Monday, May 26, 2008

Environment: Traffic Snarls In Delhi

Delhi is wailing. Ask me why. No. it is not the shameless double murder at Noida, nor the incessant rains for short durations of time which caused traffic jam due to water logging and flooding, but because the Automobile lobby in India is having a whale of a time, filling up every inche of the roads in Delhi to the extent that the common man has no place to walk or even catch a bus. Writes Sumana Narayanan in Down To Earth May 26, 2008 issue, “On April 21, a small stretch of road in a congested corner of south Delhi, one of the most polluted cities in the world, turned into an epicentre of chaos, confusion and downright indignation. The 5.6 km stretch was where the pilot phase of a public transport system that allows buses to operate on a right of way separated from other traffic, was opened. As vehicles strayed into wrong lanes and cars piled up in long queues for the first few days, the media unleashed relentless criticism, calling the project corridor of chaos, ill-conceived, a blunder and demanding that it be scrapped. Car users and residents’ welfare associations of colonies along the stretch also attacked the new system—Bus Rapid Transit (brt)—aimed at improving traffic flow. It did not ease traffic; instead it caused more traffic snarls, they said. People in cars and riding motorcycles felt road space had been “stolen” from them by creating a separate dedicated lane for busses.”

This is truly against the common man. Not only in Delhi, but across India, majority of the people travel by public transport (mainly buses), bicycle or on foot. In Delhi, the masses follow the same pattern. But due to unruly traffic and no rules whatsoever, the roads are full of cars, busses, cycles and motorcycles, not to mention the occasional pedestrian as well. What can he do, the poor pedestrian? If the pavement which was built for him, is crowded by motorcycles whizzing past and cyclists, where is he to walk? In fact talking of cyclists, many cyclists die on the way and are sometimes not even noticed, because they are on the road and are caught in a hit and run case. Their names you would not read in the Newspaper next day, as the capitol of the country with its pseudo show and lopsided value system, does not consider their lives important enough to mention. But, pushed by relentless crusaders like Sunita Narain, the Govertment is waking up to the need of BRT in Delhi and elsewhere in the country.

Why BRT in Delhi?

Sumana Narayanan writes – “Delhi needs a dedicated bus lane because 60 per cent people in the city travel on buses. With Delhi’s population growing at the rate of 3.85 per year, only a robust public transport can ensure mobility. There is a limit to the number of cars roads can accommodate. Already 21 per cent of Delhi’s area is under roads—a high percentage compared to other cities worldwide. brt is also a step towards cleaning Delhi’s air. According to the Economic Survey of Delhi, the city had 1.60 million cars and 3.34 million two-wheelers in 2006-07. The number of city buses was only 8,000. Every day, 1,000 vehicles are added to the city’s roads. Where will it lead to? Due to the spurt in cars, Delhi has already squandered its gains from switching to cng. Air pollution levels that had dropped from 140 microgramme per cubic metre (µg/cu m) in 2002 to 100 µg/cu m in 2005 due to the introduction of cng, are again on the rise. In 2007, the pollution level was up at 155 µg/cu m. With increasing traffic jams and rising pollution what choices does Delhi have? Personal vehicles are part of the problem, not solution.”

But Delhi’s commuters are not happy. They are not comfortable to cross three lanes to get to a bus stop.

“People have no lane discipline. Even as this reporter was talking to one of the marshals regulating traffic a man parked his scooter right in front of the marshal, Ajay Kumar Singh, to get some water. When the marshal admonished him, his answer, as he hurried away, was that it was just for a minute. The marshal shrugs, “There is nothing I can do.” The marshals have no power to book anyone. At times they get abused by people for enforcing lane discipline.!”

“Motorcyclists and car users say brt has made traffic snarls longer. Some, however, feel it is good to move buses out of the regular traffic. Pradeep Kumar Yadav, who has been driving an autorickshaw for the past two years, says brt is a good idea. “I don’t agree jams have become worse. The traffic flow is better and it is nice not to have to deal with buses,” he says. But sitting in her chauffeured, air-conditioned Innova, Vineet Bammi is irate. “The idea is terrible. It takes forever to travel down this stretch of road,” she says.”

“Shopkeepers along the brt corridor are not excited either because parking is not allowed on the corridor. This, they think, will affect their business. “Parking is a problem for my customers. They end up parking on the pavement,” says Himanshu Bansal, a stationery shop owner.”

The Scary Story

By 2010, urban India’s population is expected to reach 410 million from 300 million in 2000, which means more cars and motorcycles will be unleashed on the already vehicle-choked roads.

The number of cars in Delhi alone has gone up from 0.7 million in 1997 to 1.6 million in 2007. Infrastructure is just not keeping pace with vehicle growth. Between 1996 and 2006, road length in Delhi increased by 20 per cent, while the number of cars increased by 132 per cent.

Under that threat, the Government is on the right track, both with BRT and Metrorail, we can hope to avert the oncoming disaster in air and traffic, health and the lives of the millions who travel by bus. Or cycle.

“The success of the Delhi brt cannot be judged in a few weeks. It will take time and discipline. One measure will be whether the number of private vehicles on the road reduces. And that won’t happen until various public transit systems are interconnected and parking facilities created for car users, so that they can take the bus. Making public transport score over cars in terms of comfort, speed, accessibility, cost and convenience is a tall order but not impossible. Giving buses a right of way is in everybody’s interest; it frees space for cars, for in unsegregated traffic buses block two lanes.Urban India has no choice but to board the bus.”


The present piece has been put together using information from Down To Earth, May 26, 2008 issue. Below are the links to the articles.

References:
No Public Transport: Down To Earth May 26, 2008 edition
http://cse.org.in/cover.asp?foldername=20080531&filename=news&sid=43&sec_id=9

Caravan Disaster
http://cse.org.in/cover.asp?foldername=20080531&filename=news&sid=46&page=3&sec_id=9&p=1

Can’t Miss The Bus
http://cse.org.in/cover.asp?foldername=20080531&filename=news&sid=48&page=4&sec_id=9&p=1

Act Fast
http://cse.org.in/cover.asp?foldername=20080531&filename=news&sid=50&page=5&sec_id=9&p=1

Devil’s Advocate on Ibnlive.com
Karan Thapar Talks to Sunita Narain
'Ratan Tata will be a hero if he made a bus like Nano'
http://www.ibnlive.com/news/ratan-tata-will-be-a-hero-if-he-made-a-bus-like-nano/56973-11.html

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