Traffic management needs a holistic approach

Published : Deccan Herald

During public interactions, question often asked is whether public opinion and residents’ associations have any role to play in traffic planning? While answering in the affirmative, my view is that public opinion has to be holistic and not merely driven by “I, me, and myself.”

The nature of traffic planning and management is such that what is meat for 9th cross may be poison for 10th cross. Everyone wants that major traffic should not pass in front of their establishment. But traffic is like flowing water and it finds its own level. Motorists will go wherever congestion is less.

For infrastructural works, traffic has to be diverted through residential roads that may not be liked by residents. Secondly, public opinion has to be filtered through the prism of logic and rationality. We want good roads, and the day a new road is ready, we want a road hump to kill the road. No one wants road humps anywhere in the city except in front of his own institution.

Thirdly, it is not possible to arrive at consensus on many issues. Should the roads be widened? Yes, if you happen to drive through that road. No, if you are the one whose house will be demolished. Obviously, on each issue, our stand depends on which side of the table we are sitting.

‘One ways’ cannot be decided by the people who live by these roads but by experts considering the overall traffic pattern and benefit. One has to balance the interest of motorists who pass through the road and those who live or work on the side of that road, since their interests are diametrically opposite.

The people who pass through a road would greatly support closing of all medians and prohibition of right turns so that the traffic can move non-stop; the people who live besides these roads like to have an opening every hundred meters so that they can turn right wherever possible without travelling an extra distance.

Shifting bus stands

There is complete unanimity about shifting bus stands away from junctions but no consensus about where to relocate as no one wants it in front of their property. One section supports stricter enforcement, while other condemns it as sheer harassment. One can see such examples of conflict of interest everywhere.

There are very few win-win solutions in traffic management unless we create additional infrastructure. When we try to fill two buckets of water in a single bucket it has to spill over from one or other end. That is what we have been doing in the past. And this requires a lot of balancing act. Small section of users have to pay the price for larger good.

In the absence of ideal infrastructural solutions due to various constraints, our projects do put certain sections of road users in distinct disadvantage. We need to ensure that the same section of road user should not suffer every time. Our policies have to balance the interest of every stakeholder.

In a pluralistic society like ours with wide variety of road users and stake holders, there will always be opposition to whatever government does because one or the other section will be affected adversely. If a decision benefits a vast majority of people, we may have to go for it. However, the noise created by the remaining may be so loud that every initiative appears to be against public opinion. Unfortunately, the majority which benefits won’t come out openly in support as it is ‘politically incorrect’ to talk good of any government initiative.

How does one identify public opinion? Should the loudest voice be treated as public opinion? Or media headlines be treated as public opinion? Every time there is an accident, there is vociferous demand for road hump. An unscientific solution supported by high decibel level cannot be a solution for larger good.

Public opinion has to be considered in the light of needs of every section of road users in conjunction with expert inputs. Public opinion needs to be consolidated at a macro level rather than street level self-interest and decibel driven views. Media, NGOs, RWAs have an important role in shaping public opinion with expert inputs. An informed and holistic public opinion can get best out of government initiatives.

(The writer is Additional Commissioner of Police, Traffic, Bangalore) 

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