15 October 2009

road rage on NH47

National Highway 47 is a a busy highway connecting Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It connects most of the important southern cities like Salem, Erode, Coimbatore, Palakkad, Thrissue, Kochi, Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram. It is officially listed as running over 650 km (390 miles) from Salem to Kanyakumari. Out of this a 16km bit, Avinashi Road is in Coimbatore and serves not only as a connecting National Highway but also a main arterial road within the city. It is also fraught with mis-management and poor planning.

In 2006 plans to make it a 6-lane highway was approved and construction started. This resulted in all the trees lining either side of the road being cut off, increasing city temperatures up to 2 degrees. The construction itself has taken a lot of time with severe interruption to traffic flow and general annoyance to commuters. It has only just been opened out to a six-lane highway and it is a right joke. The examples of Indian governance makes for stellar stand-up comedy material and this rankles me.

The lanes have been segregated according to vehicle type as opposed to speed; so although you have to switch lanes to make turns, technically you cannot. This confusion means that already lane-senseless drivers are even more perplexed adding to the incessant honking and general mayhem before you even cross a signal and shift a gear. Indian people make for rather inconsiderate drivers - I'm not sure if this is because we do not care for rules or if we have the 'I don't care, I own the road' attitude. Everything we do in terms of driving screams a certain kind of 'educated-idiot' syndrome - this includes cutting people off, mad honking, this insane rush to get a few paces ahead, talking to people in the middle of the road in a parked vehicle (!) no parking-sense and general road-rage. Of course all of us give in to some variation of this behaviour from time to time, which basically means as a mass we have no road-manners. Poor infrastructure often adds to road -rage especially during rainy seasons and peak hours.

Why am I venting about driving on an environmental blog you might ask? Driving is something that everybody does at some point and it relies on infrastructure in place and it also relies on sense and sensibilities of people using that infrastructure. Road-sense is a bottom-up approach to law enforcement and it should be ensured with stricter licensing controls in the first place. When it comes to infrastructure: most roads in India are badly maintained, inadequate and support more traffic than they were originally planned for, there is virtually no town planning, environmental impact assessment and no fore-thought when it comes to expansion efforts.

Every time a structure is built, resources are used, it makes more sense to overestimate the amount of traffic than underestimate when anything like a bridge, a highway or road is constructed. There are numerous examples even in the big cities where its capacity is reached within a day of it opening - this is simply due to poor planning. This structure will be reconstructed, expanded, renovated five years later when it is already groaning under the weight of wheels it cannot support when the planning should have happened ten years earlier.

Secondly, the best fuel consumption occurs when vehicles gently accelerate and stop only minimally where it is essential i.e., at traffic signals. Bumper to bumper traffic does little to conserve fuel especially when we all wait in line with our air-conditioning switched on and mindlessly 'horning' at the fellow in front of us.

Third, construction of city infrastructure is a huge environmental disturbance which we have to off-set adequately which does not happen in India. Trees that are cut down are not replanted, local ecosystems which are destroyed are not restored and all this further adds to increase in pollution within city limits.

The question I cannot answer is why? Why is our infrastructure appallingly abysmal? Even countries in worse-off economic situations like Thailand have better roads in place. China's cities are growing in leaps and bounds in terms of infrastructure. Whereas we take pride in the maxim "learn to drive in India and you can drive anywhere in the world" - which is not true because most other countries have something called 'road-sense'. We all blame the government, but really we do not have a sense of entitlement to demand the best from our leaders which is precisely why they get away without accountability.

Democracy is a two way street.


S.R.Ayyangar said...

We have to go a long way , not only to learn but also respect road sense.The situation is same all over India and as an aware citizen, we have to raise such issues at all available forums.I have also touched upon these issues on my blog.

Akhila Vijayaraghavan said...

Not sure how blogging about this is going to help to be honest. However, it gives me the feeling of doing something productive.