Pedestrians, red-signalled

MG Road Junction

 

High-speed motorists breezing past the crowds on stately, majestic roads, rendered absolutely free from those bothersome signals. Promising quick, easy commute across vast stretches of the city, the ambitious signal-free corridor project is all about bypassing the tricky intersections with finesse. But where does that leave the pedestrians?

Since signalled junctions are out, zebra crossings at grade are clearly out of question. The assumption is this: Everyone, the elderly and the disabled included, will either take the skywalks or walk up to 500 metres around the proposed flyovers and underpasses. Those in a hurry will inevitably jaywalk across the corridor, risking their lives.

The 17.4 km stretch from ASC Junction on Old Airport Road to Hope Farm Junction is one of the signal-free corridors picking up pace now. Lined up for this project are underpasses at Wind Tunnel Junction, Suranjan Das Road Junction and Kundalahalli Junction. This Rs 109.5 crore corridor is being built by the Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) with Nagarothana scheme funding.

Why on four-lanes?

Signal-free corridors could work on arterial, six or eight-laned high-speed roads that allow vehicles to quickly get away from the city. But why impose these on two-lane or four-lane roads that criss-cross crowded areas within the city? “In developed countries, there is no concept of signal-free within the city. Pedestrians could easily cross a four-lane road by pressing a button,” notes urbanist V Ravichander.

By allowing vehicles to speed through intersections, the corridors cannot avoid the inevitable: Huge traffic pile-up and long waiting time at the endpoints where the corridors end. Ravichander reasons that the terminal pile-ups can be managed through traffic calming measures. “The existing signal intersections do precisely that.”

Lessons from ORR

Once advertised as the ultimate panacea to decongest the city roads, the jam-packed Outer Ring Road (ORR) shows how calculations built around the signal-free tag can go wrong. Over the years, several underpasses and flyovers have been built across this critical road. But with absolutely no control over vehicular numbers, the ORR today has the deepest red on any traffic map. 

Is there another way out of the long traffic mess at the signaled intersections? A definite option, half-heartedly explored in the past, has been the system of synchronised signals. Simply put, signals along a corridor are so synchronized that vehicles moving at a uniform speed could expect green lights at consecutive junctions. 

Rationalised signals

Rationalised signals could be another option, say road traffic experts. In this smart system, sensors read vehicular volumes at the intersections and alert the signals to turn red or green accordingly. This avoids long, unnecessary waits at the intersections even during non-peak hours. 

In the rush to impose another vehicle-centric project on Bengalureans, can the implementing civic agencies be trusted with good engineering? Seasoned campaigners for sustainable mobility draw attention to the gaping loopholes in flyover designs across the city. Also missing are scientific road geometry that emphasizes on uniform lanes for smooth vehicular movement before and after intersections, flyovers and underpasses.

Poor merger dynamics

Six-lane roads narrow down to two-lane flyovers, throwing to the winds the fundamentals of traffic management. As Bicycle Mayor Sathya Sankaran from Citizens for Sustainability (CiFoS) point out, the merger of lanes are never planned properly. “When four lanes merge into two at a flyover, vehicles should be alerted much in an advance through signages. The process depends on vehicular speeds.”

On Ballari Road / Airport Road, the entire signal-free concept comes to naught at the Hebbal flyover, where the lanes narrow down. Vehicles pile up for several hundred metres even during non-peak hours. Is there a guarantee that this will not be repeated on the new signal-free corridors, wonder urban mobility experts.

Short-term solution

However, Commissioner for Traffic and Road Safety, M A Saleem feels such corridors could be a short-term solution to tackle traffic congestion. “Once public transport options become better, traffic will be reduced. But this is a long-term solution,” he explains.

Saleem contends that many pedestrians are motorists as well, and would adjust to the changing dynamics on the road accordingly. He draws attention to the one-way system introduced years ago. Pedestrian movement, he says, has been seamlessly integrated into this system.

But the Palike has a standard solution to address concerns of the pedestrians: Skywalks. As K T Nagaraj, Chief Engineer, Road Infrastructure, (Projects), BBMP notes, “This is a feasible option as pedestrians can easily cross from one part of the road to the other.” Left unsaid are the multiple challenges of height, accessibility and other costs associated with skywalks.

Inordinate delays

Beyond design, purpose and utility, the signal-free corridor project has also been plagued by inordinate delays. This has only worsened the commuting chaos. For instance, the ORR signal-free project was conceived in 2015. The completion date has been deferred again to March 2019.

The delay, says Nagaraj, is mostly due to land acquisition issues, shifting of utilities and traffic diversions. “With growing traffic, it is difficult to divert vehicles into alternate routes or inner routes,” he explains.

But the moot question remains unaddressed: When the system, skewed so heavily in favour of vehicles, is on constant capacity upgrade mode, how will the private vehicular growth slow down?

(With inputs by Madhuri Rao)

Also read: Fast-track ongoing mass transit projects

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Pedestrians, red-signalled

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