9.40 a.m. A middle-aged man, on a motorcycle, with a bag slung across his shoulder, speeds out of Velachery Road. He rides into the vehicular traffic coming down the one-way and heads towards Saidapet through the barricades around the Rajiv Gandhi statue. When confronted, he admits to violating the one-way. “So what? I'm late for work,” he says.
Over the next 20 minutes, scores of vehicles violate the one-way arrangement on the wide, busy road near Little Mount. Though most of the violations are by two-wheelers and autorickshaws, even SUVs could be seen breaking the one-way.
Dealing with a speeding vehicle coming down the wrong side of a one-way has become an everyday reality for motorists on the city's roads. However, the Chennai City Traffic Police (CCTP) does not have data on the number of ‘No Entry' violations in the city.
M.K. Subramanian, secretary of the Automobile Association of South India (AASI), says: “Even on two-way roads, many use the wrong lane to enter a side street. Nobody stops them.” A case in point is Velachery Bypass Road, where after a couple of ‘U' turns were closed, this has become a common sight.
Violating a one-way also means posing a risk to other road users, particularly if the designated stretch is not wide. While vehicles coming from Race Course side are only permitted to take the road below the Guindy bridge to reach Saidapet, it is a daily scene to see vehicles coming down the flyover take a ‘U' turn and get into the narrow road. This is despite the police extending the barricade sometime ago.
There are 141 roads or stretch of roads in the city which have been designated as one-way. They constitute about 64.4 km of the city's 2,780 km road network.
Designating a stretch as one-way is one of the least expensive methods of traffic regulation. Just through the conversion, the vehicular carrying capacity of a road can be increased by 25 to 30 per cent, says T. Elangovan, Director, National Transportation Planning and Research Centre (NATPAC), Thiruvananthapuram.
However, roads with offices and commercial complexes that attract a lot of traffic should not be made one-way. Also, interference from side roads must be highly regulated. Western cities have adopted a model in which entry from alternate side roads are closed,” Mr. Elangovan adds. 11.30 a.m.: Brindavan Street, West Mambalam. It is a key connecting stretch for residents of K.K. Nagar and Ashok Nagar, and an entry point to T. Nagar for many localities. Despite a prominent median that cuts off the road from the Doraisamy subway, half a dozen two-wheelers zip past the stretch on the wrong side in 15 minutes during rush hour.
On many of the stretches, road signages are absent or not visible. The Chennai Corporation recently installed about 1,080 reflective signposts that glow in the dark in Zone 5 covering Anna Nagar and Kilpauk, based on a recommendation by NATPAC. More signboards are expected to be installed soon.
A. Veeraraghavan, Transportation Engineering Professor at IIT-Madras, says signboards must be installed even at the entry points from minor streets into a one-way.
According to him, one-ways will work only if they are looked at as a corridor. “Short stretches will never work. Otherwise, similar to badly constructed flyovers, it will only shift the problem to the next junction. Also, travel distance between two points must not increase by more than 50 per cent after the introduction of a one-way. Apart from design, enforcement is a major challenge,” Mr. Veeraraghavan adds.
8.15 p.m.: In just 10 minutes, six vehicles, including three cars, violate the one-way stretch on North Boag Road, T.Nagar. There is a noticeable spike in one-way violations in many parts of the city after 8 p.m. Most traffic-related fatalities occur at night. Nearly 40 per cent of all road accident fatalities occur between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. There are also some one-way roads where, irrespective of the time of the day, motorists use it as a two-way stretch, like the congested Gowdia Mutt Road in Royapettah.
Violations continue to happen as traffic policing in the city is seen as arbitrary by most motorists. It is easy to get away. “Paying a fine of Rs.50 is not a sufficient deterrent. Punishment is minimal and most policemen don't bother to book cases,” admits M. Ravichandran, a senior traffic sergeant. On a daily basis, the CCTP functions on a ‘quota' system. Each traffic sub-inspector is asked to book at least 30 cases every day. “Otherwise, many just stand in the shade until it's time to go home,” says Mr. Ravichandran.
Each of the 49 police districts is asked to book at least 100 cases every day. “Without a minimum target, enforcement will never happen,” says Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic) M. Ravi. Besides, with only 1,923 policemen, CCTP is the least-staffed force among India's metropolitan cities. “Enforcement is only part of the solution. The attitude among motorists must change. Most don't hesitate to jump a signal if a policeman is not manning the junction,” he says. According to him, because of the limitations, there will be a major push towards e-enforcement. “Very soon, 200 surveillance cameras will be installed in 40 junctions in the city. Cameras would make it almost impossible to get away with a violation,” he adds.
With inputs from Ajai Sreevatsan, Liffy Thomas, R.Sujatha, K.Lakshmi, Petlee Peter and S.Aishwarya