Jammed at the crossroads

Jammed at the crossroads

Poor funding and initative had crippled the ambitious B-TRAC project, designed to decongest the City’s roads and improve its traffic infrastructure. As the government mulls a relaunch of this project, commuters see no end to their travel troubles.

For the umpteenth time, Rakesh Jain stared at the SMS and sighed. The flight was on time. Hopelessly trapped for the last 20 minutes at a traffic junction, he knew he wouldn’t make it. Chaotic, unregulated and under-staffed, the intersection was dangerously close to a gridlock!

Jain and an estimated 48 lakh vehicle-owners in this city of one crore Bangaloreans are fully aware there can’t be easy passages. Not if the city’s explosive vehicular growth continues unabated. Not if a well thought-out project like B-TRAC is left funds-starved and poorly implemented. And definitely not, if barely 46 of the 500 junctions lined up for improvement under the project actually sees an upgrade!

The city’s already overstretched roads can barely handle 10 lakh vehicles. The unprecedented rise in the number of cars and SUVs has severely dented Bangalore’s ability to manage its traffic smartly. B-TRAC held the promise of reversing this trend to an extent. Yet, it faltered, delivering only in parts.

Decongesting the city’s Central Business District was high on the project’s agenda. But traffic speeds have dramatically dwindled in recent years, reducing movements to a crawl. Peak hour traffic severely cripples the flow on Residency road, MG road, Kempegowda road, JC road and at almost all intersections.

Design faults

Poor junction designs continue to trigger and worsen traffic bottlenecks. Recipe for this avoidable chaos: Footpath encroachments, lack of uniformity in road width before and after intersections, wrongly placed signals and signboards, and bizarre traffic violations.   

But there is one big obstacle that most commuters complain about: The imposing advertisement billboards, which completely block their vision of the signals at junctions. Tree branches, left untrimmed, also come in the way. Lack of sufficient lighting complicates this even further during night.

The pot-hole ridden approach road to the Suranjan Das road – Old Airport road junction after dark is a tell-tale example. The streetlights don’t work, the signals are out of sight and motorists ride in virtual darkness. The median here, like in most parts of the city, are not visible either.

Surveillance cameras, if installed scientifically and regularly monitored, could compensate for the shortage of traffic policemen. Heavily penalizing those caught on camera could have brought in a semblance of discipline. This, precisely, was the objective behind the project’s Strategic Operations Plan to put up a total of 680 surveillance cameras.

However, the numbers have fallen far short of the target. Only 179 were installed, 11 of which were subsequently removed to make way for civic works taken up by the BBMP, BDA and BMRCL for expressways, underpasses and the Namma Metro. Many more have stopped working due to poor maintenance. Result: A sharp rise in signal-jumps, footpath bike rides and crowding.

Blackberry success

B-TRAC, nevertheless had a solution to nab these violators: Men equipped with Blackberrys and printers. As acknowledged by both the police and commuters, this on-the-spot provision to penalize violations has made a huge difference. It has boosted enforcement and negated the cumbersome need to go to the courts. Spot receipts for penalty payments have also simplified the process.

Enforcement and traffic regulation did see an improvement, points out the city’s former Additional Commissioner of Police, Traffic, MA Saleem. It could have been optimised had the engineering and traffic planning kept pace. He explains, “The number of cases booked through the automatic challaning system increased. The surveillance system was also successful. This way, B-TRAC could bring in a lot of transparency in booking of cases.

 The project’s emphasis on capacity building and training was acknowledged even by the Union Ministry of Urban Development.”

Yet, the gains failed to make an impact as the infrastructure proposed under the project did not take shape. As the recent Indian Institute of Science (IISc) study reveals, the actual funding of Rs. 124 crore was much less than the estimated budget of Rs. 352.12 crore. This, the study concluded, was one key reason why the benefits of B-TRAC could not be fully realised. 

Flyover, Metro woes

Delayed infrastructure projects such as flyovers, underpasses and the Metro have only added to the chaos. Challenges that were before the planners in 2006, when the B-TRAC agenda began to take shape, have multiplied. Budgetary allocations and targets should have been revised in sync with changing traffic trends. This did not happen. 

The result is there for all to suffer. On Tumkur road, for instance, commuters have had to endure frustrating traffic congestions for three years, first due to the four-laning and then the Metro work. Complains Shivakumar, a frequent commuter on this key arterial road, “Now with the Metro pillar work completed, work has now started on another underpass from Goreguntepalya to Outer Ring road near CMTI. During peak hours, the traffic pile-up extends till the APMC Yard.” 

In such a changing scenario, it is tough for plans to work. Lack of coordination between various civic agencies and the police have only complicated matters. It is in this light that the IISc study has recommended a task team with representatives from BBMP and the traffic police. Besides infrastructure project coordination, the two agencies collectively could ensure that all pot holes are filled up with long-lasting technology, advertistement boards are not permitted in front of any traffic signs and sufficient lighting is provided at all signalised and unsignalised junctions. 
Unfinished markings

B-TRAC had envisaged road markings for 251 kms of arterial roads, 197 kms of sub-arterial roads and 320 kms of collector streets. 

But in reality, only 62,500 sq.mts of road markings were completed in the project’s first phase and 50,000 sq.mts in the third phase. Although this did help systematic traffic movement, it has been grossly inadequate.

As Sachin Gupta, a resident of Indiranagar, points out, road markings much before a junction could help drivers change the lane well in advance and thus decongest the intersections. 

“Since there are no such signs now, traffic piles up right at the turning, slowing down vehicles moving straight ahead,” he explains. There are no signs that this scenario will change any time soon! 

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