To have a signal-free road or prioritise buses is the question

When the commercial airport operated by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. was shifted out of the road connecting peripheral settlements such as Whitefield and Marathahalli to the heart of the city — M.G. Road, Richmond Town and even Domlur — many residents, especially commuters, heaved a sigh of relief.

Sivaprasad T.G., who has been staying in Murugeshpalya since 2006, says it sometimes took him hours to go to his office in Whitefield because traffic would be blocked by cars plying to the airport. “It sounds unbelievable now, even when commuters still grumble about the choke points, say, near Marathahalli flyover or Kundalahalli,” he says. “The traffic now is nothing compared to what it was before.”

He used to take the bus back then. Now, he drives his motorcycle to work in Koramangala every day.

“If I take the bus, I have to alight underneath the Domlur flyover, walk where there is no pedestrian footpath, with vehicles zooming past me, and board another bus,” he explains. “I know of people who work in Embassy Golf Links but still prefer to stay in Koramangala rather than old Airport Road, just for this reason. The latter may be more affordable, but you can’t put a price on safety, can you?”

The Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation and the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike s each pass the responsibility of constructing safe bus shelters with accessible footpaths around the densely populated Domlur junction, to each other.

“The problem is that bus transport is considered passé, and so, not enough efforts are made by the city administration to make it a viable transport option,” says Pranav Jha, founder of Praja, a social media initiative that engages with urban issues.

A resident of Whitefield, Pranav has seen HAL Airport Road in its various stages of development. “Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. now has the mandate to construct footpaths around its station. Why is that not considered essential in bus transport routes?” he asks.

Big plans

Praja was part of the team whose work led to the introduction of the Big 10 system of bus transport, which focuses on plying buses straight on arterial roads, with not as many services on perpendicular lines.

This is what necessitates an interchange for commuters on the Domlur-Koramangala route, because while HAL Airport Road is an arterial route with numerous buses, there is only one that takes the turn to Koramangala.

“The Big 10 system will work when the interchanges are designed properly with footpaths, bus shelters and pedestrian crossings where necessary,” Pranav says. His organisation had proposed bus priority lanes for HAL Airport Road, two years ago.

“It does not refer to Bus Rapid Transport, which has lanes dedicated to buses. Our system simply prioritises buses over private vehicles, through a separate lane, or other means at choke points. We have identified five such points on this road,” he says.

No stops

But, the recent proposal during the State budget session for making the whole road a signal free corridor goes completely against this idea. “It is just impractical to do that,” Pranav says. “There are too many workplaces, shopping areas and other areas with high pedestrian footfall.”

Instead, his idea is to construct a tolled elevated corridor from Kundalahalli to Trinity circle, with perhaps an exit point at Domlur, which private vehicles can take, leaving the lanes below free for buses.

But, doesn’t the road underneath the Hosur Road elevated corridor get choked every day as only the affluent can afford the toll? “One needs to give the car owners something in exchange for dropping the signal free concept!” he answers.

Last mile

In fact, the largely middle and lower income population in the residential layouts along the road seek bus connectivity for their last mile commute too.

“I commute from Nellorpuram to L.B. Shastri nagar every day,” says K. Munisamy, a security guard at an apartment. “I don’t touch the old Airport Road. So, there is no means of transport for me, except walking.”

“For that, we need feeder networks, like for the Metro. It is said to be unviable for BMTC,” Pranav says. “This is where we need to ask whether BMTC should be a viable business or a public service.”

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