Saturday, February 23, 2008

Mass rabid transit

I assume I’m not the only person in Delhi to be looking at the construction of the Bus Rapid Transit corridor with the sort of emotion that, thanks to the complex biological wiring evolved in humans over millions of years, directs all the blood flow to the extremities in order to prepare the body to wring its hands.

Premise: Apparently Delhi is a global city—a fantasy widely believed by people who are in the higher echelons of government and who therefore rarely have to actually deal with the city—and needs to upgrade its infrastructure.

Problem: It has lots of traffic, which is growing at the dizzying rate of people getting richer and motor transport getting cheaper all at the same time.

Solution: It would seem reasonable to build flyovers for a signal-free Ring Road, build a Metro, build an eight-lane highway to Gurgaon, and a build a Bus Rapid Transit corridor, all to create an orderly way of getting growing numbers of vehicles and commuters across the city in the fastest possible way.

Unfortunately, of the millions of drivers in this vibrant metropolis, about three hold valid drivers' licences that weren’t bought at a street corner. Even more unfortunately, the people responsible for designing the infrastructure seem to have about three brain cells in working order.

I have nothing but praise for the Metro, but if you’ve driven along the signal-free Ring Road, you’ll have noticed that bus stops have not been relocated or pushed off the road onto a shoulder. This is so that, now that the traffic lights are gone, traffic can still be held up, but for no good reason, and without the predictability.

If you drive on the highway between Delhi and Gurgaon, you’ll notice that the beautiful swirls of roads and roundabouts and exits have been opened to traffic without any signage, presumably so that people can drive without an agenda, enjoying the mildly seasick buzz of repeatedly circling a roundabout wondering what leads where and admiring the setting of the concrete.

Where there is signage it is tiny (craftily saving the public unnecessary expense on boards and paint) and placed in the least useful position possible, such as at the fork of a road instead of much before it, and preferably behind a tree. This serves the purpose of causing motorists in the right lane to have to swerve wildly across seven lanes perpendicularly to traffic at 60kmph (or, more realistically, 80kmph) in order to take a left, assuming that they spot the sign at all on a wild impulse to see what happens to be behind the tree.

But the real beauty of the provider-consumer relationship lies in the Bus Rapid Transit system. Here, bus stops placed in the middle lanes of the road allow people to alight and have to cross other traffic to get to the sides of the road. To avoid an unseemly death-march through traffic, they will be let off at bus stops placed at traffic lights. This will cause traffic to have to get through masses of red lights on the BRT stretch, slowing it to a blood-curdling crawl, which neatly solves the problem of how to get it moving as fast as possible.

I’m just a layperson, of course, so what do I know? There’s probably some glaringly obvious logic that is escaping me. I have no idea who gets put in charge of these things, or why; I don’t even have a clue where to start looking for the answers. Maybe I should check behind a tree.


ArSENik said...

Oh great Ms. Saran, I bow to thee. Sarcasm is thy middle name.

dipali said...

Loved this. I need to visit Delhi soon! ( Hi Mitali, I've been lurking for a while)

Raghu Karnad said...

So negative! They may well build beautiful little fretwork-and-wrought iron bridges to help commuters get from the bus stop-island to the sidewalk. These will double as spaces for displays of naive but compelling public art painted by orphans.