Friday, July 13, 2007

Are Helmets and Seat belts enough......? Part II

(...continued - I thought I would break the post into two parts in the interest of preventing reader fatigue!)

However, the biggest problem still remains - the roads themselves. Trivandrum does have the best roads in the State and soon, on completion of the much-delayed Trivandrum Road Development Project (TRDP) will have among the best road network among major Indian cities, but a lot remains to be done. A large portion of road accidents are caused due to road related factors like design, condition of pavement, lighting, marking, signalling and so on.

As an ancient city, many of the city's roads follow age-old alignments and have not been scientifically designed. Most of the major roads have received upgradations, especially those under TRDP and will have well engineered junctions, bus bays and alignments. However, there are many smaller roads which have haphazard alignments. Often side-roads emerge at right-angles and encroachments are visible here and there. It has taken a year and a half, before the Government machinery went into action cleaning up some of the land for TRDP. The same needs to be pursued with other roads as well. Hopefully, with a major component of the JNURM funding earmarked for road development, more of Trivandrum's roads can be brought to world class standard.

Street lighting has been a bugbear of road users in the city for a long time now. The lighting of city roads is supposed to be the responsibility of the City Corporation, although the actual maintenance and installation work is done by the KSEB. This means the worst of both worlds prevails and hence unlit stretches of road are found in the city. One solution to this could be for the two bodies to form a periodic review mechanism to look at the upkeep of the street lighting system. A second option is to have the Corporation form a street light maintenance wing - although this may make things worse. Third, one can look at the two agencies jointly giving an Annual Maintenance Contract to a third-party, like Philips Lighting, along lines of a BOT contract. The Corporation often pleads lack of funds as an excuse for poor lighting, but this can be addressed to an extent by letting private sponsors take up the upkeep of stretches of street lights in exchange for advertising space. This arrangement has been successfully followed for parks like the ones at Kowdiar and East Fort. Aside from all this, there is a perplexing twist to the street lighting scene in Trivandrum which many of us would have noticed - the many miles of modern lighting set up by TRDP - except on the Kowdiar Avenue - are yet to be lit, many months after completion. This is criminal negligence on someone's part. It is undeniable that poor lighting is responsible for many accidents and many deaths on the city's roads - especially those involving pedestrians, cyclists and two wheelers. Maybe if someone filed a suit against the negligent authorities, issues like the un-lit TRDP lights would get resolved in double time. And it is high time something is done about the issue, because unlit roads kill.....period!

Another much bemoaned killer is the condition of the pavement on many of the city roads. Travelling on the roads in Cochin - they are more strips of craters than roads - I realised how relatively better off we are in Trivandrum, but that does not take away from the fact that a lot needs to be done. Potholes, the miniature incarnations of the geographical features found commonly on the Moon, are dime a dozen on some of the city's side roads while arterial roads are mostly in better shape, for now. One cause of potholing and rutting of pavement is inadequate drainage which results in water damage. The improvement of road side drains is thus a high priority. Damage to roads also happens due to poor quality of construction. This becomes stark when we compare the state of different roads in the city. The Punj Lloyd built TRDP roads have fared the best; secondary roads built using modern technology by other contractors have survived more or less intact but the side-roads built by small time contractors using mobile hot mix plants and labour have fared very badly. Roads built using modern technology like hot mix plants, sensor pavers, vibratory compactors and state-of-the-art construction techniques last much longer. They cost more to build but last much longer and hence the Total Cost of Ownership is much lower. Their design ensures better safety and by providing adequate drainage, prevent water damage. The advent of big contractors like Punj Lloyd, BEL and so on, has led to a lot of hue and cry about the survival of smaller, local contractors who cannot afford the equipment on their own. To ensure their survival, GoK can look at setting up some sort of cooperative among smaller contractors so that they can pool resources and buy the best equipment.

Of course, we cannot have all world-class roads starting tomorrow. But we can make a start, can't we? Other than improving the quality of roads, we can also ensure that repair of existing
roads is efficient and that roads don't need repair in the first place. Some of us may recall that
the Corporation had bought a pothole repair machine to much fanfare a few years ago. This unit was capable of taking aggregates from the dump truck which tows it, mixing it with bitumen and then spraying it using compressed air into potholes to fill them up. I had once tailed it to see it in action and it was like magic, but sadly this fairy tale had a sad ending. After one season of operation, the machine has been languishing under a tarp in the backyard of the Corporation office. Whether they ran out of skilled operators, had a breakdown which couldn't be fixed or simply lost interest, only the powers-that-be will know. Perhaps, the fact that it threatened the business of local contractors for whom, periodic pothole repair and re-repair is bread and butter has something to do with its quick and mysterious demise! Another machine is being procured at a cost of Rs. 40 Lakhs, I hope it has a longer working life.

Road damage is also caused through the frequent digging up of roads by all and sundry, from utilities to individuals taking water connections to the local politico trying to plant his flag. All these activities are supposed to be followed by adequate repair work, usually done by the Corporation, after collecting the due amount from the party who damaged the pavement. However, either the repairs take a long time to happen or the pavement is damaged clandestinely to avoid having to cough up the repair cost. A combination of stricter monitoring and enforcement and a dedicated road repair unit can remedy the situation to a great extent. This latter unit can be the same as the pot hole repair unit or the two can share equipment.

Finally, the last bit that can contribute to or prevent accidents is the traffic management system. This is a combination of traffic signals, law enforcement personnel, road network design and signage. The TRDP project is adding modern signalling systems at 36 junctions. Some of them are already up and running, and hopefully, all the junctions should be blinking away. The TRDP stretches also have modern signage, as is visible along Kowdiar Avenue.

The same standards have to be expanded to other stretches of city roads as well. This would be a first stage in upgrading them completely. However, it has to be kept in mind that one can't plonk a signalling system in the middle of existing roads without due consideration of the available road design. Else, it will result in a chaotic and unviable condition as seen at Sreekaryam and Medical College junctions, where in the end the systems had to be switched off till the roads were improved. The city's signalling systems are now mostly synchronised and eventually can be integrated into a computerised traffic management system which can also include a component like B-TRAC. In the meantime, the Traffic Police could perhaps tie up with local radio stations and mobile service providers to provide life traffic alerts which could reduce snarls and help save time, fuel and lives.

So, the issue of road accidents is not an open-and-shut one which can be solved through helmets and seat belts alone, it is a very complex situation which will require the concerted and dedicated efforts of road users, the Government and private enterprise to solve. Next time, we are stuck in a traffic jam (yeah, I know they are not all that common in Tvm) and evil and often violent thoughts are running through our minds, spare some time to think about how each one of us can help make our city roads safer - by obeying rules, staying off the bottle, campaigning for better roads and lights and what not. Else, one day we may end up adding to that tally of death or, worse, end up as a grim statistic ourselves.


  1. Very true !

    The enforcement of helmets and seatbelts have become more of a mockery than an issue of serious concern.But I guess it would be in the best interests of Helmet companies and their middlemen to make this a seasonal affair.Or else how do they stay in business?

    One interesting thing I have observed is that,the Helmet companies always concentrate on one Indian state at a time.In 2003 it was Kerala,2004 it was Karnataka,2005 it was Maharashtra and now its back to Kerala.They seem to have created some sort of a sustainable business strategy by ensuring that Helmets sell by 1000s atleast in one Indian state at a time.Maybe this can be dismissed as a stupid figment of imagination,but there are reasons to believe otherwise .

    But what amuses me more is the vehement public angst against ensuring their own safety.Even the media which should be playing a positive(Awareness building) role seem to be playing the populist tunes.Im tired of reading stories which elaborate on how broken helmet shells pierced into peoples brains or heavy helmets caused the medulla oblangata to shrink and die.

    I have been living in the US for the past few months.Despite the number of cars and the traffic levels,I should say that the system over here is impeccable(and the most careful drivers are Indians and the rest of Asians!!).

    The pedestrian has the 'Right of Way" always and driving is a not a tension filled roller coaster drive.Its a pleasure.Parents teach kids to wear helmets right from the day they ride a tricycle.Seat belts for all and carseats for kids below 5 yrs are mandatory.This has been made possible only because of the tremendous support given by the US drivers to the system the government has put in.

    Its high time that we had something like that in place.Im sure that if there is a good plan and a sustained GoK push,the public support will automatically flow in.

    Lets not just hope that it happens.Lets chip in with our efforts for that..Lets be responsible:)

  2. Well Said!

    One wonders why there is such a hue & cry over such protective measures - things which would help save life and limb?

    I learned riding/driving bicycles, then onto scooters, further motorbikes and finally cars on the lanes and roads of Tvm

    It was an exercise in trial and error. No proper trained instructors and not even proper driving tests to master. Luckily, with the help of my mum's prayers and God's grace scraped, honked and snaked my way thru without anything tragic happening.

    But now after living and driving around other countries abroad, I have come to understand the importance of the pedestrian and good sense of having traffic rules to adhere, be it keeping lane disciplnes while driving, sticking to rules of giving way et al!

    Nowadays whenever one glances thru newspapers about news at home one can see tragic accounts of deaths at road traffic accidents- why is someone not sitting up and noticing that these deaths - especially of someone young is not only a tragedy of events but a great national waste especially when it is someone young and who could have contributed to the country in so many ways

    The need of the hour is to start enforcing stricter traffic rules and regulations all the time keeping everyone aware and educated about basic traffic rules starting from the classrooms at school - not just giving a licence to anyone who can 'TAKE AN EIGHT' as a driving test.

  3. Another Twist

    Read today online [] about the protest of a priest regards to the new rule on helmets and s/belts.
    For "GOD'S" sake how many more lives are to be lost before you come to your senses?
    In Europe/America children are taught to wear helmets from the time they start getting on to tri-bi/cycles|


Thanks for your comment, I will take a look at it and put it up at the earliest.