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Road Safety

Traffic Problems In Madras By S. Ramalingam

A Pedestrian racing across the road is lifted and thrown yards away by a speeding automobile, wounded and bleeding; a sweating cartman is crushed to pulp between the wheels of a lorry coming behind; a bright young medico's scooter rams into a lomppost injuring him fatally; a sweet child, smiling and waving its arms runs across the road to join its mother but the wheels of a passing car part them for ever.

“Trafficides” such as these are common in Madras city. Yet few people seem concerned. Seventy-seven persons were killed and over 1800 injured in traffic accidents in Madras city last year.

For their gruesome variety, road fatalities have no parallel. One moment of rash carelessness or indifference and there is death. It duly finds its way into the drab accidents column in newspapers and is stoically read at a thousand breakfast tables, the next morning,

Also calling for concern is the allied problem of congestion at important junctions like Gemini, Round Tana, Central, Luz and Esplanade. A traffic count taken recently at the Spencer's intersection showed that as many as 5,100 vehicles (fifty percent of them bicycles) were cleared during the peak hour of 9.15 to 10.15 a.m, and an equal number between 5.15 p.m. and 8.15 p.m. . A traffic survey taken in April 1961 showed that the Gemini roundabout cleared about 48,000 vehicles of all types, including cycles, in the 12-hour period from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The automobiles in the city, since then, have been greatly increasing. In 1951, the number of motor vehicles in Madras city was 14,019 (including 9,844 cars). In 1961 it was 23,288 (cars 13,805). Contrast the 10,000 increase in these ten years with the 5,000 increase in motor vehicles seen in the last ten months.

Choked-up Cities
At this rate it will not be long before we

face traffic jams as in Paris or Tokyo , where

the streets are virtually paralysed by the

hundreds and thousards of cars passing through them during the peak hours. In Tokyo, it takes 45 minutes to cover a mile and in Paris for the time one can cover sixty yards.

But we have breathing time still to prevent Madras becoming a clogged city like these key capitals of the world with their motor vehicles running into lakhs or even millions. Comparative figures of cars, given in a memorandum submitted by the Automobile Association of South India to the Madras Government in 1959, will show that we are, happily, far behind.

City Population No. of Carr New York 90,00,000 30,00,000 London 90,00,000 15,00,000 Paris 60,00,000 10,00,000 Melbourne 15,00,000 3,00,000 Frankfurt 10,00,000 2,00,000 Munich 10,00,000 2,00,000 Geneva 10,00,000 2,00,000 Milan 20,00,000 75,000 Rome 20,00,000 1,00,000 Bombay 35,00,000 35,000 Calcutta 40,00,000 35,000 Madras 18,00,000 11,500

This cannot make us complacent however. As the Commissioner of Police, Mr. R. M. Mahadevan, warned last year, we have to take lessons from these cities, where the community had to pay a heavy price for failure to take suitable steps at the right time. Indian cities are in a formative stage and there is scope for avoiding the omissions committed by the choked-up cities.

How is Madras City preparing itself to cope with the avalanche of motor vehicles which will flood the streets in the years to come 7

Actually, the city is now in the throes of a traffic revolution so gently being ushered in that the citizen is only dimly aware of it.

When the six-lane traffic system and automatic signal lights were introduced as an experiment on the city's main artery,

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Mount Road, last year the comment was heard that this would prove a complete fiasco. Such modern contraptions just won't work with our Madras traffic, the cynics said.

The scoffers have remained to pray. Fatal accidents have been totally eliminated on the stretch of Mount Road, between Spencer's intersection and Wellington covered by the automatic signals. (A couple of fatal cases were reported during the hours the automatic lights were off.) The public too—the pedestrain, the cyclist and the motorist—are now content to await their turn as the lights change from red through amber on to green before swiftly proceeding on the lanes marked out for them without obstruction of any kind.

Free Flow

The six-lane traffic system (there is no sanctity about the number because you can have as many lanes as road space permits) marks a traffic revolution in Madras City which has so long been accustomed to a mixed traffic of all types of slow moving and fast moving vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and cattle, all using the main part of the roadway in haphazard fashion. In the sixlane traffic system there is a clear segregation of the different road users according to speed and type. The pedestrians are shunted off on to the sidewalks—with zebra crossings where alone they can cross the roads—the cyclists have their separate tracks on either side and there are three lanes each way for the motor vehicles according to speed, the extreme one for those below 20 m. p. h., the next one for vehicles plying below 25 m.p.h. and the lane near the centerdividing line for the fast moving vehicles of 30 m.p.h. These three lanes, when they near a junction, are converged to divert traffic according to direction : the middle two lanes for traffic proceeding straight and the left and right extreme lanes for those turning left or right as the case may be. (Incidentally, many motorists I found were not aware that the three lanes separated automobiles according to their maximum speeds. They were under the impression that diversion was according to direction alone.)

The six-lane traffic is intended to ensure

free flow of traffic even in the years ahead when the mounting number of automobiles

in Madras will otherwise prove unmanageable.

| Motorist's Headaches

Pedestrian

To the motorist, there is no greater traffic problem than the pedestrian. In this age of the automobile, the pedestrian has no place the road. He must keep to the sidewalk and cross the road only at the “zebra” crossing.

But the Madras pedestrian not only walks on the road but sits, plays and sleeps on the road. Police records have cases of men asleep on roads being run over by lorries on reverse gear. If only the pedestrian realises what difficult situations he creates for the

motorist, he will cease to walk on the roads.

Last year in Madras city, of 3,488 traffic accidents, pedestrians were responsible for 592. Running across roads caused 486 of them, walking on roads accounted for 47, and playing on roads for 26. Pedestrians confused by the traffic caused 17 accidents while those sitting and sleeping on the roads caused 14. Defective hearing accounted for tWO CaScs.

Strangely enough, not a pedestrian was charged for Jay-walking during the year, though Jay-walking violates the traffic rules.

There are two sides to this question. The Traffic police would like to crack down on the Jay-walkers but thcy feel it would be much better to secure proper discipline through persuasive education. But some people feel that pedestrians do not have the road sense and there must be a compulsory method of making them realise that indiscriminate Jay-walking across the roads is a risk not only to themselves but to other too.

The ban on Jay-walking was enforced strictly in the Esplanade and other areas a few years ago. But the police had to go soft on it because, it is learnt, when a VIP was caught for the offence, the powers that be frowned on such strict enforcement of the law.

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Jay-walking

Whatever the reason for not confinuing the enforcement, the result is there for all to see. The Madras pedestrian is given the free run of the road.

In foreign countries, the motorist is charged only if a pedestrian is knocked down on a pedestrian crossing. Such a law would be helpful in curbing Jay-walking in Madras.

Besides, if the Police are assured that the public will not scream that they are being harassed when the rule of the road is enforced, there can be an effective disciplining of the pedestrians.

Unless the pedestrian is kept off the roads and confined to the sidewalks, it is difficult to ensure swift movement of vehicles, say at 45 miles per hour against 30 now.

Of course, the pedestrian has a plausible excuse for encroaching on the roads. The sidewalks meant for him are usurped by pavement shops, dustbins, cattle, squatters, and drainage pipes and construction material.

The Police agree that pavement encrochments are a problem but say that public co-operation is necessary to end this nuisance. Public opinion, they say, has been against clean-up. Cyclist

Quite a few motorists believe that the cyclist is a bigger traffic headache than the pedestrian. Weaving in and out of traffic, darting from a side-street or a house on to the main road, riding three or even four abreast, racing as fast as a car sometimes, the cyclist completely confounds the motorist and often leads him into some accident in which he himself is not involved.

Last year, cyclists were rasponsible for 341 accidents in Madras city. Of these, 188 were due to negligence (high speeding) 27 v ere caused by sudden emergence of the cyclist from a side-street, 77 were caused by the cyclist turning in front or behind vehicles, nine were due to overtaking, three due to disobeying traffic signals, 17 due to rounding the corners wrongly and 21 due to riding on the wrong side.

But many more accidents, in which cyclists were not involved directly, must be

attributed to them. Often, motorists swerving to avoid them dash against some other vehicle or knock a pedestrian down.

College students are specially guilty of the dangerious practice of riding more than two abreast—the limit fixed by the traffic rules. Another common practice is more than one person riding one bicycle. Often school children are taken on bicycle by parents or servants. Checking “double-riding”, and more than two cyclists riding abreast would solve the problem to some extent. But the real solution would lie in the provision of separate tracks for cyclists as has been done in Mount Road. When the lane system is extended, there will be more and more cycle tracks. Unfortunately, most of the city roads do not permit cycle tracks. Unless private land is acquired to widen roads, it will not be possible to provide cycle tracks.

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