Friday, September 17, 2010

A case for roads in Bangalore

When you visit Mumbai, yes, Mumbai after a few years in Bangalore, something strikes you about the width of the roads there. The roads in Mumbai seem like you are abroad. And then those old Fiat cabs remind you where you are.

Bangalores roads are narrow. These roads served their purpose well when there were few cars and fewer buses. But today that is not the case. Bangalore registers nearly a thousand new vehicles each day. And considering that this is the case for the past few years (as has been the case for most of India), that is a lot of vehicles. The result is very clear. During peak hours, the Outer Ring Road - a road that was so empty when it was built about 10 years ago that people used it for drag races - is now chock-a-block with vehicles. The road is pockmarked with intersections and during peak hours you will spend a good 15 minutes at each intersection. The road leading to Majestic (or Kempegowda Bus Station) is another example. Getting there on time to get your outstation bus or train has always been a nightmare. Pick any road in Bangalore and you will get the same reaction.

Under the earlier (Congress, JD et al) governments blessings, there was little or no road upgradation work - ostensibly because that would cost them rural votes. Cost them it did - both rural and urban votes. And a BJP government came into power about 2 years ago. And since then road upgradation work has happened in full swing. Quite a few underpasses, flyovers have been built and roads are being widended. Under the newly elected corporation, this work has been going on at a pace that would do Bangalore proud. And the public transport system today is unrecognizable from what it was about 10 years back.

But of course there are issues. People are not happy parting with their property for widening roads. Which is understandable. Road widening means trees on the sides (and Banglores narrow roads were beautiful) and that means they need to go too. The greens are upset. But then Bangalores greens need to look closely at where the trees are. See Bangalore from the air and trees are either in large public spaces or in the cantonment or on the roads. Few Bangalore houses have trees - real estate is far too pricey to support trees today. Trees have to be saved, but it is not just from the Metro or widening roads.

But the real problem is not about widening roads. Given that vehicle numbers are increasing, narrow roads will result in more pollution. Pollutions levels will go up as vehicles stall for longer periods of time waiting for signals to turn green or for intersections to clear up. And living in a property along a narrow congested polluted road is a health hazard in itself. It will also result in those very trees falling in even very light rains. And this is a common problem in Bangalore. And then there is parking. Many houses have no parking facilities for cars - so they park on the roads. Ditto for business establishments. And that results in one lane of most roads being lost for actual usage leaving just one odd lane for traffic. Traffic enforcement in Bangalore is poor. It is getting better now, but it is a long away from the enforcement (or harassment - depending on who you ask) levels in Mumbai or Delhi.

Bangalores problem has to be solved at many levels. Roads need to be widened - public transport needs to be beefed up - car usage needs to be discouraged with high parking fees or road taxes. Both these are equally important. Given the weather of the city, walking paths need to be created alongwith cycling paths and these are ideal given the size of the city. Overall environment awareness needs to go up. Traffic enforcement needs to be sharper. People need to follow traffic, parking rules diligently. The gentle Bangalorean is capable of doing all this - just opposing road widening will not get the city anywhere. And the Metro rail is the future of the city that should have been here 20 years ago. The Metro is one of the cleanest solutions that will result in reducing pollution via transport for Bangalore.

Without wide roads, the problems will continue. With increased levels of both public transport and private vehicles these very roads will be choked beyond imagination. Even for efficient public transport, one dedicated lane is required - which is all that most roads are today for all forms of traffic. Every city has to transform and it is now Bangalores turn.

1 comment:

Savitha Rao said...

Where in Bombay did u find the wide roads ? Am inclined to take a day off to go see these roads :)