Congenial to congested – tale of a languid town

Townhall-oldFor those who recognize the picture, you know the city that I am referring to. For the benefit of others, its Bangalore! The IT capital of India, silicon valley of India. To me, it’s nothing more than a low wage IT contract laborer market.

After spending 30 years in the city, I can sanguinely claim that a multitude of my trepidation s have come true. The spirit of the post is not to take positions and engage in a pursuit to elucidate the rights and wrongs in the city. Instead, share my observation as a resident of this city.

The old Bangalore was pristine with plethora of trees. One ways were unheard, traffic signals were hardly any, gated communities were non-existent and life was simple. Jobs were either in the central or state government, wages were low, work schedules were not exacting and public transport was shabby.

Employment was with the cash strapped government departments. Private sector was non-existent. Government service was considered Gods service. Seriously, it was the government’s obligation to build the nation and provide jobs. Interestingly, our neighborhood had few staff on the government’s payroll who would report to office, sign the register and unabashedly return to manage their private business. No wonder their departments were cash strapped.

Most of the roads had a deserted look. Cycling was fascinating. College days saw the advent of motorized cycles. A ride on the motorcycle was quick and pleasurable.

While we watched, the pleasures started disappearing one by one. The roads were installed with traffic signals. There was point when the only solution to the traffic problem that the authorities could envisage was installing a traffic signal. The initial wait time was 30sec ramped up to 60,90,120 and the current wait time averages between 100-150 secs. There are junctions that have a flow time that is 10% of the wait time due to road capacity constraints. From supply chain perspective, too many stoppages would elongate the lead times. Sadly, it occurred to no one among the civil authorities.

Space was a constraint and in order to circumvent this, what did the government do? They decided to either elevate or embed. Result: Bangalore saw the construction of flyovers and underpasses. Many flyover remain underutilized. Pythagoras thought us in school that the hypotenuse is the short path between two points in a right angled triangle. If adjoining roads happen to form a right angled triangle. Irrespective of the presence of a flyover any side, people will choose the hypotenuse, despite a traffic signal.

The roadway congestion index, a measure vehicle travel density on major roads was 0.33 in 2008, 0.45 in 2010 . this means that during peak hours, the normal speed of 40Kmph is reduced by 45%. The current peak hour average speed is less than 10kmph.

The travel time index of private vehicles was 1.69 and that of public transport was 2.38. the figures are as of 2011. On any day, travel by private is 69% longer than usual and travel by public transport is longer more than twice. Wouldn’t the proletariat invest in a vehicle if the public transport is a ramshackle?

Naturally, an indicator that has been consistently rising for over a decade is the daily vehicle registrations. Thousands of vehicle are added daily into Bangalore roads. The result: the city has 55lakh vehicle for a road capacity of 11 lakhs.

Not having enough roads seems to be just a symptom while the root cause is different. If one goes across Bangalore in search of an answer, 2-3 astonishing observations are:

  • Large houses with mid-size or small cars: A valid observation in most parts of south Bangalore where I belong to. Palatial houses owners owning small or mid-size diesel cars.  Undoubtedly, the pricing differential between petrol and diesel would be the reason for purchase. Bangaloreans loathe spending on depreciating assets.
  • Parking: Many houses don’t have a parking or they are just enough to accommodate a small car. Sometimes insufficient for the hatchbacks, the cars are parked on road. Parking space is a dead space, has very little value. If the same space is used up inside the house, a two bedroom house can turn into a three bedroom house.
  • Non-indulgent: Bangaloreans by nature “mind their own business”. They will hardly be interested in knowing something that doesn’t concern them. This makes strikes and protests rare in Bangalore

With any piece of land available if the attitude is to build a structure that appreciates. The result will be a booming real estate sector and paucity of roads. The road density  of 8.2 km per square kilometer is one of the lowest in the country. The elected councilor, MLA and MP are all from the same cohort of people who view roads as a dead investment. It’s not the approach but attitude that requires a change in Bangalore!

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