Take Diversion is a series by TNM that closely tracks the plight of roads in Chennai city and suburbs. If you have a story to share, write to us email@example.com. We will ensure that your story reaches the authorities.
Gandhi Mandapam Road in Chennai’s Kotturpuram area serves as an important entry point that leads to the IT hub of the city at Tidel Park; the road itself is home to the Anna Centenary Library, one of the largest libraries on the Asian continent, the College of Engineering, Guindy, institutions of the Anna University, the Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI), and schools, residential quarters and restaurants. For a road as busy as this, not one policeman is in sight as we ride through at 8 pm on a weekday. As the incoming traffic towards Guindy, Adyar and OMR, converges to ultimately split towards either side, a heavy build-up is caused along the road. From the signal opposite IIT Madras and the Cancer Institute, all the way up to the South Gate of the Anna University Staff Quarters along the roughly 3-km stretch.
However, as the rear-end of the congestion gets longer, unruly two-wheelers have found an ingenious way to save about 10 seconds in the traffic — at the risk of pedestrians, pillion riders and their own lives. In what has become a daily affair at the largely unmanned junction, bikes and scooters take to the footpath, riding with abandon until they join the traffic at the front of the line. These riders— comprising largely people returning from work— have scant regard for pedestrians on the footpath.
On the footpath, meanwhile, women returning from domestic work in nearby residential areas, construction labourers and students point to the large gaping pocket that runs all along the wall adjoining the footpath.
As a pedestrian here's what you have to go through: there is vehicular traffic on the road to your right, so you walk on the footpath meant for you. But rowdy two-wheelers are now brushing past you at high speeds to cut to the front of the line, so you move towards the left. But alas, you can’t get too close to the wall adjoining the footpath because there is a 3-feet-deep pit running alongside it. Your choice as a citizen is to either wait for the reckless bikers to zip past so you can find a quick moment to walk before the next traffic hold-up or brave the onslaught of bikes on the footpath.
Bharathi, who is returning from work and walking towards the CLRI bus stop says that he has often been hit by these thoughtless riders. “This happens every day after 6 pm. They just run over us and go. I walk on this footpath every day. Not just me, they even crash into ladies and children. The children are not able to fight back. In the rainy season, even when there is water on the roads, they ride on the platform. The bike will skid because of the muck but this doesn’t stop them,” he says.
Arulmozhi, a domestic worker who uses the footpath towards Chitra Nagar daily, says, “Nobody cares when we tell them not to go on the footpath. All of them are educated and employed but they don't understand. They are stubborn. This causes inconvenience to pedestrians; there is every chance of an accident taking place. They should understand that. It's not necessary that we must explain it to them. This is something they should know by themselves and act accordingly. But they don't care. The footpath itself is not proper. And they ride on it with their vehicles. There is a chance that they themselves may fall into the pit and meet with an accident. They take their children to schools like that in the morning.”
A traffic police official told TNM, “It is a narrow road and is very busy during peak hours on working days. There are policemen standing there and blocking riders who use the footpath to come to the front of the traffic buildup. Many of them are even booked for that, but the menace is still there, especially during peak hours. The road is narrow and that point is a crucial junction. So this keeps happening.”
Citizens suggest that better traffic management would help ease the congestion. Poor traffic management and avoidable snarls at every signal lead to bikers finding such brash means to skirt the traffic, they believe. Is Chennai traffic police listening?