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Why more flyovers can't unclog Delhi

Delhi has the most extensive road network in India - 21% of its geographical area is just motorways. Yet, there is not enough space for the traffic. Shivani Singh writes.

columns Updated: Jun 24, 2012 23:22 IST
Shivani Singh
Shivani Singh
Hindustan Times

Delhi has the most extensive road network in India - 21% of its geographical area is just motorways. Yet, there is not enough space for the traffic. A latest study by shows that for 20% of their running time -- 12 minutes every hour - Delhi's cars are no faster than pedestrians, and that a fifth of a car's traffic time on the busy roads of South Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon and Dwarka is spent idling or crawling at less than 4 km/hour.

Ten flyovers between Ashram crossing and Dhaula Kuan could not ease the traffic gridlock along the Ring Road. By the Public Works Department's own admission, it often takes 45-50 minutes to cover a distance of five kilometres from Maharani Bagh to South Extension during peak hours. It is the same story in most parts of the city.

Flyovers at Modi Mills, Mayapuri, Rao Tula Ram Marg, Azadpur, Seelampur and many others have decongested one intersection but escalated the problem at the next one. Others split the traffic and merge the same at the end of the flyover.

Delhi had just five flyovers at the end of Asian Games it hosted in 1982. Today, it has 74. In these 30 years, Delhi's vehicle stock has increased 51 times. Ten per cent of country's vehicles are registered in Delhi. Seventeen per cent of country's all private vehicles run on Delhi roads.

The number of vehicles is growing at 10% every year. According to a Centre for Science and Environment projection, the daily travel trips are expected to explode from 15 million today to 25.3 million in 2020.

The government has announced construction of eight new flyovers in the last one month. By the time these are in place, the number of vehicles would have gone up manifold. It seems to be becoming an unending spiral.

The government increases road space to decongest the existing traffic. But new roads end up attracting more traffic.

Experts explain this trend as the "induced traffic" phenomenon. The Victoria Transport Institute concluded from several major studies that half of increased roadway capacity is consumed by added traffic in about five years, and 80% of increased capacity is eventually consumed by induced traffic.

In fact, many cities in the West are dismantling their flyovers and expressways. In the United States, San Francisco, Portland and Milwaukee have already removed some of its urban highways.

Delhi may not need to take such extreme measures yet. But soon it will be impossible though to keep adding to infrastructure beyond its physical limits. The government has to provide decent travel alternatives and then take tough measures.

Owing to the massive hikes in petrol rates and shortage of parking, a large number of Delhi commuters are already shifting to Metro with daily passenger count frequently crossing the two million mark. By 2016, the DMRC will add another 120 km to its existing network of 190 km - a 63% expansion. The capital will also have more options for public transport in monorail and pod taxis in years to come.

Simultaneously, as almost all expert studies commissioned by the government have recommended, Delhi needs congestion tax and road space rationing.

Many South American cities restrain a percentage of vehicles every week day during rush hours or for the entire day.

In London, the congestion charge, a fee charged from private motor vehicles operating in central London between 7 am and 6 pm on weekdays, has not only helped reduce congestion but also helped the government raise investment for the city's transport system. This required political courage.

In Delhi, this will also require a paradigm shift from the populist, and often lucrative, policy of building flyovers.

First Published: Jun 24, 2012 23:20 IST