Logical Solutions to Bangalore’s Traffic – Part V: Equipment for the cops

February 5th, 2013

…continuing from the previous post…

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

The traffic police in Bangalore have got some shiny new toys. They’ve all got Blackberries and wireless printers for tickets. There’s the huge numbers of breath-alyzers and the shiny car mounted speed cameras.

But, and here’s the problem, their basic equipment is lacking. In Delhi, or Chennai, the traffic police have lighted batons which are used to indicate whether the vehicle should stop or go. Then there’s the problem with road signs and temporary barriers. The temporary road signs used by the traffic police are almost impossible to see unless you are right up against them.

And of course, the average traffic constable is equipped with nothing more than a whistle and maybe a lathi.

What we need to do is ensure all the cops have access to the latest technology. Why do the blackberries have to be only for the senior cops? I’m sure Micromax or one of the other lower cost android phone manufacturers would be happy to give away (or at nominal cost) a bunch of phones to the cops around the city.

But we also need an infrastructure backbone. The police information should be linked to the RTO, so stolen vehicles can be reported and found both by the cops and by the RTO when someone tries to register a stolen vehicle.

A beat constable should just be able to take a photo of a traffic offender and he should be sent a notice with the fine amount filled in. In fact this should be done automatically in most cases — why clog up the roads with challan filling and payments and behind the back bribes and all of that. Any offense — take a photo and automatically have a notice sent to the owner of the vehicle with photographic proof of the offense.

Apologies for the delay in putting up this final post.

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Logical Solutions to Bangalore’s Traffic – Part IV: Pedestrian Infrastructure

August 19th, 2010

…continuing from the previous post…

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

Another huge reason why traffic is so bad in Bangalore is the complete lack of infrastructure for pedestrians. So called signal free roads are planned with no consideration for how a pedestrian will get from one side of the road to the other. At the same time it’s almost impossible for the pedestrians to walk on the pavements either.

Even in areas where there have been good pavements laid, there are other innumerable problems. 80 Feet Road, Indiranagar is a good example. Large parts of the road have good pavements with tiles and covered drains and everything! But some bits are inexplicably incomplete. And then you have the places where the pavement is unusable because the home owners or the shop keepers have parked their vehicles or their guests vehicles on the pavement. And then you’ve got un-pruned trees and gardens maintained by house owners who have been to stingy to keep a garden within their own plot!

So what can be done?

  1. Build proper pavements. They don’t need to be fancy. They just need to be there. Often pavements can be built as part of the covers of the drains. No need to take up extra road space for them.
  2. Put up barriers between the road edge and the pavement so that enterprising two wheeler riders don’t decide to jump the traffic by taking up pavement riding.
  3. Ensure that every major road has pedestrian over-bridges or underpasses at regular intervals. If they can be made with escalators, all the better.
  4. Ensure that all over-bridges and underpasses are open for use and are clean and well-lit.
  5. All of these pedestrian ways should have proper signs. There’s a new over-bridge near the Tin factory on Old Madras Road, but most people haven’t realized it’s an over-bridge because it’s loaded with advertising and looks like a hoarding!
  6. Seating areas at selected places. People get tired. Especially those who walk in the hot sun in India. A few seats at scattered locations would do good. Otherwise people tend to sit on the edge of the pavement with their legs jutting into the road.

to be continued…

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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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Freedom anyone?

June 27th, 2009

Recently, on Slashdot, a member from the UK asked the question “Which country should I move to?” His point being that the UK is becoming increasingly less free, and he wants to know which country would be better.

Of course, the more common answers were Canada and the Nordic Countries, but it was pointed out that most countries have varying degrees of lack of freedom.

There was also the debate about Iran being so bad, so why should you worry – which was commented down, luckily.

In India, we have a worse problem. We’re not really a free country, no matter what our guiding principles may be, but we have even less chance of being able to get out. Most countries in the world have increasingly tighter laws against immigrating Indians, and of course, there’s the whole world of racial prejudice against the brown man.

Maybe the best solution is to try and fix our problems ourselves. At least support human freedom in all forms. Join the Queer Pride Parade on Sunday.

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Live long and prosper!

June 18th, 2009


So, finally, I got to see the new Star Trek movie. And the best part was that I watched it in a proper movie hall – not one of these itty bitty 100-seater tiny multiplex large screen home-theatre jinks.

I have always been a fan of the original Star Trek  – more so than any other SciFi programming out there.

Why? Primarily because I prefer to read my SciFi and secondly because most SciFi films and TV serials are either too cheesy and filled with only action/sex/idiotic robots or too complex to be attempted without some form of interactivity with the audience. (Actually I can’t really think of a SciFi flick that was too complex – any suggestions?)

Star Trek : TOS (The Original Series, as it’s apparently now known, in order to distinguish it from the Next Generation, Voyager, Explorer… whatever, you get the idea), was brilliantly conceptualized by Gene Roddenberry in 1964. Some of the obvious devices in the series included the Warp Drive (faster than light propulsion) and a variety of alien encounters. But some of the more unique features were the teleporter and the logic-over-emotion Vulcan species.

But my biggest draw in terms of the series itself was the fact that most technology was a theoretically logical progression from our times and most critically, this technology was rarely more important than the people who used them.

Of course, for a ten-year old boy watching Sunday television on Doordarshan, there were the usual cheesy fights; the fact that Capt. Kirk was a mostly lousy fighter who always managed to hang on to the cliff edge but still get the girl at the end; the brilliant single-eyebrow lift of Spock (which I learnt to imitate to show off – now I can do both eyebrows independently!); Bone’s corny “He’s dead, Jim!”; and all the shots of the crew members throwing themselves at the corridor walls to indicate the ship under attack!

The new movie manages to keep the spirit of the series alive, without being too much of a by-the-numbers kind of film. Using a slightly illogical plot-device of an alternate time-line being created due to a supernova meeting with red matter – the movie sets itself in a world similar to yet different from the world of TOS.

James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) finds himself born in a escape pod after his father dies battling the villain Nero (Eric Bana) and turns into a wild young man who is persuaded to join the Starfleet after a fight with a bunch of cadets. He manages to be Kirk without being overshadowed by William Shatner’s original portrayal, but doesn’t really get to kiss the girl.

Spock is brilliantly portrayed by Zachary Quinto and more than manages to hold his own against the original Leonard Nimoy in the brief sequence they have together. (Yes, Nimoy makes a guest appearance – but Shatner does not.)

The relationship between the two is more reminiscent of the fourth Star Trek movie (The Voyage Home), with Spock, in conflict with his half-human nature, coming into direct conflict with Kirk – who doesn’t originally start the show as the captain of the Enterprise – over the latter’s unconventional approach to solving their problems.

At the end of the movie, I felt a longing to watch the next in the series (I guess it is likely to come out sooner rather than later) and that is a good sign for the future of the new crew.

There were a lot of deft touches like Zoe Saldana’s portrayal of Uhura (and her relationship with Spock – of course, I should’ve guessed it before!); Karl Urban’s funny man Bones McCoy; and Anton Yelchin’s young Russian Chekov having problems with his Ws and Vs!

Nero was the least strongly defined character, what with a bunch of snarling and nothing much else – but possibly this was the only way to allow the other characters to be defined more clearly before coming into conflict with him.

You can watch this movie even if you’re not a Trekkie. It’s far far better than any of the Star Wars prequels – think more along the lines of Batman Begins. J. J. Abrams has managed to set a good foundation for a future Dark Knight-like movie.

RANT: Why do movie halls in Bangalore, at least for the night show, cut the closing credits. It’s terrible to hear Leonard Nimoy say in the closing, “To boldly go where…” and nothing more.

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If only I were so lucky!

March 14th, 2008

In the very public parking lot of a large IT park in Bangalore today at lunchtime a very interesting sight was witnessed.

A dirty, but recognizably blue Daewoo Matiz was parked next to the main walkway. The engine was running, the airconditioner was on, and for a moment it seemed that the car was empty with a big cloth hung over the windscreen to keep the interiors protected from the harsh noonday sun.

But a closer look gave a very different perspective. In fact, as I was pulling out of the parking lot, the sight of a young man and woman adjusting their clothing could be seen through the rear window.

If only I could get so lucky on my lunch break!

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A week of theatricals

March 11th, 2008

Not exactly a bunch of reviews, but Bangalore has seen a lot of good English theatre in the last week, and here’s my take on them.

Firstly there was Lucknow ’76 written and directed by Abhishek Majumdar on the 1st and 2nd. Then there was my Poile Sengupta’s play Keats was a Tuber on the 4th, 5th and 6th. And finally this weekend just past, there was Invisible River by Gautam Raja.

Seeing these three plays in short succession makes one feel that English language theatre in Bangalore in still standing and those (including yours truly) who were ready to perform the final rites, were a bit hasty.

It’s not that the plays/performances were without flaws but they gave one a sense that it was worth the while to travel an hour (or longer) in maddening Bangalore traffic to watch them.

Lucknow ’76 has an interesting premise. Working across two periods in the history of the city, 1876 and 1976, the playwright tried to show the similarities between British imperialism and the Emergency. His portrayal of the period in 1876 when Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India was extremely well done. Unfortunately, the 1976 period was not nearly as well done, nor was it clearly linked together with the other story. Overall, it seemed like a good effort, but needed just a little more coherency. The acting was good, however, since there weren’t enough brochures around, I wasn’t able to figure out who played what role! The lighting was a little off the mark, tending to come in after the actors had moved. The music was performed live on stage with a single guitarist who also sang. Again, thanks to the lack of brochure, I don’t know who he was. He provided a good mood for the performance.

Two days later, was Keats was a Tuber. Directed by Ashish Sen and produced by Voices, the play was a revival of a over-ten-year-old performance, again directed by Ashish, with a mildly different cast. Pathy Aiyar took over from Preetham Koilpillai in the role of Raghu, while Stanley Pinto replaced Chippy Gangjee and Chandana Vasistha Aiyar played Damini. The production was not bad, with live music from Jagdish and Madhuri, but I was disappointed overall (having read the book… sorry script!). The play is primarily about the problems faced by Indians who speak English as opposed to their native language. Set in the English Department of a small town college, it talks of life and love and the English language. Shiv Kumar, as Mr Iyer, one of the lecturers, was stiff and wasn’t able to bring out any nuance. Ranita Hirji (Mrs. Nathan) the head of department, who asks Raghu (her nephew) to join the department to ostensibly fill up a three month teaching vacancy before leaving for higher studies abroad, was limited to being a college lecturer (formerly one in real life as well!). Stanley was good, Pathy was competent, Chandana was incapable of acting. Overall, I would have expected the play to be done differently (again having read the script), but it is upto the director! Then again, I felt that most of the audience seemed to have enjoyed it – which was the point.

Invisible River by Gautam Raja, directed by Ruchika Chanana, is set on the banks of the Ganga in Allahabad where a young doctor fighting against blind superstition is trying to clean up the river, while a young scientist is trying to prove that the river contains bacteriophages (virii that kill bacteria) which may help save lives. Starting off slowly, the premise pushes the play along with strong performances from Pritham Kumar and Veena Appiah. As I could see, the play would do well with a better child actor (and better lines for him!), while the entire concept of the Saraswathi being the invisible river is forgotten by the end of the play, even though it’s in the title!

Whew! Long post! I hope you managed to catch at least one of these performances this week. I’ll keep you updated if I hear that of repeat showings.

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Riots, Religion, Politics

January 26th, 2007

Today is 26th January. It is India’s 58th Republic Day. It is the 58th time that we as a nation have come together to celebrate the forming of a republic which is governed by a constitution that states:

WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into

JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;
and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;

But just a week ago, Bangalore, one of the 6 largest cities in India, witnessed riots under the guise of religion. Is this our definition of secular?

We are a country of countless races, cultures, languages and religions. Yes, even though a majority of us are Hindus, and a significant number of us are Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Jains, we have such a variety of religious beliefs in our country, it is almost impossible to determine who or what all we worship.

But we are not a secular country. The state is not separate from religion. Our politicians use religion any which way they will, for whatever benefit. Is the hanging of Saddam Hussein, really relevant to Muslims in India? Whether I believe in capital punishment or not, whether I believe that the War in Iraq is right or not (not – in case you’re wondering), it is absolutely clear that he was a mass-murderer. It is not about religion or faith or belief. So why should political parties gain mileage from this?

But it doesn’t end there, does it? The riots were repeated in greater intensity two days later, when a bunch of right wing extremist Hindu fundamentalists, spurred on by some political big-wig or the other, got together to do their own burning, beating and rioting. A 11 year old boy was killed when police opened fire after a cop was stabbed.

This is all far from secular in my opinion. Secularity means: I will not tell you what to believe in, and you will not tell me what I should believe in either. It means that I should not have to stop at any major intersect in the city and see huge banners advocating some particular religion.

If I should choose to go to a temple or a mosque or a church or any other place of worship, it should be my choice. It should not be allowed to be pushed in my face. That is truly secular. I hope that at some point, when I celebrate Republic Day, I will not feel that somehow, somewhere, we have let the people who wrote our constitution down.

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