Monday, September 17, 2007

Delhi roads are not for driving

To zip on M-G Rd., you must dodge trees - News headline

I used to think roads were for driving till I read The Times of India during my recent visit to New Delhi. People there apparently ‘zip on roads’, and the newspaper I used to work for has become more imaginative in giving headlines than in my time (I left Delhi in 1982). I have a problem, though, figuring out why people have to zip, while driving can take them to places. Revisiting Delhi was a trip of rediscovery, of not just the place but its people as well. The changes there made me feel lost, baffled and initmidated. The two verbs in TOI headline - 'zip' and 'dodge' - appeared to sum up the composite mindset of folks in Delhi today.

Anyway, the newspaper story pertained to the traffic hazard posed by trees on the Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road. It appeared that 50 odd trees were left untouched when they widened a five-km stretch on this road. Such tree-considerate acts, I thought, made Delhi a role model for environment-friendly governance. In my town (Mysore) they have no qualms about felling even vintage trees to widen roads or have an additional building on a college campus. Growth with conservation is an alien concept to Mysore's city managers.

Delhi, I believed, was different. This was before I read the TOI story. Initially, M-G road was widened (leaving the roadside trees untouched). Now they find the trees are a traffic hazard. Unarguably, Delhi roads get clogged with cars for much of the day, despite the flyovers and the Metro. The question is: would road-widening and felling intrusive trees solve the problem of rising traffic without serious efforts to curb the number of vehicles on Delhi roads?

Maruti, they say, turns out a new car every 15 minutes, and half the vehicles produced in Gurgaon is marketed in the national capital region. The tree story in TOI was not just about the worsening traffic on M.G Road; I thought it had to do with people’s mindset. A car owner is quoted as saying, “It gets tough to swerve the car in time (to evade trees on M.G Road) if one is driving fast, more so with call centre cabs pushing you around.”

The traffic police share this view; their grouse is that the government is sitting on their plea to have the trees uprooted. The Metro rail people extending the line to Gurgaon would like to see those trees gone, to get more road space to work on. The mindset is thus in favour of flattening M-G Road of trees. But then, when the traffic on Gurgoan Road becomes unmanageable again two years from now, they would have no trees to make a scapegoat of.

The status quo is not alarming enough to warrant a tree slaughter. Everyone admits there has been no fatal car-tree collisions on this stretch so far. As a traffic police officer put it, “It is a miracle that nothing has happened so far.” Maybe the cops are counting on something happening, given people’s penchant for fast driving and the menace of call centre cabs. Are these guys reckless beyond redemption? As a small-town resident, I have a problem understanding why fast driving can’t be curbed by the police enforcing lane discipline and speed limits, as they do in world class cities. Doesn't New Delhi aspire to become a world class city?

A prerequisite, presumably, is that people in Delhi need to have a world class mindset. They could make a start by picking up proper driving sense. Take the M-G Road situation. It's my considered opinion that if only road users could be persuaded to ‘drive’ rather than ‘zip’ on the roads, there would be less scope for bang-on collisions with the trees on the road. After all, each tree has a tree guard, which is painted with red reflector stripes. The stretch is well-lit, with blinking light barricades to guide motorists around trees at night.

A car-tree collision, when such precautionary features are in place, is a remote possibility, if car owners in Delhi can learn to drive and not ‘zip’ on the road.

Cross-filed in Zine5 and Desicritic

1 comment:

narendra shenoy said...

We have a similar problem in Mumbai. I had written a piece about it last year ( I'll post it on my blog) though my grouse was against random trench digging. At that time, we had more trenches in Mumbai than Europe had during the Second World War. My point is, now the trenches are gone but the traffic snarls are just as bad.

People really need to learn how to slow down. Everyone is in such a tearing hurry. Zip! That is the operative word.