Besides young men and women popping out of car sunroofs to celebrate their drunkenness and ice-cream vendors returning home in groups to avoid being robbed, there is another thing that features prominently in the life of those who drive on Chandigarh’s roads late at night. Cars on top of roundabouts!
But the UT administration is hellbent on taking these away from us. In the latest, roundabouts on the Sector 33-34 and 43-44 middle intersections have been removed and replaced with traffic lights. These are the newest casualties. There was a time when even the Press Chowk, or the Sector 8/9-17/18 intersection, on Madhya Marg had a roundabout. But that must have been at least 15 years ago, because I’ve never seen it.
I have seen many others disappear, though, including the one on the Sector 34-35 middle intersection, where I first found out how helpful traffic cops can be if you place a 100-rupee note into their pocket quietly.
With the rise in traffic — thanks to people like this writer who never plans to return to his dusty old town in the godforsaken border area of Punjab — there is constant debate on whether roundabouts should be done away with.
Data and arguments are cited to bolster both sides and specific instances show that both seem correct at different points in time. For instance, overall statistics say more accidents take place on traffic light intersections than at roundabouts. Common sense too says motorists tend to speed up and jump the signal when the timer on top of the light is ticking, putting others at danger too. At a roundabout, clogging brings the traffic down to a non-threatening speed.
But this very clogging is cited as a reason to remove the roundabouts. Another reason cited is the co-existence of fast-moving SUVs and bikes with manual rickshaws, even horsecarts. And yet another criticism of roundabouts is because of the accidents at night, when the drivers fail to spot the ‘golchakkar’ due to speeding or due to the lack of reflective paint on them.
Many of these motorists suffer severe injuries, though I’ve met at least one fine gentleman who managed to have his car perched on the grassy, landscaped top of Tribune Chowk, then got out and lit a cigarette to ease up the tension.
The car lost its front teeth, but he escaped without a scratch to his body.
I agree that not everyone is as lucky as to live to tell the tale (and then die eventually of cancer caused by smoking, of course). That’s why I’d love to know his feelings about the plans to remove this iconic chowk and have an underpass instead.
Having failed to find him so far, I talked to chief engineer Mukesh Anand. He said only the smaller roundabouts are being removed when required as they “fail to calm the traffic”. The big ones will not be touched, and for once, our national tradition of the government not touching “the big ones” seems like a good idea. He said another key thing that is stuck in my head: “People have less and less traffic sense these days. No one wants to stop.”
But does that not make a case in favour of roundabouts? Look, if an idiot refuses to stop at a traffic light, he can very possibly bang into another vehicle coming from the other side. But, at a roundabout, he has a curve that forces him to slow down, and the same applies to all other sides too. What’s the focus then? Removing congestion on the roads, or making them safer?
“We go on a case-by-case basis, starting with recommendations by the traffic police,” Anand said.
Who’s to say which case may find the fancy of the police next, and we lose yet another roundabout. Till then, commit to a small exercise: When you see a roundabout in front of you, calm down, curve a little, and move in and out, slow and smooth. We all know life works better that way. Else, the city will lose its charm, one roundabout after another.