Congestion (subject of yesterday's post below) does not begin to encompass the mass chaos of traffic in Indian cities. I am freshly returned from Chennai, the city formerly known as Madras, having not visited since 1999. What a change in nine years.
Quotes from from a Chennai blogger [images from udayms.wordpress.com]
Earlier, the signals used to act as throttling agents to control the flow of the traffic. Now, with no signals. The now traffic is best described as an onslaught on mad dogs let out of a cage after months...Chennai’s traffic is millions of homicidal psychopaths let out on rampage with the police standing aside helplessly watching.
I remembered Chennai as a sleepy sort of place, with traffic bad but not horrendous. Drivers were nowhere near as vicious as in Mumbai (formerly Bombay,) and you could cross the mostly minimally controlled streets with reasonable chance of getting across in one piece. You could also walk along the streets with reasonable care. Sidewalks were, of course, spotty and mostly avoided by the residents, since they were inconsistent and prone to having large holes thought which small children might be lost. But at least you could jump on one to avoid that nasty car aiming for you.
Besides the increase in vehicles (5000 cars added per month,) the pedestrian streetscape (such as it was,) has been completely destroyed. Sidewalks have been narrowed or eliminated, a crime considering the number of people who are forced to travel by foot in India.
The most horrendous construction is that of the ubiquitous "flyovers," or multi-lane ramps several thousands of feet long, which ostensibly improve the flow of traffic. At a price. The two-level streets and intersections reduce the actual street to the level something like Dante's Inferno. Sort of like walking under a set of freeway overpasses, only not quite as nicely done.
A major "flyover" is shown above, though with a fraction of the traffic normally there. This used to be a pleasant intersection with a central island with greenery and a statue; there were long vistas on most sides and the effect (almost) created a livable streetscape, a public domain where the car was not king.
The net effect of these "improvements" is to destroy the last remnants of livable (or even likable) streets in the city. Almost everywhere in the city center walking is an unpleasant, tricky and dicey experience. And we're talking about main streets with retail establishments abounding. Guess the movers and shakers get in their cars to get from one store to the next, so the rest of the people can eat dust.
India, like China, is going down the route of trying to assure mobility by increasing dependence on private vehicles. Tata Motors has announced the "People's Car," at Rs. 100,000 ($2,500) (called a "threat to the environment here;) which will only exacerbate the traffic problems.
A friend of mine, temporarily in Chennai from SF, says that he wants to start a Pedestrian's Rights Group. Hope he does; there's has a long way to go.
Where is the massive investment in public transit, buses, trams or light rail that's needed? But these would be only for the masses and they can be safely ignored in India.