“I was going to Powai from Andheri. As I turned left towards Vijay Nagar Road, I was stopped by a traffic policeman and fined Rs 100 for entering a one-way street. When I argued that there was no signboard, he pointed to one hidden by tree branches,” recounted Varun Batheja (27), an executive with an automobile company.
It’s not just Batheja. Several motorists have experienced similar problems across the city. They complain that the traffic police have erected thousands of signboards, but several of them are hard to spot.
“Such signboards can be accident hazards,” said Sudhir Badami, traffic expert. According to Badami, hidden signboards are a problem for motorists, especially if they are new to an area. “A driver can locate his destination with the help of signboards, but when they are hidden it’s a problem,” he said.
Badami added that when a motorist is driving at high speed and cannot spot a traffic signal or signs warning of speed-breakers or one-ways, it could even be life-threatening.
“Hidden signals are the worst, especially at night as there is a 40 per cent higher chance of an accident,” said Mubin Solkar, advocate and president of a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that filed a public interest litigation in the high court, asking for the ban on two-wheelers on the JJ Hospital flyover to be lifted.
“The police should ensure that signboards are clearly visible in order to avoid accidents and for better driving,” said Badami.
The other problem that motorists face is pedestrians walking on the road in spite perfectly good footpaths available. “Pedestrians should refrain from this as there have been several accidents involving them,” said Nandkumar Chougule, deputy commissioner of police (traffic).
Some drivers said that often the condition of the signboards is so bad that even if they are placed appropriately, it is difficult to understand them. “For instance, there is a ‘no parking’ sign at Bandra (East) that is blocked by a poster. If you’re not a regular in the area, you simply won’t understand it,” said Ashutosh Dhule (23), who was fined last month for parking his vehicle in a no-parking zone.
“It’s not just signboards, even traffic constables hide behind trees and pop up in front of the vehicle, which could be dangerous for them as well as the driver,” said Kuldip Sharma (35), an equity research analyst who resides at Ghatkopar. The traffic police said that they try their best to maintain the signboards. “We identify signboards that need maintenance work — such as the cutting of tree branches obstructing them — and write to the civic body to do the needful. However, civic officials fail to do their duty,” said Chougule.
Children in danger
The signboard just outside the lane leading to NM Joshi Marg police station is covered by a political party’s hoarding. This signboard, said traffic experts, is crucial as it warns of a school ahead. Experts say that if drivers are not aware that there may be children crossing the road ahead, the chances of an accident are high.
“Children often cross the street without looking. If motorists see the signboard, they would be ultra-cautious,” said Badami.
The traffic police said there have been many accidents outside schools. “We have placed signboards outside every school on the road, but sometimes the signboards get blocked. It is up to the BMC to ensure political parties’ hoardings and other obstructions don’t block signboards,” said an officer.
‘Why walk on the road?’
The flyover that connects Andheri east and west is used by thousands of vehicles every day. During peak hours, it is so clogged that it sometime takes more than half an hour to cross the kilometre-long stretch. Motorists complain that in spite of there being a well-maintained footpath, pedestrians walk on the road, making driving treacherous. “I almost ran over three pedestrians on the stretch,” said Santosh Dubey, a resident of Gilbert Hill locality. “Pedestrians should understand that when they walk on the road, they are inviting death. When footpaths are encroached upon, it’s understandable that pedestrians have no choice. But when there’s a footpath, why walk on the road?” said Badami. “The police should take action against errant pedestrians.”
Blocked by a tree branch
On April 21, Samir Shaikh (10) was run over at this spot on the highway in Bandra (East) while he was crossing the road with his father Rashid. Samir was returning home after school. The junction has a signboard warning motorists of a zebra crossing 100 yards ahead. The signboard, however, is covered with a tree branch that makes it difficult for drivers to spot. This was probably why Samir died. Thousands of vehicles pass through this busy junction every day, many of them at high speed during non-peak hours. “Such accidents can be averted if the signboard is displayed clearly. If drivers could spot the board, they would slow down,” said Sudhir Badami, a traffic expert.
Giant sign, yet invisible
Signboards on either side of the Western Express Highway at Vile Parle warn motorists to stick to their lanes. But the board on the left remains blocked by a tree. It is all but invisible.
This leads to frequent traffic jams according to traffic policemen.
“There are always policemen standing there, ready to fine offenders. On one night, more than 20 drivers, including me, were fined for jumping lanes. When I argued, the constable pointed to the board hidden by tree branches. I told him that I used the stretch every day but never noticed the sign. He said it had been there for two months. I was shocked,” said Ravindra Shekhar (30), who works at a garments factory in Andheri (East).