Freedom from signals

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signalsRasheed Kappan, Jagadish Angadi, Sept 8:The five signal-free corridors on the BBMP’s agenda promise uninterrupted traffic flow. But their pedestrian unfriendly design, tough land acquisition issues and potential to trigger traffic chaos during construction have already raised big questions

Bangalore’s next big mega shake-up after the Namma Metro surgery could kick off in January 2014. Promising uninterruped traffic flow through five signal-free corridors, the BBMP will get hyper-busy with its plans to build 16 grade-separators, upgrade 55 kms of road and improve a slew of junctions. But they cannot move an inch without acquiring 485 private properties, arrange the necessary funds and surmount the rising voices of dissent. A mighty tough task indeed!

Critics find the corridors skewed heavily in favour of the long distance commuters, virtually neglecting the local neighbourhoods. Also out of the corridor range are the pedestrians and public transport, as urban transport experts emphasise. The objections might appear valid. But for the BBMP, hell-bent on getting the long-pending project off the ground, addressing these concerns are not apparently immediate. For, the Palike’s hands would be full, figuring out ways to acquire the required 29,047.81 sqft of land.

The basic ground work done, the Palike knows how much land it needs at different locations. At the widest points, the corridors would need as much as 18 feet on either sides. Losing private property owners will be compensated through the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) system, says BBMP Chief Engineer, S Somashekhar. But if they do not oblige, the Palike would resort to compulsory acquisition using the provisions of the Karnataka Town Planning Act Section 14 (B).

Land acquisition, undoubtedly, will open the Pandora’s box. Public protests have already gathered steam on the proposed corridor along Hosur Road. The project will get caught in a quagmire of litigations and meet the same fate as the bus lanes and cycle lanes, warn the experts.

But the city traffic police, who will inevitably be tasked with ensuring that the corridors work, are optimistic. A top police official, who was at the helm of city traffic affairs till recently, is convinced that the corridors would definitely help decongest the roads. Provided, they are designed well. Flawed design proved fatal for the signal-free corridor that passed through KR Circle. This experiment lasted barely two years.

Exit-point vehicle pile-ups

Half-baked traffic and road engineering inputs had severely cramped the functioning of corridor projects in the past. Most corridors were designed to take the traffic from the city’s outskirts and open out into the Central Business District (CBD). “This is one reason why we see a lot of congestion and traffic jams at the exit points. Vehicles are piled up at these points, triggering jams on surrounding roads. For instance, the KR Circle corridor used to cause a huge problem near Hudson Circle as vehicles would line up in long queues near Hudson Circle. The signals had to be reintroduced to decongest Hudson Circle,” recalls the official.

The message is clear: The corridor design should ensure free vehicular movement at the exit points. This is critical, since Bangalore City’s geography is such that all radial roads converge at the City centre. Vehicles are virtually dumped into the CBD as all corridors exit there.

One of the five signal-free corridors (SFC) in the pipeline is the Vellara Junction to Hope Farm S. The alignment shows that the corridor runs along Old Airport Road, Kundalahalli and Whitefield with bi-directional underpasses to be built at Wind Tunnel Road Junction, Suranjan Das Road Junction and the Kundalahalli Gate Junction.
Traffic officials feel this route should be extended up to Mekhri Circle, If not, they see a huge problem on the cards on MG Road and Brigade Road. This design flaw, says an official, should be addressed fast.

The exit point problem would surface even with the SFC proposed from Soap Factory, Dr Rajkumar Road, Yeshwantpur Circle to Okalipuram Road. A well-experienced traffic official foresees huge vehicular pile-ups at the Okalipuram Junction, triggering cascading effects on all roads in and around the Majestic area.

The official feels the project for an elevated flyover from Khoday Circle to the starting point of Dr Rajkumar Road near Sujatha Theatre should be revived. This flyover is a must before the corridor can be operationalised in any meaningul way, he reasons.

If SFC projects had failed in the past, the reason was obvious. The traffic police were never part of the design team. Experts from Technical Advisory Committee, Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) and Traffic Engineering Department, BBMP would finalise the design and only approach the traffic police at the implementation stage. However, lately, there has been a change in this pattern, and the department’s inputs were reportedly incorporated. Multi-agency inputs would be crucial while designing such projects in the future, particularly when there is no letup in the city’s explosive vehicular traffic growth.

Pedestrians don’t matter

But the very idea of signal-free corridors is flawed, contends V Ravichandar, an urban policy expert. His rationale: The system is based on a principle that it is important to serve the interests of only the “through traffic” and not the local vehicular movements. Besides, SFCs does not care for the pedestrians.

Ravichandar is clear that the pedestrian has to be central to any road planning. “SFCs where pedestrians do not matter is unacceptable. The pedestrian is the most important person around which planning has to be happen,” he explains. The BBMP’s response is to plan more pedestrian skywalks, 100 of which were sanctioned in this year’s State budget. But when the existing skywalks are hardly used by the people, the wisdom of building more such structures is bound to be questioned.

Another criticism against the corridor project is related to its overemphasis on private motorised vehicles. “The whole mechanism is devised for such vehicles, at the cost of public transport. Buses have to pick up passengers. At the underpass proposed on the corridor near Forum Mall, the buses have to go to the side slip roads to get passengers. We should be encouraging public transport and not personal vehicles,” reasons Ravichandar.

Too many intersections

Traffic expert, M N Sreehari is even more critical of the corridors. “The project is ambitious. But it will not work. When you have so many cross roads and intersections, it will be tough. In this city, there are too many openings on the central median for vehicles to cross. Every influential person carves out a gap in the median. Let them first ban all right turn traffic to avoid all crossings,” he says.

Uninterrupted vehicular flow through the corridors without congestion at the exit points can happen only if the speeds are uniform. “But where is this uniformity?” asks Sreehari. “You have vehicles that crawl at 5 kmph go alongside other vehicles that zip at 100 kmph. There are other problems too. Signals need to be coordinated, land acquisition will be tough and even if that happens, parking space will invade the widened sections. I am sure the corridor project will be abandoned within two months of its launch.”

But the Palike does not think so. Even if land acquisition gets tougher, infrastructure creation takes time, initial traffic management issues pose challenges, they are ready to go ahead. Stuck in traffic jams for hours every day, the harried motorists and pedestrians know their wait will not end in a hurry!

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