As cities all over the world design their roads to promote safety, India’s thoughtlessly planned and unscientifically designed roads are simply encouraging more accidents. While human error causes majority of the road accidents and speeding one third of them, a well-designed road can mitigate them both by simplifying the responsibilities and interactions of various road users, thereby preventing uncertainty among them.
But given the country’s notorious record of road fatalities, this kind of road engineering is clearly absent. The country’s 3.3 million km long road network is peppered with blind corners, invisible road humps, lack of warnings and turns, non existent lane markings, uneven pavements, badly placed bus stops, inadequate or unnessary barriers and defective traffic signals that often encourage speeding.
As a result, Delhi alone witnesses 33 million violations daily due to faulty traffic engineering. Badly designed roads have also increased traffic congestion, reducing peak-hour speeds to 5-10 kms per hour, causing a five fold increase in CO2 emissions, according to the Center for Science and Enviroment.
Dr Dinesh Mohan, Professor of Transportation Safety at Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme at IIT Delhi explains, “While India may have embraced modern concepts in construction, it has yet to adopt modern concepts of road designing. For example, while modern roundabout designs force people to slow down and reduce accidents by up to 80 per cent, Indian roundabouts simply encourage excessive honking.”
While Indian cities choose quick fix solutions like flyovers, other cities like Copenhagen, have substantially reduced their road fatalities through transit-oriented development techniques. To transform itself from a car-oriented city to a people-friendly one, the city has introduced a 10-step programme that includes converting streets into pedestrian thoroughfares, gradual reduction of motorized traffic and turning parking lots into public squares.
Johannesburg on the other hand, has initiated a Strategic Public Transport Network (SPTN) that makes provisions for taxis and buses to run on 325 kms of its specially designed, left-hand public transport lanes. To be completed in 2008, the plan includes 40 transport interchange nodes, where commuters can switch from one form of transport to another using an integrated ticketing system.
And Sweden, recognised as a world leader in road safety policy has introduced a revolutionary “Vision Zero” policy that requires road fatalities be reduced to zero by 2020. Not only does its policy put safety before mobility, it also shifts the responsibility for accidents away from road users and on to those who design the city’s road transport system.
Ten years after the policy was adopted, safety barriers have reduced head-on smashes by 80 percent and lowering speed limits in urban areas has reduced injuries by 50 percent in the city. Dr. Claes Tingvall, the Director of Traffic Safety for the Swedish National Road Administration has pointed out that developing countries just have to spend an extra one per cent in cost to reduce their fatalities by 90 per cent.
Road designing; Part of the solution
India is gradually realising this. Between 2001 and 2003, Chandigarh constructed 160 km of wide cycle path to separate fast vehicles from the slow ones on all its major aterial roads, reducing congestion and improving safety.
And in their 2004 paper, Vivian Robert and A. Veeraragavan of the Department of Civil Engineering, Bangalore University noted that the conversion of two–way roads into one-way roads in the city has reduced the number of right turning and overtaking accidents by 83 and 75 per cent respectively, while the construction of median barricades has reduced the number of pedestrian accidents by 27 per cent.
As Dr. Tingvall sums up, “Safety is very seldom expensive. The expensive thing is to modify what you did wrong in the beginning".