“Start early if you want to reach your destination on time”: a warning that Bengalureans have generously and compassionately been giving all newcomers to the city for over a decade. Bengaluru’s notorious traffic has become a dinner table, conference room, and even a WhatsApp group conversation. And everybody wants to know: “Why is there so much traffic in Bengaluru?”
Well, there are numerous reasons, including the growing number of cars and excessive one-way traffic.
But, to understand what led to the mad rush in the first place, we must travel back to the late 1990s, when the IT sector started altering the very DNA of Bengaluru.
It was former Karnataka Chief Minister SM Krishna (1999 to 2004) who introduced numerous IT and biotech policies, paving the way for software and tech giants like Wipro and Infosys making the city its headquarters. This, ultimately, caused the influx of people from other states in search of better opportunities. And that, experts note, was the flashpoint of today’s traffic chaos.
When number of vehicles surpasses road capacity
“The boom of the service sector and job creation led to an exponential increase in the number of trips to commute to work,” explains Ashish Verma, Professor of Department of Civil Engineering at Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc) Bengaluru. “It also led to a surge in the earning capacity, so, people started owning more cars. The road infrastructure became insufficient to hold the growing number of personal vehicles.”
According to Karnataka Transport Department, as of July 2019, 82,53,218 vehicles have been registered in Bengaluru including non-transport (two-wheelers, cars, omni bus) and transport (trucks, lorries, taxis) vehicles. A total of 15,72,185 registered vehicles are cars, and 57,30,388 are two-wheelers.
Statistics reveal that the number of vehicles rose by over 23 lakh in 4.5 years.
What’s even more startling is that in 2019, almost 50,000 vehicles were registered monthly; with 35,000 two-wheelers, and 8,000 cars being registered per month.
Today, the growing number of vehicles on the road has resulted in a mismatch between demand and supply of infrastructure. In simple terms, infrastructure refers to roads; demand refers to the number of vehicles using a given lane or roadway road; and supply refers to the amount of space available or the maximum number of vehicles that can pass the particular roadway in an hour.
“The size or capacity of the roads in Bengaluru have always been the same. What has changed is the number of vehicles on these roads. That’s why the lanes and roads that were once adequate, look narrower today,” points out Ashish.
‘Why are roads so narrow?’
“Bengaluru was once a village which eventually grew into a megacity. It grew spatially but there was no growth of roads. Even when the new areas that underwent developmental changes, the authorities retained the hierarchy of roads. 60% of the roads are as narrow as they were earlier,” says MN Sreehari, a traffic consultant and advisor to the Karnataka government.
Hierarchy of roads is the division of roads according to their capacity and functions. Accordingly, roads are categorised as freeways, arterials, collectors and local roads.
However, experts point out that widening roads at this stage is a futile exercise for combating traffic congestion. Research has shown that increasing widening roads induces or generates more vehicle traffic, which quickly fills the increased space. This phenomenon is called induced demand or induced traffic.
Another traditional method that Karnataka officials have been using as a perceived antidote to traffic congestion are flyovers and underpass – something resident associations in Bengaluru have been opposing for a while; case in point being the steel flyover project that saw massive protests.
“There are about 55 flyovers in Bengaluru. We all know that the traffic has still only gotten worse,” says Srinivas Alavilli, the co-founder and coordinator of Citizens for Bengaluru (CfB), a citizen movement that spearheaded the #SteelFlyoverBeda (No Steel Flyover), among other campaigns. “Yet our policies constantly lean towards building elevated corridors, making roads one-way, widening roads and cutting trees; and the vicious cycle continues.”
A domino effect of building flyovers is traffic congestion getting shifted to the neighbouring intersection.
“Take, for example, Mekhri Circle. Before the construction of the underpass, one had to wait for five or six cycles of the traffic signal to exit the traffic. After building the underpass, the problem was solved, but the bottleneck shifted to Hebbal. When the Hebbal flyover construction was underway, the traffic shifted to Yelahanka Dairy Circle,” explains Sreehari.
Excessive one-way traffic
According to some experts, Bengaluru has excessive one-ways. While uni-directional or one-way traffic is standard in every city to increase the traffic flow, it also means taking more circuitous routes, and in a city like Bengaluru, a perilous pedestrian crossing.
“At some junctions, the one-way means there is no break in traffic for pedestrians to cross roads. Besides, signals don’t allot a fair amount of time for pedestrians to cross. This may discourage them from completing short distances on foot,” says Ashwin Mahesh, an urban expert in Bengaluru.
Solution? Put all eggs in public transport
If there was one way that Bengaluru’s tryst with traffic gridlock could have been avoided when the software and IT industry was flourishing, it would have been a strong public transport: buses, suburban railway and metro.
As of July 31, 2019, there are 6,491 buses under the Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC). The minimum bus fare is Rs 12, and the monthly pass costs Rs 925.
According to Srinivas, Bengaluru needs 12,000 more buses and reduced bus fare. “A perfect success model of reducing bus fare is the BMTC’s pilot programme after CfB’s Bus Bhagya Beku campaign. In 2017, for two months, the AC Vajra bus fare was reduced by 37%. As a result, the number of commuters increased by 42%. Hence, if the fare is reduced, BMTC gets more commuters and adds new revenue,” he elucidates.
Besides, buses must be given priority over cars on roads. “At arterial and sub-arterial roads, which have at least two lanes, one lane must be freed up and reserved for buses. It could halt at every stop, like using a personal vehicle,” says Ashish.
While metro cities like Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata have a strong suburban railway network, Bengaluru is nowhere in the league. “Whitefield, Malleshwaram and Kengeri are connected by railways. Yet there is no service for people to go from point A to point B within the city. The railway network in Bengaluru was never used for intercity or intra-city public transport. It’s 2019, we still don’t have it,” says Srinivas.
Bengaluru’s Namma Metro, meanwhile, is fraught with delays. The plan for the Phase I of Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Ltd’s (BMRCL) metro rail started in 2003, but was opened only in 2014. The Phase II-A (Outer Ring Road) and Phase II-B (KR Puram to Kempegowda International Airport) is yet to be completed. With the officials missing deadlines every year, nearly 10 lakh people working in Whitefield, Electronic City or Outer Ring Road depend on private vehicles to commute.
Ashish adds that the traffic department should rope in traffic engineers to design the traffic flow in the city, apart from taking inputs from traffic police officials.
While experts and officials have a prime role here, commuters must also take responsibility to use public transport whenever possible, and not make owning vehicles a matter of prestige, say experts.