The streets of our cities were congested, to begin with. Now they have become doubly or trebly so. Road-development has not kept pace with car sales. Distances that took half-an-hour to cover by public transport ten years ago may now take two hours by the latest brand of cars.
In small towns and suburban streets, where separate pavements are often not built, pedestrians find it difficult to walk on the sandy sides of streets originally meant for them, but which are being increasingly encroached upon by vehicles of every description. Air pollution has drastically increased and with it the number of respiratory and allied diseases.
There are other objectionable things about traffic congestion. Critically ill or injured patients die on the way to hospital. Umpteen hours are lost every day as commuters get stranded en route to work. This has a detrimental effect on the economy.
Can anything be done to improve this state of affairs? No doubt ambitious programmes can be drawn up involving circular railways, flyovers, platform bridges and pedestrian underpasses, but these call for huge investments, and it may not be practicable or popular to construct them with taxpayers’ money. An alternative would be to seek assistance from appropriate funding agencies like the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank, but at best this could succeed only in selective cases.
Elsewhere, a number of small, workable, cost-friendly measures implemented together might help ease the problem.
A major cause of traffic jams is the driver who indulges in jumping lanes, overtaking or speeding. He has to be spotted and booked, and he needs to be trained. The government has to devise the necessary mechanism to do this.
It has been found that if individual cars, while on the move, maintain space between themselves so that other cars don’t infringe upon it, it can significantly cut down on congestion. Perhaps the government could run campaigns and must-attend workshops to instil this practice.
There are areas where the parking of just a few vehicles creates bottlenecks. The provision of parking garages and proper patrolling by traffic police could get rid of this nuisance.
Every now and then political parties organise huge rallies and take out processions that bring all traffic along its route to a complete standstill. This practice needs to be challenged. If the common citizenry unitedly raises its voice against it, it may be possible to exert the kind of pressure that is necessary to turn things around. Perhaps, for starters, a ban could be imposed on such intrusions into public space during rush hours.
There is also an urgent need to improve traffic management, especially at intersections. If scientific plans are worked out in this regard and set into motion, it would enable traffic controllers to discharge their duties with greater efficiency.
They say, where there is a will, there is a way. If we are serious about improving traffic conditions, there is no reason why we should not be able to do so; but the big question is: how serious are we really when it comes to the crunch?