Logical Solutions to Bangalore’s Traffic – Part III: Signage and Lighting

August 18th, 2010

…continuing from the previous post…

(and here’s the first part of the series)

Then we’ve got the problem of lighting and signage. I’ve never been able to figure out why lighting isn’t considered important enough on Bangalore roads. Even the brand new toll expressway to Electronics City has got stretches without lighting (bulbs fused or more likely no power). I think it’s important to make a plan now that would replace all the street lights on all major roads with solar powered LED lamps within the next 3 years. Firstly, moving all the street lights off the electricity grid would mean consistent lighting for the roads and lower electricity consumption for the whole city. And secondly, LED lights would last longer and have environmental impact. It may cost more up front, but it would make a huge difference in the long term.

In terms of traffic lights, I’ve been hearing about this integrated traffic management system for the last few years, but I still have to see the effects on the ground. Half the traffic lights in our city are synchronized so badly with actual traffic movement that the cop on the street turns off the lights and directs the traffic by hand. THIS IS A BAD IDEA. Firstly, the cop can’t really make out how much traffic is piled up behind a bend in the road or at the next junction and therefore lets a particular stream of traffic flow causing pile-ups elsewhere. Secondly, the drivers of the vehicles often can’t see the cop and therefore assume that the signal is a free-for-all and cause further jams. Or then you have three or four cops at a junction putting good manpower to bad use.

After a decade of being known as India’s IT city, why can we not have intelligent traffic lights at least on the main arteries? I’ve seen so many situations around 10pm or later on Outer Ring Road or the new Airport Road where there is a red light at a junction and huge volumes of traffic are stuck waiting for 30 seconds or longer even though there is no cross-junction traffic! Traffic lights based on actual traffic volume are in use around the world, why not here? In fact, I bet that if the Karnataka government made a competition for engineering students, that we’d get a half-a-dozen proof-of-concept entries which would do the same thing as expensive traffic lights but cheaper and easier to build. And then give the designs to BEL or something and build them cheap.

In continuation of the traffic light problems, why are the lights switched off at 11pm. It’s foolish. They’re mostly switched off because people jump the lights. But if the lights were intelligent, then people wouldn’t need to jump them. On major roads, the traffic lights should be on 24×7.

Signage is another big infrastructure problem. Do you know that there are still signs which indicate underpass construction for underpasses completed over a year ago? “Slow down, underpass under construction.” And you slow down to find no work and the “under-construction” underpass is already complete! Or take the signposts on Outer Ring Road between Marathalli and K. R. Puram. Earlier this stretch used to be a mess because of traffic cutting across the road, but now with a dedicated u-turn area in front of the ISRO building, it’s improved dramatically. But every now and then you find vehicles slowing down at every previously open junction. Why? Because the signs that indicate the location of the u-turn are impossibly small. Try reading them in the rain at even 30kmph without causing an accident (good luck!). Or take the signs for the junction at the old airport road – Indiranagar junction. You need to be clever or lucky or have travelled the road before to know which loop will take you in which direction. But a little distance away you’ve got huge signboards indicating the direction to M. G. Road. Why aren’t all the signs this big?

The biggest place where our signs are inadequate is in the under construction areas (metro, utility works and road works). The signs are often black on green which is one of the worst contrast colours. And they are non reflective and often set up too close to the construction work.

Is it too much to require the contractors doing this work to provide proper signage. At least a few hundred meters before the actual construction there should be signs in black on yellow or red on yellow with reflective paint clearly giving instructions. “Construction Ahead. Slow Down.” or “Take diversion to the left.” And construction areas should be better lit than the rest of the road. Of course this seems to be in opposition to the norm!

And other signs seem to be completely stupid. Signs indicating speeds of 20kmph in areas where vehicles travel routinely in excess of 70kmph mean that the signs are there for no purpose. 20kmph is far too slow on major roads to make any sense.

to be continued… (part 4)

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Logical Solutions to Bangalore’s Traffic – Part II: Public Transport

August 18th, 2010

…continuing from the previous post…

The next important need in terms of infrastructure is proper public transportation. The Bus Day (on the 4th of every month) is a great initiative, but it won’t work in the long run. Take someone like me who lives more than a kilometre away from the nearest bus stop. There are no autos to take me to the bus stop. There is no parking near the stop for me to take my own transport that far. When I get there, I don’t know what time the next bus will be coming. For that matter, the buses don’t even stop at the bus stop. Then I have to change buses at Marathalli which means I have to walk another half kilometre and again I don’t know how long I’ll have to wait.

What we need are the following:

  1. Fewer long distance bus routes with more hub-and-spoke systems. There are nearly 30-40 different bus routes that go through a busy junction like Marathalli. In the Whitefield direction, there are only 3 final terminal points. But all these buses with different starting points and different routes choke up the junction. Shorter distance buses with higher frequency will reduce jams and improve commuting. This should be designed with the Metro in mind for the future as well. (UPDATE: The importance of this point came home to me rather forcefully yesterday while driving the nearly 10km from Marathalli to Domlur as the road was filled with buses all running mostly empty. A round-robin route on this stretch would mean more filled buses and less traffic on the roads.)
  2. Proper bus stops. This includes forcing commuters to stand AT the bus stop and NOT ON the road. Then the buses must be forced to stop at the stop rather than in the middle of the road. One solution to this is:
  3. Conductors and ticketing counters at the bus stop rather than on the bus. This would allow an additional passenger on the bus and would make the ticketing easier rather than having the conductor push his way through a crowed bus at rush hour. Also this conductor could ensure that the passengers wait at a designated spot for the bus, inform passengers about which bus to take for which destination and force the bus driver to stop at the bus stop rather than wherever he prefers. Bigger stops could also have automated ticket machines.
  4. Single ticket journeys. As a continuation of the previous point, a commuter at a stop will pick up a ticket for his final destination no matter how many buses he needs to change. Tickets should clearly have an expiry time (maximum 3 hours) which ensures that a commuter doesn’t use the ticket for other journeys.
  5. Systems for autos to provide locality transportation. Autos should not be used for long distance transport as much as possible and anyway they rarely make the journey to any destination you want. Long distance autos should be call autos like call taxis. Locality autos should have fixed rates and their journey should only be from home to bus stop.
  6. Single number for call taxis and call autos. In Bangalore if once has to call for a taxi there are half a dozen operators each with different numbers and then you have the call auto number as well. There should be a single helpdesk with multiple lines and this should be paid for by the auto and taxi companies. The closest auto/taxi can come and pick up the commuter.

to be continued… (part 3)

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Logical Solutions to Bangalore’s Traffic – Part I: Roads

August 18th, 2010

Bangalore’s traffic situation is getting worse every day. It has now reached the unenviable situation of having the slowest traffic on average among the major cities in India. For the longest time, I’ve thought that some of the solutions to the problems would be obvious, but somehow the obvious seems to have escaped town planners and traffic police alike.

So, here is my set of solutions for improving traffic in Bangalore. It consists of three heading. And to follow the clichéd trend of putting trite terminology above useful writing, I’ve decided to call my three headings the 3Is: Infrastructure, Information and Implementation. Since this topic is large and complicated, I’ll be splitting it up into multiple posts.

(Disclaimer: In this post I largely refer to roads in and around South-East Bangalore – mainly Outer Ring Road from Sarjapur to K. R. Puram, Whitefield, Old Madras Road and Indiranagar – because I have lived and worked around these area. But these problems are common to all areas of Bangalore; I know I’ve driven in most parts. If you feel that some solutions are not valid for some areas, then drop me a line in the comments.)


The government seems to believe that good infrastructure equals wider roads, but this is the most simplistic and short-sighted solution to the problem. What we most need are better roads. Take a drive along ANY road in Bangalore and I can guarantee that in less than a kilometre you will either encounter a pothole, a crack or crevice, a dug-up portion for some utility/metro construction, protruding/missing manhole covers, damaged dividers encroaching into the road or any combination of the above.

Look at the newly laid Varthur Main Road connecting Marathalli to Whitefield. It’s been built with some care and consideration. The pavements are tiled (wow!) and there are proper storm water drains with grated openings for water to escape the road every few metres (Let’s leave aside the fact that the work started in October last year and seems to have been completed just last month!). Barely a week after the road was relayed, a apartment building just after Kundanahalli decided that they needed to dig up the road to place their electricity cables/water lines/whatever.  And if you decide to take the drive from Forum Value Mall all the way down this road to the old Airport, you’ll constantly be fuming. The condition of the road is mostly great till Marathalli but the junction there is terrible. Lack of proper bus stops means that buses and people stand around everywhere and then the road is as wide as 3 lanes in some stretches and narrows to less than a lane in other bits. Even Outer Ring Road varies widely from six lanes + service lanes in say, Marathalli area to four lanes without service roads near BTM Layout. The traffic volume is the same, why the difference in widths? And this is supposed to be one of the major arteries of the city.

What we need are the following:

  1. Consistently wide roads. Two lanes means two lanes throughout.
  2. Better road maintenance. Repairing of potholes should not be a slipshod job where the cure is worse than the illness.
  3. A road maintenance department. This department should have officers in every ward with sole duties to inspect all the roads in their ward. There should also be a designated road repair contractor for the ward and the department should have priority over BWSSB, BESCOM and the like. If a water main has burst and BWSSB has not repaired it, then the road department should have it’s own team of water works engineers to fix it immediately. No more passing the buck.
  4. Better road dividers and manhole covers. These huge concrete manhole covers and easily movable road dividers cause more damage to vehicles than any other problem on the road. The road department should also ensure that damaged dividers and manhole covers are repaired immediately.

to be continued… (part 2, part3)

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