Saturday, July 11, 2009

Good Motoring
We need an expert on traffic
H. Kishie Singh

A couple of weeks ago the security at Punjab Raj Bhavan was seriously compromised. A chhabeel was set up in front of the building. This allowed hundreds of people to wander around, quenching their thirst. A police bus pulled up, and a dozen policemen came out for a drink of sweet water. Buses, cars, motor-cycles and bicycles were parked helter-skelter. It was an Indian standard tamasha, and that too in the city’s highest security zone. Really good thinking on someone’s part. General Rodrigues himself led the volunteers in serving prasad and sweetened water to the commuters for over an hour.

In a high security area no one is allowed. Punjab Raj Bhavan has a main road running by its front gate. So it can’t be closed off. It can be made safer by not allowing cars to stop. But we still have speed-breakers to slow down the traffic. This causes a traffic jam during peak hours. Security compromised. A car slows down, a baddie (read terrorist) can lean out of the window and hurl grenades, or let off a burst of AK-47. This is difficult at speed.

On the day of the chhabeel, when the police bus disgorged a dozen men in uniform, all around, it would have been easy for a baddie in police uniform carrying an AK-47 to create havoc as was done at Chhatrapati Shivaji Station and Taj Hotel by Kasab and company last year. A suicide bomber could mingle with the crowd. A bicycle with a bag full of explosives could easily be left behind, while the owner walks away.

In a high security area, you do not drop your guard for a second. That day the general public was sitting duck, thanks to the chhabeel at the Governor’s residence. Our security experts have not learnt a lesson from the attacks on the innocent public in Pakistan and Iraq. Mosques after Friday prayers with crowds are an easy target as was the chhabeel.

Uttar Path has been blocked off at one end to minimise traffic in front of the Haryana and Punjab CMs’ residences. But there are no speed-breakers. The absence of speed-breakers in front of the Haryana CM’s residence makes sure the road is always clear. Also, there are no speed-breakers in front of Haryana Raj Bhavan. Why?

And why set up chhabeels on main highways and main roads? The volunteers forcibly block traffic and offer sweetened water. Result? People get run over by vehicles. Is it not possible to do things in a dignified manner, with safety being the foremost consideration?

To celebrate religious functions, people set up chhabeels on main highways. Loud music is played, disturbing peace of the surroundings. To hell with security and safety.

Another point that needs very careful consideration is traffic management in the city. Some years ago the city roundabouts, Chandigarh’s most enduring, endearing and beautiful landmarks, were demolished, and traffic lights installed. Now the lights are being removed and the roundabouts are being built again. This points to one thing. We have a problem with the city’s burgeoning auto population but no one has a solution. Trial and error is a waste of time and money. A traffic management expert is required. We don’t have one. But we surely need one.

We can learn from the Europeans how they manage traffic. Closer home, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok have solved their traffic problems. We can learn from them. This should not mean that a delegation goes to these cities to learn. What works in Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur may not work in Chandigarh. It means getting a traffic management system expert to study local conditions and provide solutions.

One measure that is being implemented—re-introducing roundabouts—simply wont work, not on Madhya Marg, anyway. What is required are underpasses. A car going from the PGI to Panchkula should not have to stop at all. If there were underpasses below the north-south roads (Madhya Marg is east-west), the traffic could breeze through in one swift motion. North-south traffic would not have to cut across east-west traffic. So it would move faster. Underpass is the only solution—not traffic lights, or roundabouts. They will be secondary traffic management systems. Why an underpass? It won’t be seen. An overpass or flyover will ruin the skyline of the City Beautiful.

The proposal to re-invent roundabouts has been brought up by RITES (Rail India Technical Services). One question comes to mind. What makes RITES an authority on motorised traffic on roads? Surely, rail and road traffic differs like chalk and cheese.

The thought of roundabouts being built sends a shudder down my spine. The new roundabouts will be replicas of the existing ones. Bricks, cement and concrete—killer roundabouts, as they have come to be known. Some time ago a suggestion was mooted to use used tyres as the outer wall of the roundabouts. A car hitting a rubber wall will come to very little harm. A car hitting a solid brick wall kills.

If new roundabouts are to be built, they have to be re-designed and made user-friendly. Used tyres are the answer. They will be cheaper to put up, maintain and, most important, they save lives.

Happy motoring.