School bell triggers a traffic jam

School bell triggers a traffic jam

Unprecedented in scale, the city’s mounting traffic congestion has pushed every management strategy to the edge. But as the traffic police struggle, another mammoth crisis has hit Bengaluru roads magnifying the problem manifold: Crowding of vans and personal cars outside schools in the Central Business District.

The extreme congestion sparked off by the inflow and outflow of school vehicles unleashes virtual gridlocks on many CBD roads including Residency Road, Raj Bhavan Road and a dozen streets in the vicinity. But this CBD crisis finds its echo even in other areas such as JP Nagar and beyond.

Scurrying for clues to resolve this rising problem, the city traffic topbrass had asked all schools in the CBD to find parking for their vehicles within the campus. That attempt after a meeting with managements on May 16 met with only limited success, since many schools reported that they had no space within. The police now have a new direction to schools: Let parents pick up their children in schools within CBD five minutes late, after the school closure.

Five-minute rule
Here’s what the Additional Commissioner of Police, Traffic, M A Saleem prescribes: Till the parents arrive, the child could stay within the campus or on the footpath near the school gate. The idea is to complete the pickup process in a few seconds, thus decongesting the road outside the school.

The official had dispatched letters detailing the process to managements of schools on Richmond Road, St Mark’s road, Museum Road and Residency Road. Huge traffic jams have become a daily occurrence on these roads.

The police attribute the congestion to the school vans parked outside and parents arriving 15 to 20 minutes early to pick up their children.

Staggering the closure timing of clusters of two to three schools in close proximity is another decongestion move recently adopted by the traffic police. Three institutions - the Bishop Cotton boy’s school on Residency Road, Bishop Cotton girl’s school on St Mark’s Road and St Joseph’s High School on Museum Road - have been chosen for this exercise. The schools, it is learnt, have responded positively.

Staggering closure time
The staggering works this way: One school will close only 15 minutes after the other school in the vicinity closes for the day. This, according to traffic police officials, will give enough time for parents and school vans to pick up the children and leave the area, thus avoiding crowding and congestion. Within five minutes, the traffic is expected to get automatically cleared.

However, obstacles remain. The remodelling of many roads in the CBD under the TenderSURE project has been slow, reducing vehicular speeds to a crawl at many points. This is particularly felt at the St Mark’s Road- Residency Road junction.
Traffic experts say lack of lane discipline among motorists is another stumbling block to quick decongestion. The unbridled rise in vehicular numbers only adds to the mounting challenges.

In July 2005, when the Safe Routes to School (SRS) project was introduced, Bengaluru was a much smaller city. Vehicular population was nowhere near the current figure of 1.1 crore. But the elaborate planning and studies helped the project reduce traffic congestion by 20 to 25 per cent in the CBD area during morning and evening peak hours.

Lessons from SRS
Lessons could be learnt from that project, although the scale should be much higher now. Back then, the decongestion exercise integrated a change in school timings.
All schools barring government schools were to start before 8.30 am and close before 3.30 pm. To reduce personal vehicles ferrying school children, BMTC introduced 207 school-specific buses for central area.

Parking of private vehicles was strictly banned during the school opening and closing hours.

Ten years later, the number of BMTC buses for schoolchildren still hovers around the old mark, 211 to be precise. Private vehicles, including big cars and SUVs,  still ply a big proportion of students. Saleem contends that every BMTC school bus can take over 70 to 75 children. Since most private cars have a single passenger besides the driver, this effectively implies 75 cars/SUVs need not be at the school gate. The decongestion could be dramatic.

However, many parents say BMTC buses lack last-mile connectivity. School vans drop the child right at their doorsteps. The police and traffic experts suggest a middle path: Why not arrange a pick-up facility from where the child is dropped by the BMTC bus? A multi-mode transport model, combining child safety and comfort may be a possible solution.

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