Contra-flow traffic dangerous

Contra-flow traffic dangerous

Near Garuda Mall, India suddenly becomes America, with motorists expected to keep to the right of the road. What explains this craziness?

The 500-metre stretch near Garuda Mall is one of two roads in Bengaluru with contra-flow traffic, where vehicles are expected to keep right. DH PHOTOS BY B H SHIVAKUMAR

A 500-metre stretch near Garuda Mall is one of two roads in Bengaluru with contra-flow traffic, which means vehicles have to switch from keeping to keeping right.

This is a recipe for disaster, traffic experts say. Vehicles criss-cross each other. The flow, contrary to the norm all across India, confuses motorists unfamiliar with the practice.

The contra-flow was implemented eight years ago when M A Saleem was the additional commissioner of police (traffic). He says it eases traffic. 

“If you are coming from Bengaluru Central towards Garuda Mall, the traffic flows on the right, and you can take a free left towards Hosmat without stopping,” he says. “The system is working without any hindrance for eight years,” Saleem told Metrolife. 

People coming from the Opera junction towards Garuda Mall can take a free right or go straight to Hosmat, without having to wait, he says. 

The idea came about, he says, when the police observed traffic was not heavy beyond Garuda Mall. “This system saves time,” he says. 

Those who frequent the area are familiar with the contra-flow, but all other motorists are confused, and can’t figure out why drivers are suddenly switching alignment from left to right. 

During peak hours, especially, the system creates confusion, observes the manager of a pub in the area. 
“We hear people coming from Magrath Road braking abruptly to avoid being hit by traffic coming from Bangalore Central,” he says.

Pedestrians have a hard time, too. Sushmitha Kumar, student of St Joseph’s College of Commerce, finds it difficult to cross this junction.  “The only signal that operates in this junction is the one near Bangalore Central. There’s free flow of traffic on the other roads,” she says.

She finds “utter chaos” on days there are no traffic policemen around. “The fear of being hit by a speeding vehicle is always lurking,” she says. Dr Ashish Verma, associate professor, civil engineering, Indian Institute of Science, doesn’t understand the rationale for the contra-flow. 

“It is counter-engineering. In transportation engineering, we never suggest reverse lane arrangement against the left hand-drive we follow in India,” he says. 

Definite dangers are involved in such a system. It makes the road environment complicated for the driver to understand and respond. The confusion aggravates the possibility of conflict among vehicles or between vehicles and pedestrians because you are not following the left-hand driving practice, he adds. 

Prof M N Sreehari, traffic advisor and consultant, couldn’t agree more with Verma. 

The change of driving alignment is not indicated by any signage, he points out. 

What is implemented here is the ‚rotary system’ which involves weaving, merging and diverting of traffic. “But rotaries work only when the volume of traffic is manageable. When the volume increases, they can turn certain limbs of the rotary one-way,” he explains.

What has happened at Garuda Mall is that the rotary continues even after the traffic density has increased, he says.

Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic) P Harishekaran says needs time to study the problem. 

“We have proposed the installation of 300 additional automated signal lights at various junctions across the city and Garuda Mall junction is one of them,” he says. 

Discipline at the junction calls for police presence all through the day. B A Veeji Kumar, inspector, Ashok Nagar traffic police station, says the junction gets a bit chaotic during peak hours. “But we have managed to regulate traffic. There have been no accidents reported so far,” he says. 

Why it’s dangerous

- Makes road use complicated and risky.

- Drivers instinctively drive on the left.

- They are caught unawares by contrary flow. 

- Unfamiliar situations create panic.

- System violates India’s left-hand drive rule.

Wait a bit

The system has been in practice for eight years, yet no signage is in place to indicate contrary traffic flow. Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic) P Harishekaran says he needs time to study the problem.