Bhoo wears the thinking cap!

As if that is possible!

Indian Roads are broad, minds are not!

Posted by bhoo on September 20, 2006

Everytime I drive in an Indian road, this question haunts me – why is it this way – congested and slow and painstaking – and when, if ever, will this condition change.

Contrary to popular belief, I personally do not believe fully that our roads are narrow, or that they are badly built.  If you think I am mad, take a drive between 11 pm and 5 am on the roads, and you will know what I am talking about.  The roads are broad enough, and the roads are built OK also, except for a few bad roads!

There is certainly room for improvement in the road quality and breadth.  But, that does not preclude us from the other problems plaguing our roads! 

The other day I was traveling in an excellently built road, that connects 2 outside suburbs of our city (Chennai), circumventing the problem of entering into city traffic.  This was a broad road, 2 lanes, and 2 very broad shoulders, for accommdating bike traffic.  Almost fully built as an elevation, and hence not too much scope for shops on either sides.  I was clocking 100 KMPH (65 MPH), for about 10 Kms (7 miles). 

What good is this road, if we do not have any courtesy to the other drivers on the road?  There was a truck guy from my front, who was trying to overtake another truck, occupying my lane, making it dangerous for me!  Of course, he might have thought, there is a shoulder, and I could either come to a complete stop, or occupy the shoulder, to let him have HIS WAY.  But, that was not to be.  There was another truck, who was overtaking this second truck, coming in the opposite side in the wrong side’s shoulder.  It is like a 6-lane highway, where 3 lanes are devoted to the traffic opposite to my direction, and as if I was driving in the wrong lane.  I had to come to a complete halt, from 100 Kmph, and thank that I was alive after such a dangerous incident.  From then on, I lost all my stamina to drive fast on that road.

The most prevalent attitude on indian roads is “one-upmanship”.  We drive like “Hey, you! See, I have won you!”.  And, another mightier person wins over us, another person wins over him and so on… In the entire process, everyone loses, and the entire traffic is so slow!

I think there are 5-6 factors that contribute to what we see in roads.  The most important is training and courtesy.  We need a very strong training, a very strong iron hand to implement all the strategies together to solve this problem, to make our roads safer and faster.  Any initiative that does not look comprehensively at all these aspects together cannot solve the problem.

Till we accomplish that, no amount of fly-overs are grade separators or 6-lane highways will ever help us:

— Avoid one-upmanship:  We need to become much more courteous on the roads.  One-upmanship never helps.  It makes everyone slower.  We need to have severe fines for those who drive in this fashion!
— Have more inspection.  The theory has been that the traffic cops are corrupt and making them powerful will kill us.  I think the solution is to make bribing legal!  What that means is – if a traffic cop catches some wrongdoer, he gives a spot fine, and he gets to keep 50% of such spot fine.  If we do this, compliance will increase, and the traffic cops will be more motivated to be honest to the system.  This is kind of a revolutionary change!  (Of course, I recommend this kind of revenue-sharing change to a lot of our government departments, as a way to kill corruption, and to keep the Babus motivated to do good work.)
— Have strict parking rules.  Our entire country is built with shops on either side of the roads.  The big problem is that the shops face the roads.  The shops invariably encroach into the walk ways and many times the road itself.  Then, the visitors to the shop, who park their vehicles in front of the shop on the roads, stand in front of the shop, and many times in a real chaotic fashion, not bothering about the ongoing traffic.  This entire activity needs to be stopped, and with strict rules to keep the road clear, the shop owners will be discouraged to build and operate shops without paying heed to the traffic hindrance that they are causing.  We need to have clearly earmarked parking spaces in the side roads to be able to implement this strictly.  We need to build multi-storeyed parking lots in many places and have stiff parking charges!
— Increase the public transport multi-fold, and introduce multiple classes of public transport.  This, while is happening, is not happening enough.  There is so much crowd in the buses in India.  Why can’t we run much more buses?  Why should it be that the 2 alternates to commute without self driving only be bus and the nearest is the very expensive auto-rickshaw?  If we introduce a class in between, it will sell well.  Our omnibuses and mahindra vans, and shared autos, charge slightly higher than buses, are only slightly more comfortable than buses, but have such a high patronage.  That goes to prove that if we ply some more means of transport that is even better than the vans and shared autos at a premium, people will buy.  This needs huge investments.

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