Why Bengaluru? Pune tops in bad road design & traffic indiscipline too

Today morning, R Jagannath has ranted against the traffic chaos, the bad road design and traffic management in Bengaluru, the city that’s a global IT city. As I read the article, my frustration, of how a simple road design is messed up in Pune, came back! Last year, having ranted and raved against bad road design for too long, we decided to do a manual on road design. Titled as UrbanStreetDesignGuidelines (USDG) for Pune, we ended up with a treatise on how to do a simple road design in Pune. We moved around the city capturing photos of ‘what is wrong’ and then racked our brains to show ‘what is right’. It was no simple feat, as one of the most unique features that Indian cities have is varying road widths! After every few meters, the road width varies to accommodate an old heritage structure, a tree and sometimes a shrine, or in some instances, parcel of land of stubborn land owners who are fighting against the municipal authority for having to give up precious land for roads.

As we started looking at problems and issues, we realised that Roads are never ‘designed’ in Indian cities. In fact, a most shocking revelation was that when road making contracts are given out they are often split into parts so that many contractors end up getting small lengths of road to do at a time. Further, the contracts are also split to give the surfacing work to one contractor, footpaths are made by another  and utilities are laid out by a third contractor, for the same stretch! When these contracts are awarded, there is no drawing that is issued! In fact, no drawing exists, either of the existing contour levels or of the existing utilities underneath. As the contracts are awarded on L1 (Lowest One) terms, the contractors hardly want to spend even a single paisa on making a drawing, much less on designing the street. As the contractor sets out to surface a road, he/she is totally unaware of the utilities that lie underneath. So, the work pretty much assumes ‘see on site, make a decision and move ahead’. There is hardly any input sought from architects, urban designers and even experienced civil engineers on how to tackle problems.

An important step of ‘grading’ is completely missed in this process. And this is the single most reason that contributes to ‘wavy’ road surfaces that allow water retention and thus require re-surfacing after every monsoon. in fact, this step is also missed by private builders in private properties and thus we see shoddy roads even inside posh and luxurious townships. Further, other decisions like kerb height, where and when to break off a kerb, where to place pedestrian barriers, pedestrian crossings are completely left to the whims and fancies of the contractor or junior supervisors in the municipal authority. That’s the reason, we in Pune, see pedestrian crossings completely blocked by dividers and often leading to nowhere. Then comes the issue of road markings. Lane dividing lines, kerb lines, turning signage etc is not a part of the contracts and is conveniently forgotten once the road opens up for traffic. Divider heights are decided upon by material manufacturers who push their products to contractors and municipal authorities and rarely follow any international or even national guidelines.

After this exercise, me and my team were all but ready to pull our hair out. For a country that’s doing cutting edge work in building Indian satellites and sending out space missions, it is unimaginable that we are unable to get a good road built in its cities!

After the USDG, we spent a year convincing the municipal officers to include its terms into road contracts. Then, we also advised the Pune Municipal Corporation to set up an Urban Design Cell, as every road in the city is varying in its width and every junction is differently laid out. We need Urban designers to design these roads prior to road contracts being awarded. Happily, we now have 2-3 roads that seem to be following the USDG guidelines and the Urban Designers Cell in Pune can boast of these projects. But these are few and limited to stretches between complex junctions. We need a more serious effort to design long stretches of major arterial roads to show the difference between ill-designed and well-designed roads and its impact of traffic discipline.

I shouldn’t even speak on traffic discipline in Pune. The gate of the RTO in Pune opens at a peculiar point of the roundabout such that most of the vehicles exiting the RTO are required to go against the flow of traffic for a few metres or stand right in the middle of oncoming traffic till the light turns Red. Even on highways surrounding the city, huge containers and trucks carrying heavy loads enter the wrong way to avoid cumbersome turning at traffic signals. Service roads are so ill designed that it makes your cringe and wonder if we need a ‘technology transfer’ for making a simple thing as a road in our country.

What we need is a transformation in the way road contracts are awarded at municipal level. The scope of work should include making civil drawings, details of design and drawings to show grading of surfaces prior to construction. Once roads and junctions are well designed, we will be able to induce ‘discipline through design’ and this will cut down errant traffic violators to a large extent. For the remaining stubborn errant drivers, there is the whip that needs to be enforced. RTO needs a total overhaul. There needs to be a more cohesive strategy between municipal authorities, RTO and the traffic police to ensure some quick, basic level of sanity on roads in Indian cities!

USDG for Pune available at http://www.punecorporation.org/en/urban-street-design-guidelines-usdg

Note: Important and consistent work for road design, safety and traffic is being done by Parisar, ITDP and PedestrianFirst in Pune. USDG was conceived through this advocacy.





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