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Updated: August 10, 2013 11:45 IST

Ministry charting out a new course in road design

Smriti Kak Ramachandran
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Trapezoidal humps instead of back-breaking rumble strips, surface crossing points instead of cumbersome foot over-bridges, lesser and narrower lanes for traffic and designated pathways for pedestrians and cyclists, these are some of the “traffic calming measures” that the Union Ministry of Urban Development wants States to implement for reducing road fatalities.

Interventions like rumble strips, foot over-bridges and subways that were introduced to reduce accidents on Indian roads have barely delivered results, given that with 1.43 lakh deaths in 2011 the country is at the top of the list of nations with the highest road deaths. Taking cognisance of these poor statistics and the perception that these road safety interventions have emerged as a motorist’s and a pedestrian’s nightmare, the UD Ministry is now charting out a new course in urban road design.

The Ministry is pushing all States to make mandatory changes to road design and ensure designated spaces for pedestrians and cyclists. While the Ministry cannot enforce these changes, it is hoping that the States will accept the suggestions that will eventually bring down road fatalities.

“Indian roads have turned into death traps. Road safety has emerged as a major cause of concern and we are drafting an advisory for States to follow that will suggest steps to bring down accidents,” said an official.

Based on the feedback from the Ministries of Road Transport and Highways, the Indian Road Congress and several others, the compendium of suggestions offers bringing down the speed limit from the current 50 km an hour to 30 km an hour on arterial roads, narrowing the lanes for vehicular traffic so that pedestrians and cyclists can have designated spaces to move and introduce user-friendly signages and road markings.

“Studies have indicated that by allowing the speed limit to go up from 30 kmph to 50 kmph, fatal road accidents increase by eight per cent. Similarly, if we reduce the traffic lanes from 3.5 mts to 3.3 mts, we can easily create a separate lane for cyclists and pedestrians and ensure their safe passage,” said the official.

Pavements, that have among other obstructions trees and poles, kiosks and vendors in the middle, too have been frowned upon and the Ministry wants attention paid to such details.

While the Ministry is trying to adopt international best practices to suit the “peculiarities” of the Indian roads, experts suggest the setting up of a statutory body with “teeth” to enforce road planning.

“When roads are assigned to contractors, there are vague specifications, but no standards for them to follow. The Indian Road Congress lays down the guidelines, but these are neither mandatory nor enforced, as it is not a statutory body. What we need is a body that can draft the rules and insist on their implementation,” said Prof. Dinesh Mohan of the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme (TRIPP) at the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi.

An expert in urban transport, Prof. Mohan said internationally most developed countries have moved away from subways (that can be unsafe) and foot over bridges (that are inaccessible) to surface crossing, which allows free access to all, including persons with disability.

“Internationally too, road standards are decided by the location of the road and the speed limit that you want. For example, if more people are going to cross it at frequent intervals then the speed limit should be around 30 kmph and there should be roundabouts and speed breakers. Arterial roads can have a speed limit of 50 kmph, but again with designated crossover points.”

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