Another flyover has come up in Hyderabad, even though public transport, pedestrians and bicyclists account for the largest road users in the city, Professor C Ramachandraiah writes.

Pedestrians crossing a road in Hyderabad amid oncoming trafficImages: Author provided
news Opinion Friday, October 02, 2020 - 12:42

Yet another flyover was inaugurated by Telangana Municipal Administration and Urban Development Minister KT Rama Rao on September 25. Union Minister of State for Home Affairs G Kishan Reddy, was also present. Touted as “one of its kind in the country,” the cable-stayed bridge on Durgam Cheruvu in Hyderabad has the “world’s longest precast segmental span of 233.85 metres in concrete.” It is supposed to add “another pearl to the City of Pearls.”

The bridge aims to ease traffic flow towards  HITEC City, reducing commute time between Jubilee Hills and  HITEC City by 20 minutes. Durgam Cheruvu, also known as a secret lake (as it is surrounded on three sides by hillocks with beautiful rock formations) is located at Madhapur near Hyderabad’s IT sector. It is a 400-year-old lake spread over an area of about 150 acres. Golconda Fort, located several kilometres away, is known to have got water supply from this lake through an underground canal during the Asaf Jahi rule. This lake has been encroached and polluted severely over the years and the bridge is the latest addition to its woes.

In the last few years, KT Rama Rao has been on a spree of either laying foundations for new flyovers and underpasses or inaugurating completed ones in the city. All these are being built under the Strategic Road Development Programme (SRDP) of the Telangana government at a cost of over Rs 21000 crore.

In August, KTR inaugurated one more flyover at Bairamalguda, at a cost of Rs 448 crore, which was the sixth to be launched, among the 14 planned as part of the LB Nagar package.

In July, the minister laid the foundation stone for two more flyovers – a steel bridge from Indira Park to VST junction at a cost of Rs 426 crore, and a flyover between Nalgonda crossroads and Owaisi junction at a cost of Rs 523.37 crore.

It’s a misnomer to call the SRDP a road development scheme.

It may be recalled that, in November 2019, a car fell off the newly-opened Biodiversity Park flyover onto the road more than 20 metres below, killing a woman waiting for an autorickshaw. It was the second major accident on the flyover in less than 20 days since it opened on November 4, 2019. In the previous accident, two youngsters had died.

The huge junction at LB Nagar is a mess today with flyovers, underpasses and the metro. Thousands of crores is being spent in and around it but nothing to make it safe for pedestrians to walk or cross the road. Sometime ago, the minister lamented that only 30 to 33% of commuters use public transport in the city despite “many flyovers and underpasses being constructed,” and that the primary solution to reduce traffic menace is to reduce the usage of private vehicles. Sadly, the minister was promoting a form of infrastructure that is fundamentally against what he was advocating. We are living in such times!

As per the Census of India, private cars account for less than 5% of the modal share in Hyderabad city. Walking accounts for 32.2%, the highest in the 6-10 km distance category while it accounts for about 16% in total. Bicycles constitute about 6% in total. Buses (17%) and two-wheelers (20.5%) are other important modes. Non-motorised transport (NMT) like walking and cycling, and public transport users together form the largest group of road users in Indian cities and yet they get least priority on roads.

Speed given primacy

There were 23 flyovers in Hyderabad in 2016. Their number has been increasing all the time.  Increasing the speed of vehicles has been the main objective of traffic regulations in Hyderabad. Even where there are no flyovers, the traffic police have been closing right-turns to provide “signal-free corridors” for cars and turning the junctions “cop-less” thereby making it extremely difficult for pedestrians to walk and cross the roads. 

At most of the places where flyovers have been constructed over the years, the NMT and public transport have been marginalised with the flyovers squeezing them out in an unequal competition for road space.

Pedestrians account for one-third of road fatalities in Hyderabad. In 2019, 512 pedestrians were killed by speeding vehicles while they were walking or crossing the roads in Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) limits. The number was 482 in 2018 and 547 in 2017. The police have asked the GHMC to install 95 pelican signals to ensure pedestrian safety. But the GHMC is more interested in building flyovers and promoting cars rather than people’s safety.

While Hyderabad may boast of several flyovers, including the cable bridge, there is not even a decent stretch of footpath on which pedestrians can safely walk. Flyovers have been the highest priority to the Telangana government and the GHMC.

RTC is the backbone of public transportation in the city but is highly neglected. Its condition has become worse after the strike in October-November last year and the COVID-19 pandemic now. The much-touted metro rail is in doldrums after COVID-19. It was already suffering from financial losses.

A study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) of flyovers in Delhi found that 45% of all accidents happen close to flyovers and are often the result of vehicles driving at high speed. Flyovers don’t reduce congestion; they simply shift the congestion from one point to another. They are built at extraordinary costs for a very small percentage of road users. They create a supply oriented transportation model, without any kind of policy intervention in road space utilisation.

In an age of fast urbanism this desire for “speed” prioritises itself over people’s lives and will only promote an unsustainable and polluted city.

The author is Professor, Centre for Economic and Social Studies, Hyderabad. Views expressed are the author's own.

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