Divided roads, risky walks

When there is absolutely no effort to curtail the explosive vehicular growth, the grossly understaffed traffic police will obviously struggle. But does this justify a badly designed plan to erect high dividers that have narrowed carriageways, reduced traffic flexibility and severely hampered pedestrian mobility on roads across Bengaluru?

The big argument is that these dividers force pedestrians and vehicles to stick to one side. But in doing so, the concept of dynamic medians based on directional traffic density seems compromised. Lakhs of pedestrians are now being forced to walk long distances to risk crossing the road at notoriously busy intersections. Those inaccessible monster skywalks are the only option.

Pedestrian-unfriendly

Aided by traffic lights, zebra crossings at regular intervals away from the congested junctions should have helped a pedestrian-first approach to mobility. But the high dividers completely rule out such crossings. The intention is clear: To help motorised vehicles zoom along without a care for walkers. Clearly, the focus is on ensuring signal-free roads where pedestrians have no choice at all.

In developed cities, where motorised transport is giving way to greater pedestrianisation, the very concept of dividers is disappearing. Drivers stick to their lanes, well aware that crossing the yellow line in the middle would invite heavy penalty. This has also helped them to be more sensitive to the rights of pedestrians to cross roads at ease.

Penalising walkers

As urban mobility experts point out, pedestrians are now forced to pay the penalty for the traffic police failure to discipline drivers. The thinking of the police and BBMP is this: Create an infrastructre that gives motorists no chance to break the law, and pedestrians no chance to indulge in 'jaywalking.'

But as Sathya Sankaran from Citizens For Sustainability (CiFoS) contends, why brand pedestrians crossing roads as jaywalkers? "Jaywalking is not a bad thing when you make the roads friendly for walkers. These road dividers are extremely pedestrian unfriendly. Having these within the city is a major problem."

The Indian Road Congress (IRC) guidelines are clear that safe pedestrian crossings should be provided for every 250 metres of road, says Sankaran. These crossings should be at the road level, not above or below. In the absence of these facilities, pedestrians are forced to take risks.


Road divider at Vanivilas Road, Basavanagudi in Bengaluru on Saturday. Photo by S K Dinesh

Dynamic medians

Dynamic medians, proposed in the past for high traffic stretches of the Outer Ring Road, would mean giving up the concrete dividers entirely. Instead, temporary barricades are placed on the road, based on the traffic volumes during the morning and evening peak hours. If morning traffic from Sarjapur Road / Iblur side is high towards IT tech parks in Kadubeesanahalli, the road width is increased accordingly. This is reversed in the evening.

But the high, concrete, permanently erected dividers do not give any scope for such plans. At several traffic intersections, these high walls have worsened the congestion and waiting times, more so on Kasturba Road. On narrow roads, motorists are complaining that their vehicles scrape the divider walls. The dust-covered reflectors on the dividers are often not clearly visible on poorly lit streets.

Aesthetics question

Aesthetics too has taken a beating. Being part of the street furniture, the ugly medians have been criticized by urban designers. The standard height of less than a metre in the case of existing medians is good enough. The new ones being erected are so high that they obstruct visibility.

By laying these structures, the green aesthetics of the old medians is also being destroyed. This is clearly seen on Old Airport Road, where the high concrete dividers are placed between trees on the median. Pedestrians, desperate to find a way to cross the road, squeeze through the gaps between the trees and dividers. They do this at great risk since the dividers obstruct a direct view of the approaching vehicles.

Tough to manouvre

On high traffic roads, motorists now find it tough to manouvre as the high dividers offer little room. Motorcyclists are wary about getting too close to the median as many have injured their legs and knees scraping past these concrete barriers. For bigger vehicles, the raised height of the dividers mean they cannot go anywhere close without bumper damages. The low level medians are less problematic as they rarely exceeded the tyre level.

BBMP justification

The Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) insists that the high concrete medians are being installed on the request of the city traffic police. The focus currently is on High Traffic Density Corridors (HDC) and pedestrian accident spots.

The stretches being covered are those with a high density of vehicles such as the Outer Ring Road Old Airport Road, Hosur Road, K R Puram, Ballari Road, Siddalingaiah Road, and Sarjapur Road. Besides, another 16 kms of smaller roads across the city are also covered under this project.

At Rs 60 lakh per kilometre, the project is big enough for the Palike. Every median block has a height of one metre and is 0.5 metre wide. But these structures are now an eyesore, with posters stuck on them at several places. BBMP's Executive Engineer, Traffic Engineer Cell, Praveen Lingaiah contends that the medians will save lives. "We are requesting people not to stick these posters and ruin them," he says.

(With inputs from Darshan Devaiah B P)

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