31 October 2009

Flying Over

Since ancient times, roads have been central to the growth of civilisation. The ancient Romans were the first to realise the great opportunity of growth and development that roads offered and as a result, the Empire was criss-crossed by numerous highways that even today stand as a testimony to Roman Engineering.

The modern world too depends excessively on roads, which provide vital links from ports to inland cities, from commercial hot spots to residential complexes, from isolated hamlets to bustling cities. Roads are indispensable and their growth inevitable.

In cities, thousands commute to and fro from their homes to offices. In big, cosmopolitan cities of the world, despite the presence of alternative means of transport (like the Tube in London, Subway in New York and the Metro Rail In Delhi), a major chunk of the population still relies on roads for its day to day movement and with more and more cars getting on the roads, the volume of traffic on roads worldwide has reached mammoth proportions. In India too the situation is far from rosy and Indian cities are inarguably host to some of the worst traffic jams in the world.

Predictably, the state governments were for a long time oblivious to the worsening situation on our roads. When they finally woke up, they gave way to a bigger folly of constructing flyovers.
It’s amazing to see how myopic Indian authorities become when it comes to long-term planning and making flyovers id just yet another classic example of this costly short sightedness.

Flyovers undoubtedly increase the net available road area; when you can’t widen a road, you can atleast build yet another one over it. So for the time being, everybody celebrates when a flyover is constructed over congested roads.

However, in doing so, our authorities as well as our people are ignoring some very serious implications.

Firstly, flyovers are constructed at a fantastic cost to the exchequer. Their construction is usually delayed and with material thrown helter-skelter, construction sites more often resemble devastated war zones. Moreover, prolonged delays in construction aggravate the traffic situation.
Secondly, by increasing the net available road area, what flyovers really do is to just make way for more and more private cars to ply on roads. What would we do when the number of cars increases the available road area (as it has during the past decade)? Build flyovers over the existing flyovers?

Thirdly, despite the best attempts to introduce Bharat II systems in cars, vehicular pollution is bound to increase if there are more cars on the roads.

The real solution to our present traffic problems then lies not in increasing road space, but in upgrading our public transport system. This is not just about making Metro rails all over the country, but also about completely reviving our buses so that instead of just the lower middle classes, even the upper middle class begins to consider buses as a feasible means of transportation.

To ensure this, the first and the utmost priority must be to establish Bus Driver’s Training Academies all over the country so that all drivers can be taught basic traffic laws and common ‘driving’ sense, something which most of them lack today. This will not only benefit the drivers, but also the common man who might then be assured of a safe journey in buses. Secondly, Transport Corporations (like the D.T.C.) must go in for an image makeover and transform themselves from mundane loss making bodies to energetic, profit making corporations. Thirdly, the existing fleet of rackety-rickety buses must be scrapped and new, disable and senior citizen friendly buses must be introduced in a time bound framework.

It is more than obvious that the current rate at which flyovers are springing up all over urban India would lead to more congestion in not too distant future. The media, which is only too quick to pounce on the minutest of errors that the government might make, has surprisingly been bamboozled into believing that flyovers actually do good for our roads. The sooner we realise that this is not so, the sooner we stop flying over the real solution, the better will it be.

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