Today the helpless Ring Roads, which should have been the boundaries for growth, lie buried deep inside the bulging and bloating cities. The traffic situation is more chaotic than ever, says M.A. Siraj

When it comes to urban planning, catchwords such as ring roads, circular railways, flyovers, and bypasses are bandied about with aplomb and flaunted as solutions for all civic woes. But they have failed to discipline our cities and could be rather accused of aggravating the unruliness that has come to characterise the urban spaces.

It was around the 1970s that ring roads came to occupy the top of priority list of urban infrastructure. In Delhi it became a reality almost 40 years ago. Now it lies buried deep inside the city which has sprawled even far beyond its descendant i.e., outer ring road.

Circular rail, that began going round the capital around 1980s, never became popular, given the flawed planning that completely ignored the last mile connectivity. Bangalore’s Outer Ring Road, chock-a-block with traffic all through the day, was conceived to keep the interstate heavy traffic out of the central business districts of the city.

Pollution

Sans flyovers, it now only adds a polluting noose around the city what with dime a dozen intersections testing the nerves of the users. It has been pressed into the role of a city thoroughfare, what with realtors, land sharks and developers planting huge establishments right along its sides. What was planned to remove traffic congestion, has itself become a source of traffic generation. Ring roads or bypasses, by their intent and objective, are meant to keep out the non-city bound traffic. No purpose will be served if they are drawn into the cities and turned into sources for fast buck-makers. In one sense, the ring roads should have been the boundaries for every city’s growth.

What went wrong?

Markets, tech parks, major townships come to be located on the ring roads just as thoughtlessly as they came up on the highways going out of the cities previously. They were hawked as the speediest exit from the gridlocked cities. Developers lured space seekers with ads that displayed the location juxtaposed against the ring roads. Today those helpless ring roads lie buried deep inside the bulging and bloating cities. The traffic situation remains more chaotic than ever.

Hindsight suggests that we have played a huge farce in the name of urban planning. During the first four decades, the megacities were allowed to grow along the highways going out of the cities, thereby choking the very arteries that supplied them the life blood.

Look how Bangalore expanded along Mysore Road, Hosur Road, Bellary Road, Kolar Road, Old Madras Road et al and Chennai along Mount Road and Poonamallee High Road, to name just a few cities.

Considerable stretches — often extending up to 20 km on each of them — were forced to serve the local traffic. Outbound traffic had to compete with local buses, school vans, garbage trucks, and what not for the narrow space, causing congestion and accidents.

Unwieldy sprawl

Even more grotesquely, small towns like Channapatna, Ramanagaram or Mandya subsumed into their unwieldy sprawl considerable portions of highways. As if the weekly shanties were not enough, offices of the local bodies, major hospitals and educational institutions in these towns came to be located on the highways.

As traffic mishaps and fatalities mounted, humps and police pickets came up as the remedy, stretching the intercity journey time.

A journey between Bangalore and Mysore was a steady drive of two-and-a-half hours when the newly widened State Highway was commissioned in 2004.

The ‘non-stop’ buses now claim four hours what with 59 humps and over 20 police pickets — at the last count — now impeding the passage of vehicles between these two cities, accounting for around 30,000 vehicles an average day.

One is yet to come across radial roads to access destinations, say for example Bidadi, Hoskote, Nelamangala, and Kanakapura in the various directions from Bangalore’s city centre.

Entry from or exit to these points by automobiles invariably consumes 60 to 90 minutes.

The local bodies conveniently shift the cost of maintaining these roads to the State exchequer. There are instances when highway authorities’ decision to create a bypass was rendered meaningless as the local bodies shifted the bazaars and shanties to the new bypasses.

Going gets tougher

Unplanned urbanisation threatens to put India into a huge traffic gridlock. Be it commuters or travellers, the going is getting tougher by each day, stretching their journey time and bringing down their efficiency.

Mishmash of local and outbound traffic, hybrid variety of vehicles renders the circumnavigation of cities quite challenging. Paucity of radial roads to the suburbs has blurred the functional objectives between city thoroughfares and the highways. Expressways, flyovers and ring roads therefore provide only temporary relief.

It has become imperative to contain cities within fixed parameters, avert satellite towns fusing into the megalopolises and build new cities that could act as new magnets for increasing inflow of aspirants from the rural areas.

(The author can be reached at maqsiraj@gmail.com)