Road safety audit just on papers

Poor engineering, design faults catch attention only after accidents

Poor engineering or design faults of roads in Delhi, it seems, catch the attention of planners and engineers only after a spot or a stretch reports recurring crashes and loss of life.

The practice of conducting road safety audit – a three-stage exercise to examine safety of all road users in a project – is existent in government departments but it gets reduced to just a formality due to “pressure” (to give early clearance) from various quarters, said officials.

Officials admit the problem is more acute in the case of retrofitting or improvement of existing roads as the designs presented by engineers for safety approval do not reflect the reality of encroachment and obstacles on the ground.

The Nigambodh Ghat stretch of the Ring Road in north Delhi is one such black spot, of the over 125 on Delhi’s 33,198-km long roads, where effort for design improvement is getting blunted by adverse ground realities, said sources.

“The road owning agencies try to withhold information about the real situation,” said a Delhi Development Authority engineer.

“The design we approve in our files is a completely safe and user-friendly, but at the time of construction, the road owning agency ends up compromising on some safety aspects due to places of worship or other hurdles in retaining wide enough lanes or separate lanes for slow moving vehicle,” he said.

N Ranganathan, former professor of Transport Planning at School of Planning and Architecture, said road safety audit is a new concept and there is shortage of experts in the field.

Nishi Mittal, former head of traffic engineering and safety department of Central Road Research Institute, said; “We should create a special cadre of road safety auditors.”

According to the WHO’s Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013, 50 per cent of all road traffic deaths are among pedestrians (22 per cent), cyclists (five per cent) and motorcyclists (23 per cent).

The Kashmere Gate-Nigambodh Ghat road is also an example of multiple agencies taking agonisingly long to rectify faults in roads even as crashes continue to claim lives.

Ranganathan suggests scientific analysis of the reasons behind each incident to make city roads safer. “Currently, the task is left to policemen who are not equipped to suggest preventive measures.”

On the Nigambodh Ghat road stretch, Special Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Muktesh Chander said: “We have written to the Public Works Department seeking early engineering solution.”

Engineer-in-Chief of PWD Dinesh Kumar said:  “We are going to widen the Ring Road and the subway under it to reduce a kink in a carriageway.”

K Srirangan, director (planning), Unified Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure (Planning and Engineering) Centre (UTTIPEC), confirmed his team’s role as well.

“A separate lane for non-motorised vehicles will be developed on the carriageway which leads from Salimgarh Fort to Kashmere Gate bus terminal,” he said, hinting the entire task may take more than six months.

Sources in the Delhi government and the DDA claimed that road audits in the city have been reduced to a sham with most road-owning agencies handicapped by hurdles in implementing projects as per approved plans.

“Road owning agencies want to conduct this audit themselves rather than let the UTTIPEC do it as they do not want to be caught violating the guidelines,” said an engineer.

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