Two-wheelers inch their way to every space available, climbing over footpaths as they brush past rear-view mirrors; drivers peek their heads out of the window, hurling the choicest abuse at the vehicle in front; horns blare from all sides, providing a surround sound experience of cacophony to a helpless road user; a traffic policeman stands in the midst of the vehicle pile-up at his wits end, attempting to bring order to anarchy.
For any resident in Chennai, who ventures out during peak-hour traffic, this is an everyday nightmare that they are forced to put up with.
Aakash Jacob, a 30-year-old operations manager at an IT firm spends 40 to 45 minutes every weekday morning navigating traffic to get to his office on Old Mahabalipuram Road. But this he says, is good time, as heâ€™s lucky not to have to go into work during morning peak hour. â€śMonday is the worst between 9am and 10:30am down OMR. Everyday 10.30am onwards it's slightly better and it takes me 40-45 minutes to cover 10kms,â€ť he says.
But Aakash points out that the evening rush hour is â€śeven worseâ€ť with traffic stalled on Chennaiâ€™s IT corridor between 5:45pm and 8pmevery day. And as far as weekend traffic goes, this long-time Chennai resident observes, â€śSaturday mornings are relatively free right up till about 3pm or 4pm. After that don't even think about venturing out till 8pm on Saturdays.â€ť Fed up of sitting behind the wheel for over a 1.5hours on a Saturday evening, Aakash now takes a taxi back home from office unable to deal with the nightmarish traffic.
In T Nagar, considered the heart of Chennai, Vijay Anand, who also works in IT, blames poor road sense among drivers for the traffic woes. â€śThe Road Transport Office should teach some road sense when giving licenses to people. Yesterday, I was stuck in a one-hour traffic jam on New Avadi Road because someone was driving on the wrong side of the road,â€ť he narrates.
While Vijay considers himself fortunate to skip morning peak hour traffic, spending only over 30 minutes driving an 8km stretch from Anna Nagar to T Nagar every day, he concedes that the cityâ€™s traffic has become worse over the years. So, just why has Chennaiâ€™s traffic gone from bad to worse?
While a number of residents blame the metro rail construction for the traffic on the streets, data presents a clearer picture. With a vehicle population of 3.7 million units, Chennai has the second highest number of vehicles on its roads, after capital New Delhi. But the reason the southern cityâ€™s traffic jams feel never ending is because Chennai, as per a 2015 study, has the highest vehicle density in India with 2093 vehicles per kilometre of road. Whatâ€™s more alarming for motorists in Chennai is that, as per NCRBâ€™s 2014 data, the city has the deadliest roads in the country after New Delhi.
But itâ€™s not only the sheer number of vehicles on Chennaiâ€™s roads. Urban planning expert and retired IAS officer MG Devasahayam points to four factors as to why the cityâ€™s roads are bursting at the seams. â€śIn an old city like Chennai, you canâ€™t widen roads. It must be optimised,â€ť he says. Devasahayam points out that no steps have been taken to regulate parking and that pro-rata space needs to be provided for pedestrians and cyclists, to ensure mobility.
Chennai, he says, fails when it comes to road geometry. â€śIt is totally chaotic. There is no discipline when it comes to road geometry, anyone can put obstacles on the road, such as medians, or speed breakers,â€ť he argues. For traffic to improve, the retired IAS officer notes that encroachments need to be removed.
Adding to Chennaiâ€™s traffic woes is its management. Little has been done on the part of officials to manage traffic bottlenecks. Devasahayam says traffic policing should be professional and competent to deal with the peak hour rush. The urban planning expert also observes that the cityâ€™s poor integrated transport system is another factor leading to an increase in vehicular traffic. He says, â€śDespite Chennai having a four-direction train system, there is no connectivity either with the sub-urban train, the MRTS or the metro.â€ť He also hits out at successive state governments for not implementing the Second Master Plan 2026, despite the issue of integrated transport being highlighted.
â€śWhat Chennai needs is soft solutions, not hard solutions,â€ť opines Devasahayam, who argues that the city does not need the metro or more flyovers. He concludes that more infrastructure is not always the solution but utilising whatâ€™s already there is key for putting an end to Chennaiâ€™s nightmarish traffic.