The nightmare on roads

Rapid growth in the use of private motor vehicles over the last few years has been creating serious problems of congestion in the city and the towns.  This congestion is creating horrendous t...

Rapid growth in the use of private motor vehicles over the last few years has been creating serious problems of congestion in the city and the towns.  This congestion is creating horrendous traffic jams. The loss of time and the mental agony as well as physical stress is stealing our productivity. The burning of extra fuel, with air and noise pollution all along increasing, are fast becoming major health problems for us. This is diminishing the quality of our life and causing a huge national loss. By the time the widening of the roads is carried out and the fly over bridges are constructed the whopping pace of the number of vehicles in the city will reach its limit and the situation will remain the same. The public in general has grown increasingly concerned over the impact of vehicular congestion on our life.
Can there be anything which is organized and chaotic at the same time? Why bees, which follows no rules, never hit one another in their swarm of thousands. It is a chaos, but this chaos is a design by nature and it is called organized chaos. The same organized chaos is seen with our traffic system. It works because everyone is more or less aware of others position and are willing to share and the crowd is moving forward. The people in the West who visit here are amazed to see how this Organized Chaos in our traffic system works. But with the explosive growth of vehicles on our roads this organized chaos seems to becoming a serious problem for us.
The traffic in the Srinagar city resembles the motion of gas molecules in a chamber. With too many vehicles like cars, buses, 2/3-wheelers, horse-drawn carts, pushcarts, street vendors and pedestrians, all finding a way to dodge each other for their destination. Haphazard and leisure movement of matadors and their stopping anywhere even in the middle of the road to drop or pick or wait for passengers, blocks the traffic flow. Even ambulances and school buses are not given the passage. 3-wheelers, pushcarts and pedestrians are crossing the roads everywhere weaving their way in and out of the flow of traffic. Adding to the chaos are the auto rickshaws and their load carrier versions that zoom in and out of the traffic, scaring pedestrians and other motorists, sends shivers down the spine when head on collision is narrowly averted by the last second decisions. The scenes near Batamallo area are the worst.
Though we have the acute shortage of road width and off-road parking space but at the same time, half of the road width always remains under the occupation of pushcarts and vendors selling fruit, vegetables, garments etc and even the footpaths are not visible. There is no timing for loading or unloading of goods by the shopkeepers. Municipality trucks come just in the nick of the peak time to collect garbage and create bottlenecks in the traffic flow. Then senseless parking of vehicles everywhere adds more chaos to the situation. This is a real hell on earth.
With the installation of signal systems the problem was controlled to some extent but it is not the final solution. We need to adopt new traffic rules, new driving ethics on roads, new planning for road opening and relocating the vendors to some new environment. The traffic and other concerned departments needs to hold frequent camps at the bus or matador yards and produce short documentaries, films and organize camps to convince drivers and other people about the traffic jam problems and the need for observing traffic rules. They need to install surveillance cameras to monitor the traffic flow in the city. Besides, we need to phase out the old pollution emitting vehicles and put constraints on the bank car finances.
Traffic jam problems have been studied by Mathematicians and Physicists world over and numerous research works haven been carried out. For example, in some models it has been shown how major delays occur on our roads, with no apparent cause. Though we say that jams occur due to the sheer volume of traffic, this clearly plays a part in the new theories, the main issue is around the smoothness of traffic flow. The concerned departments need to study these research works and find an efficient way of managing and handling traffic on our roads.
Experts and thinkers are of the view that the best way to avoid contributing to traffic congestion is to have a mass transport system. It will be a light rail or mono rail systems which will shift few hundred people from one place to another in one go. It can be faster, cheaper and more relaxing and it also helps minimize environmental damage caused by excessive car use besides it will socialize people. Two or three such trains could be run between east-west and north-south of the city and it will take off the entire congestion. This will be a people-friendly, reliable, efficient and affordable mass public transport system and will give people a reason to leave their cars in their garages. It is a welcome step that J&K Government is planning to introduce metro service in  J&K to cater to growing rush of commuters. But they also need to explore the possibility of water transport facility in Kashmir.
The Hindu, English daily carried a report on November 16, 2012 under the title "Less pollution, more benefits" that cities in the West are rediscovering bicycles. After nearly a century of motoring around their cities, the commuters are now being persuaded to take to bicycles for intra-city movement. Four years ago, Paris introduced a self-service, public bicycle transit system called "Velib."  The report mentions that "Almost every city in Europe has come up with a bicycle renting scheme for commuters who are looking for last mile connectivity". In Amsterdam (Netherlands) – 40% traffic is bicycle traffic, which is why Amsterdam is considered the bicycle capital of the world. They have created a bicycle friendly country that promotes a healthier, more active lifestyle for its residents. A bicycle is a cheap mode of transport, environment-friendly and an excellent way of doing exercise and improving health. I wish we could emulate this culture in Kashmir instead of following all the bad westernized aspects.
In the days to come, it is certain that millions of new different types of vehicles will be on our streets which will further block the roads and things like going to office or for work can become extremely difficult. This will not be a sustainable way of living. Therefore we need a radical approach to solve our traffic congestion problems in a sustainable manner to preserve environment and our economy. The urban planners and other agencies have to draw a comprehensive policy for developing a sustainable transport system for improving the quality of our life. The sooner, the better

(Dr Muhammad Amin Malik is Associate Professor  & Head Dept of Physics, Amar Singh College, Srinagar. Feedback at amin_malik_ku@hotmail.com)

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