Perspective:

Mr Raj Cherubal, Director-Projects of Chennai City Connect is writing a weekly column on city infrastructure in Times Property.

Metal stumps stick out from the road on my way to work – short, sharp ghosts of earlier signposts, few inches from the now re-incarnated median. I ran over one. Now a bit wiser, I drive far away from medians, wasting precious space on already-congested roads.

Two ways become a one-way without modification to footpaths, junctions; in addition, entirely different traffic patterns – traffic lights, signage, parking, planned lanes for turning vehicles, add to the exissting woes. Achieving the desired result of improved traffic flow temporarily, this leaves hapless pedestrians with no wider footpaths or safe crossings, increased chaotic and haphazard parking. Similarly, cuts on new roads, a pet Indian peeve, while inevitable in evolving urban environments, exacerbate the bitterness with lack of re-filling standards.

Beyond democratic whining, let us start afresh. World over, even tiny towns, apply standards. The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) has developed standards for Indian conditions – immense density, vendors, pedestrian safety, managed traffic and parking – with thought-through templates for disparate streets. After consultation, the Corporation of Chennai (CoC) and urban departments of Highways, an oxymoron, should adopt them.

Employ experts to design every square inch of streets. This currently non-existent practice costs a fraction of the tender and saves precious lives and incalculable headache. While at it, establish dedicated, competent traffic planning cell in CoC, with representation from traffic police. An influential official once burst out in frustration, “Let CoC rip out all decrepit pieces of existing roads and re-do them from scratch. Let the city have a world-class system of roads.” Surely citizens of Chennai will second that.

Re-working dense streets, re-locating utilities of uninterested agencies and politically-sensitive demolitions should not be underestimated. Employ project management professionals to ensure quality and timeliness. Outsource long-term maintenance, under stringent service-level agreements. Let citizens’ groups and officials jointly monitor and hold the contractor’s feet to fire.

Imagine engineered slopes for water flow into modern drains – this will save re-doing of all roads after next rains – ducts for utilities, luxurious pedestrian and bus-stop facilities, modern traffic controls, efficient junctions and controlled parking. Ostensibly extravagant, these are peanuts compared to costs inflicted by congested and unsafe streets. Let us reimagine Chennai roads while saving our already battered tyres.

First Published in Times Of India

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