Saturday, April 21, 2007

good motoring
Redesign roundabouts

H. Kishie Singh

Some time ago there was talk of removing roundabouts and installing traffic lights in Chandigarh. Then there was talk of restoring traffic lights where roundabouts had been removed. This flip-flop talk points to one thing. No one in authority — the administration, the Engineering Department or the police — knows what traffic management is all about. They continue to control traffic as they did half a century ago, even though traffic has increased multifold. Madhya Marg was never designed to carry the heavy traffic it does today. This applies to vehicular traffic, motorised as well as non-motorised, and pedestrian traffic as well.

The vehicles that once drove on the majestic city roads were a motley collection of Ambassadors and Padminis and possibly a few other antiques. The distance between the roundabout is a consistent 700-750 metres and these cars moved at a stately 40 kmph —maybe 45 kmph — if the cars had a tailwind. Very important, the drivers’ attention was focused on their driving as these cars had to be coaxed along. There were no radios and music systems putting out a thousand watts of music power to distract the driver. No airconditioning to cocoon the driver into a somnambulant state. Fifty metres before the roundabout the driver readied himself to wrestle with the steering`85 there was no hydraulic or electronic power to the steering, only human power. All this made for demanding driving and, consequently, safe driving.

In a 700-metre stretch, the top speed seldom exceeded 45-50 kmph. Even if you ran head on into a roundabout at that speed the damage would be minimal. Sure, the car would be damaged, as would the roundabout but the driver and passengers would be comparatively unharmed.

So a quarter of a century ago, the concrete roundabouts served a purpose as most vehicles didn’t go beyond 45 kmph. Along came the Maruti 800 and soon Indian drivers had mastered all the bad habits of driving, jumping red lights, overtaking from the left and zooming up to 75 kmph and more in short bursts of speed. Every successive car to enter the market was bigger and faster and running into roundabouts became a routine affair.

Drivers killed themselves, their passengers and damaged the roundabout.

In a complete lackadaisical attitude the roundabout was repaired and not a thought was given to prevention of accidents. Little wonder that one person is killed on our city roads every second day. The babus’ job was simply to repair the roundabout. Lives lost was of no concern.

The roundabouts are necessary for traffic management but the design is flawed. They have a solid concrete wall, about one-metre high with thousands of tonnes of mud behind it. This solid wall could stop a bulldozer. Over the years these roundabouts have stopped hundreds of cars and claimed many lives. The authorities could not learn a lesson from Delhi’s roundabouts.

Even if a car failed to negotiate and hit the post holding the cable in Delhi’s roundabouts, it will cause minimal damage. Running into the cable would restrain the car, gently. If the car got past the cable, the flowerbeds and the lawn would bring the car to a halt. A flowerbed is soft mud and will grab a car’s wheels and hold it. The car would not be smashed or flipped into the air. The occupants could get battered and bruised but in all likelihood there would be no fatalities.

A little bit of thought can change the traffic scenario in Chandigarh. We can retain the roundabouts, some of which are Chandigarh’s most beautiful gardens, manage traffic and save lives at the same time.

Happy motoring.