worsen the situation, there are enough vehicles piled up behind who honk continuously urging the "sane citizen" to be a part of the unending chain.

The administration often blames the ever increasing numbers of vehicles for this situation. To some extent and in some regions of the city, this might be true.

But this is backward thinking. No one can (and should) prevent people from being upward mobile -- upgrading from a 2-wheeler to a car. And then in a city where the public transport is hardly usable (except for a few volvos routes), the general public is left with no viable options.

And then, cities are supposed to help in increasing the standard of living of people and need to find ways to enable that. But the actions of administrators are contradictory more often than not.

A few examples --

1. There are many "constant choke points" on the outer ring road. But we don't have traffic signals.

2. At peak traffic times, traffic cops switch the control to manual mode and then they use volume to decide when to allow traffic from a certain direction. Usually, this results in people staying at the same position for a long time causing frustration and resulting in the commuters trying 'un-conventional' means of pushing ahead if they see an opportunity.

3. They put speed bumps on busy intersections. Ostensibly, these are put to enable pedestrians to cross the road but in reality these act as hindrance to these same pedestrians (yep - queue theory suggests the same thing about bursty traffic but who is going to teach the traffic cops queue theory).

4. The list is endless but I will end it with one other major pain -- the traffic cops have no authority. They are in NO POSITION to actually control the traffic. These souls don't carry any means to ENFORCE traffic rule - nope, not even a plain old wooden stick. So people are free to obey (or more often not obey) what that traffic cop on the other side of the road is suggesting by distantly waving hands.

Contrary to what they say/do, the city has enough roads and enough traffic capacity to provide a amicable commute environment for all. Based on my experiences in other cities in India and even outside India, I have been considering what simple things the city could do in the short term (while focusing on improving infrastructure for longer term):

Firstly, the traffic cop should be made more powerful. The poor soul should have atleast a stick which he can wield against people violating traffic rules. And he should be even authorized to bang it on vehicles and people if they are not obeying rules. There could be "banging guidelines" but I digress... Initially, this may lead to some chaotic scenes but once people realise that they no longer have the "free will" to drive carelessly, the situation would improve.

Secondly, heavy vehicle movement in the city needs to stopped during day time (7:00 am to 9:00 pm). These vehicles should be blocked outside the city. Outer ring road is within the city, not outside. So trucks should not be stopped on the outer ring road.

Thirdly, there should be traffic signals on ALL intersections and the time period of these signals should be programmable based on the time of day. At no time, the signal should be non-functional (since it causes confusion). All debates around utility of traffic signals should be dealt through working the time period at which the signal operates. There should be NO option to turn off the traffic signal and manage traffic manually (manual control should only be done when there is a power failure on the signal). Also, the time period on any signal should never be more than 2 mins (120 seconds). Human patience is a fragile thing and testing it beyond 2 mins results in unwanted behavior.

The above three suggestions should take care of atleast 75% of the traffic issues.

Ofcourse, there are other ideas that can be put to good use but they are more time taking and somewhat medium term and have a larger effort required to implement so I won't go into their detail in this post.

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