Imagine wanting to go have dinner in a restaurant after hours on a weekday in Mumbai. You can, but you won’t. The traffic will kill you. Let the delivery guy take the trouble, that’s what you would think. Now imagine being away from metro life and in a developing city.
The beautiful countryside and the foliage covering every inch of the land; birds chirping, milkmen calling out to you in the mornings. Ah, that would be life. Now imagine if you lived in a place like that and still had to think twice about rush hour and traffic congestion. Does that make any sense? That is exactly what happens in the Tier II city of Hubballi-Dharwad.
Traffic congestion results from an imbalance in the demand-supply equation in the transportation network. It is the increased time spent in frustration in a slow-inching or stagnant queue of traffic on a road between two points that you know takes 22 minutes, and you’ve been thinking of this very fact for the last 45 minutes in your car trying to figure out what caused this congestion in the first place. This frustration can lead to road rashness and accidents and other unforeseen events. More so if you know that the city you were born in and grew up with is still not mature enough to have such conditions that prevail in larger cities. The peculiar condition of Hubballi-Dharwad and its traffic has been something that has fast outgrown the city’s development, population and its place on the map. Not that any of it is desirable. The population growth of the city may be slow, but the growth of private cars in the city has been exponential in the last two decades, topping at over 3 lakh private vehicles registered in 2011; the infrastructure wasn’t ready for it. Despite a bypass, the Hubli Dharwad Bus Rapid Transit System (HDBRTS), North-West Karnataka Road Transport Corporation (NWKRTC), road widening, flyovers, electronic traffic control systems, large central intersections, the condition of traffic worsens every day.
Hubballi-Dharwad are twin cities separated by 20kms with a traffic corridor connecting the two. Many traffic junctions exist on this road between the two city centres, but rarely we see any trees. This was not the case a couple of decades ago. Beautiful, thick, large, aged trees covered the two-lane highway of the old twin cities, on either side of the road, meeting together above the road at most of the places to create a canopy stretching throughout the journey. A scenic, shaded route, with ample opportunities to park on the roadside and admire the periodic calmness of the place with a glass of tea from the roadside vendor, before a bus would pass by. All this ended when urbanisation took over the two cities as they predicted that most of the future development will take place on this corridor connecting the twin cities. While the local authorities pondered over the future of the cities, the private citizens grew up faster than anyone could’ve imagined. Buying capacity increased overnight and private cars flooded the market with admirable competitive prices. The demand for better infrastructure increased at an alarming rate, one that even the stakeholders couldn’t have imagined. It is said that traffic congestion is a problem that no government can solve; it can only be curbed and managed. And for that, we need smart and invested leadership, one that does not change over time and is somehow connected to the pulse of the city.
According to Geotab, there are four kinds of traffic congestion, Environmental, Mechanical, Human, and Infrastructure.
Environmental- Those factors that slow down traffic or bring to a complete halt which the environment or the climate of the location contributes to, like rains, snow, foggy weather, landslides, etc.,. Barring a few places, snow is not a common sight in the tropical climate of India, and non-existent in Hubballi-Dharwad. Rains cause the most harm, withering away the already weak roadways, creating potholes, and lower visibility. A fresh problem, faced by the twin cities after the HDBRTS started its operations, is one of flooding. This is mainly because of the barricading of the central lanes of the HDBRTS with large curb-stones.
Mechanical- a mechanical failure of vehicles on the road like a flat tyre, a failed engine, etc., can lead to traffic congestion especially in 6-lane roads where manoeuvring to the sides is a difficult task when other drivers rush to get around the stalled vehicle. Another substantial problem added to this in Hubballi-Dharwad, is the absence of a vehicular shoulder for parking vehicles along the traffic corridor between the twin cities. Add to that the commercial establishments abutting the roads that have no option but to perform their loading and unloading activities on the road, eating away at valuable vehicular real estate.
Human- more often than not, the cause of traffic is human. Distracted driving, drunk driving, or even drowsy or emotional driving can lead to traffic congestion and jams. Despite humans having opposable thumbs and large frontal lobes, this is pretty common. Distracted driving may not cause as many fatalities, but it contributes to slowing down the traffic regularly. According to a AAA study, it takes an average of 27 seconds before a driver focuses on driving again after a distraction. This can attribute to people braking suddenly without reason, creating a ripple effect in the traffic. Although these reasons might seem primary, but the most crucial remains driver training. With the Regional Transport Office in Hubballi-Dharwad casually approving licences without diligent tests and checks in place, and the lack of awareness of driving etiquette and safety measures in the public, many instances of mindless traffic jams have cropped up in the twin cities.
Infrastructure- while this could arguably also be human-caused, infrastructure is too elaborate and the engineers couldn’t possibly fathom the demand that would lie on the infrastructure while it was still under construction; It simply grows too fast. Road intersections, potholes, bottlenecks, etc., are the major contributors to traffic congestion. The HDBRTS, a first-of-its-kind project in Karnataka, has been an effective means to reduce private vehicle movement and improve public commute, on the roads between Hubballi-Dharwad, keeping aside the fact that over 4000 trees had to lose their lives for this ambitious urban rapid transport project, but this has led to private and other public bus services crowding the private lanes and creating more congestion than before. Add to that the non-existent shoulders or parking spots, create a disaster waiting to happen; or a distressed driving experience at best. Not to mention the water-logging during monsoons; something that the city of Hubballi-Dharwad had never experienced since its inception! Inadequate parking within the city leads to an expounding effect of drivers going around in circles creating further congestion.
A credible source working in Nippon Koei India, who wished not to be named, once told me that every architect pushes for infrastructure growth in some way, but India has the highest resistance-quotient on ground; it seems as if literally no one wants any public construction projects executed in the country. While I agree that, for progress, we require a push-through while also believing that the resistance must be interpreted as a check-balance system to keep large enterprises from over-stepping core human values and the “Indian-factor” that we so dearly hold on to.
A traffic simulation study and proposal for efficient junction designs in Hubli-Dharwad identifies some key junctions for an overhaul in the twin cities. It considers all the government schemes and plans already in place and proposes some interesting solutions. The only thing I see missing is the ground-zero connection. No doubt some proposals are important, but they are not speculative enough.
While living in nostalgia never helped progress, Hubballi-Dharwad lacks the emotional connection with the people and the way the city is growing with no visible relations between its built-fabric, we may very well be looking at a traffic situation that may only get worse with every solution executed. Unless we use a fresh perspective, we shall still drive-mad, and take our frustrations out on our households at the end of a stressful day in a tier II city; which, ironically, was supposed to be calming, compared to a metro. Let us not be another Bangalore, let us be Hubballi-Dharwad.