Saturday, April 17, 2010

Are there simple answers to Mumbai traffic?

I have this dream often. I am sitting in a car and I need to use the loo. A couple of buttons and a cavity opens up in the car seat to reveal a functional toilet. For Mumbaites, who’ve spent lifetimes stuck in traffic, it would seem like the product innovation of the year. The other variation of this dream is in the form of people spending their entire lives in traffic. 1 BHK, 2 BHK being replaced by 1 Axel, 2 Axel American style RV’s. Property agents and auto salesmen merging into one hideously mutated species.

I’ve been, like the rest of the city, suffering what can at best be described as stupidity for too many years. Is there no way to smoothen traffic in the city? Is there no hope at all? Is, as the famous saying goes, the world going to end in a traffic jam? Actually there are a few very small things that could make a huge difference. And they are not all utopian dreams. They work in other countries.

Most of these observations are about clearing more vehicles through the same road surface. Speed is important! The quicker a vehicle passes through the sooner it will create space for the next vehicle. Yet, we find stupidity in basic planning. ‘Go slow’ or ’60-50-40’ sign boards are the epitome of this stupidity. Here are some small measures I can see with my two eyes.

1.Fix all crossings: It is amazing how many crossings are potholed or simply broken in suburban Mumbai. Traffic takes, on an average, three times longer to get across a crossing than it should because of the crawl every motorist has to indulge in to avoid their vehicles being totaled. Every left or right turn in Mumbai is a torture test for vehicles. I don’t see why that should be. It is simple engineering not some complex rocket science to fix a bend in the road. Oh, by the way, those paver blocks…can I suggest a few BMC engineers try using them to cover their back holes?

2.Keep crossings clear: It is simple really, if you know that traffic in front of you is backed up in such a way that you will stop bang in the middle of the crossing, you should stop before the crossing till you are sure the traffic in front has moved enough to let you cross. The number of pile ups we see because of everyone taking a crossing and then getting stuck in the middle is amazing. I’m not advocating that we all take the spirit of ‘pehle aap’ because that would indeed be utopian and I’m trying to dole out practical solutions. How frustrating is it to see an autowallah squirm like a worm and screw up traffic? It is a simple measure that works very well in a lot of countries.

3.Corner parking: Why must anyone park at a corner? Every corner in suburban Mumbai has autos parked in such a way that it creates a blind spot for anyone approaching that corner. Be it at a street intersection or at the corner of your building. These blind spots are everywhere. Unless you slow down to a crawl you run the risk of being in an accident. This slows speeds and once again fast approaches and exits are impossible.

4.‘60-50-40’ must be replaced by ‘80-80-80’: It is common sense that the speed of traffic is determined by the slowest moving vehicle. So what good is a 60Kmph speed limit for a car that is riding behind a truck that has a 40Kmph speed limit? I am sure the guy who had this brainwave died about 100 years back and no one in traffic management business has had the brains to work around this.

5. Rush hours for office goers: Office rush hours should be for officegoers and not for cars going to office. How many cars do we see travelling with one occupant? Or one driver driving one sahib? The concept of car-pooling has not worked because there is no incentive/disincentive on offer. In addition to enabling a web-based system of car pooling the BMC must think about disincentives to make car pooling attractive. Let me offer a simple disincentive- During office rush hours a car with less than 4 occupants should not be allowed to use the flyovers or the Worli Sealink. I know this will create a stink in the short term but in the long term it will yield amazing results. Also, why can’t there be a curb on trucks during office rush hours? Every other city in India has some time restrictions on trucks and their movements.

I am sure there are many other such small ideas that can contribute hugely to making our time in traffic less harrowing. And maybe I can go back to dreaming more normal sort of dreams.


Anonymous said...

good read, Bobby. As the plane descends in Delhi, my BP starts to rise and stays high the entire duration of my stay. Yep, traffic jams are really exasperating. Some people I know in Delhi have drivers just so they can sit in the back and do some work on their laptop while stuck in traffic.

- Deep R.

Vikram Singh said...


If you think Delhi is bad you don't know what we have in Mumbai. My car doesn't know gears 3 to five. Once on the highway I went to 5th and my car spoke to me saying "you are not serious?". Most days I wish I were driving a forklift. Pick and throw....pick and throw... that's another dream my shrink is treating me for.