Sunday, December 02, 2007

New rules, confusion... a threat, then fear

I have been a resident of Madras for close to 24 years and have been driving on the city’s roads for more than 18. Driving in Chennai, of course, is no longer a pleasure; indeed, it has become a tough task and is not something anybody looks forward to with a sense of glee. Recently I read somewhere that about 600 vehicles (I suppose they include two-wheelers as well as four-wheelers) are added to the city’s roads every day! More than 200,000 vehicles a year! If what I read is true, then the situation is alarming. Where does the city have space for all these vehicles to move about? Even for parking? I have no idea how many old vehicles are condemned and given to the scrap dealers, but I’m sure that the figure scarcely matches the 600-a-day number. Most middle-class families own one or two vehicles and with many constantly upgrading from two-wheeler to four-wheeler and within four-wheelers, it is not very surprising that so many new vehicles are introduced to Chennai roads daily.

All this has led to policemen finding it extremely difficult to manage traffic, and not only during peak hours. They really do not have a solution to this. What they often end up doing is change routes, experiment with one-way traffic for a while, and, if the results are not encouraging, return to the old model.

This is what is now being tried out at the Ashok Pillar (Ashok Nagar) junction, which is one of the busiest junctions in the city. With one-way traffic introduced earlier this week on certain streets adjoining the Pillar, vehicles – of all shapes and sizes – now have a free run past Pillar, on to 11th Avenue, and then roundabout to Udhayam Theatre towards K.K. Nagar. Many drivers find this new freedom exhilarating and are not too keen on taking leg off accelerator. Cross-cross lines marked in the middle of some of these streets are indication for drivers to switch lanes and, needless to add, journeys around Pillar have never been quite as adventurous.

The result: pedestrians are the worst affected. Forget crossing roads here, they can hardly walk, out of sheer fear for their lives. Passengers availing public transport from Pillar find that bus stops have changed and that they have to trudge long distances. Share-auto drivers are a harassed lot anyway – now they have to break traffic rules if they wish to stop to welcome passengers or disgorge a crowd of noisy children. Then there is the Indian Oil petrol bunk, a busy bunk before the new traffic regulations. The staff there now seems to have little work – members have been reduced to innocent bystanders who watch the vehicles zipping past.

In the middle of all this was an email threat received by a private television channel, targeting schools and public places in K.K. Nagar. November 30 was the day the senders had chosen to do their dastardly act. So, more policemen on the streets, in schools, outside places of worship, several vehicles stopped for checking, schools closed… Quite a dramatic week indeed! It’s not yet over! But what I never could understand or got around to knowing was why on earth K.K. Nagar was singled out for creating all the confusion and fear.

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