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On dealing with fuss-tration

October 14, 2008

So for those of us who thought that frustrated, naive and aggressive car drivers are a caricature, Hey we at Kafila found one just for our readers.  He is loud, aggressive and fuss-trated as they come. Read on …

The wonderful thing about blogging, I am told, is that it allows everyone to publish their opinions.  At times however, forgive me for saying this, I wonder if everyone should.  My most recent reason for this harsh indictment of the blogging world, is based on this recent post titled “This is what the fuss is about (you twit)”. The title stems from a spot of witty wordplay on one of my recent posts.

The “you twit”, I might hasten to add, is not my addition. it is the author’s impression of my arguments.  While his post is reasonably, if somewhat naively, argued; his frequent abuse stems, perhaps, out of the need to get his blog read. Or maybe it is a style that is much appreciated by his readers.  I will however, thank him for his incisive – if somewhat excessively enthusiastic – critique of my work.

Broadly speaking our author has the following problems with my post:

  1. That I appear to have never driven a car; have  a lot of unearned wealth and as a consequence feel guilty about it, and so have turned into a “Communist Fanatic” – (his capitalisations, not mine).
  2. My brains are in my buttocks.
  3. That I have not done the hard work that our friend clearly has in understanding the true causes of the congestion on Delhi’s roads.

For the first two critiques, I would like to state that I have driven both a car and a motorcycle on Delhi’s roads. I haven’t driven a bus though – and I suspect neither has my critic.  As for the unearned wealth – after all how else could I afford to drive both car and a motorcycle (though not both simultaneously of course)? So yes, I am a fabulously wealthy member of Delhi’s middle class with a palatial house, three cars, a motorcycle and two purebred hounds that I use when I go out on shikar in my village up in the North.

Now to turn to the substance of his critique:
First up he partially accepts my different relative velocities theory on why Delhi has so many jams and offers us the following other reasons:

Another bunch of reasons include:
1.    Lack of general road sense and lane driving
2.    Manual transmission in cars (this will be a whole post some day).
3.    Lack of roads, due to potholes, manholes, and assholes.

Read carefully dear reader, as this is about as deep as his analysis is likely to go.  The lack of “general road sense” is something that is independent of the BRT.  In fact, it is a good reason why we should have it.  The BRT forces buses and cycles into opposite – physically demarcated – lanes; thus reducing the major cause for fatalities on the road.  What our critic doesn’t point out – and which is mentioned in my article  – is, and I quote

The press vendetta against the corridor seems to ignore the Delhi Police Road Accidents Report of 2006 that notes that that pedestrians and bicyclists collectively accounted for 53 per cent of the 2000-odd fatalities on Delhi’s road’s that year.  In cases where the nature of the impacting vehicle was known, buses and trucks were responsible in 58 per cent of the cases.  Road safety experts point out that a majority of accidents occur due to the presence of bicycles and pedestrians in the bus lane.  By putting buses and pedestrians on opposite sides of the road, the BRTS reduces to reduce such accidents.  Car drivers, allegedly the victims of this new system, comprise only three per cent of all traffic related fatalities.

Thus we realise that assholes with no road sense are safer in a system that offers them less flexibility to express the full potential of their latent flaws (the same unfortunately cannot be said for blogs).
As for the potholes and manholes – a significant percentage of the BRT costs have gone in upgrading the road infrastructure along the stretch.  According to figures from DIMTS – footpaths, service roads, drainage, road safety, cross road development and street lighting accounted for about 25 per cent of the investment in the corridor (with the rest being spent on the lanes themselves – signalling, contingencies etc).  So it appears that the BRT fixes two of his primary problems with the system.
If his case is that people will not follow any rules ever – then no system will work. So we should just level all the unoccupied space in Delhi and let people drive around as they please on a vast tabula rasa.
Now his next problem is that I say nothing about trucks. True. Because trucks are a) not allowed into city limits between 8 AM and 9 PM – and so are not a big factor when it comes to congestion. Yes I can see him now saying, “Of course they are. This proves you have never driven on the road.” But trust me on this, they are a far smaller cause of rush hour congestion than you might assume.
b) A considerable amount of road-building and traffic planning is focussed on extending the Delhi bypass – so trucks don’t have to come in.  Please remember this a city plan. Not a model that will extended to national highways.
He then faults me for not mentioning that

the central (bus) lane can also be used by VIP traffic, so that it doesn’t have to suffer like the rest of us.”

Now I fear that it our critic who has never driven on Delhi roads. If he had he would know that VIP movement in Delhi has the ability to send the entire city into gridlock.  Perhaps he has never sat in a car and gritted his teeth as the police stop all traffic along Shantipath or the Outer Ring Road – simply because some politician has to go to the airport to pick up his Mummyji.  If he had, he would  realise that VIPs in the bus lane is the best thing ever – because normal traffic can continue without impediment.

His next point is that different vehicles have different speeds and different gear ratios – an astute observation (his first) – however he fails to note that we are talking about putting vehicles with similar relative velocities in the same lane.  Surely even he will agree that autorickshaw and motorcycle and cars have similar relative velocities on the road, as compared to say – cars and bicycles.  Perhaps he would like to demarcate the road further – maybe make separate lanes for everyone.
Now for his bullet points:

•    Is there any system set up to ensure that in the 2 miserly lanes left over for cars/bikes/autos/trucks, the traffic actually sticks to its 2 lanes, or instead decides to squeeze it into 3?

Is there any system to ensure that a four-lane road is squeezed into a six lane road? Is he trying to argue that traffic behaviour is worse in the BRT than on un-segregated roads? If we assume that all drivers have no road sense – which is what he is alluding to- then we should be happy that buses and bicycles have been taken out of the equation.

•    Is there a regular patrol checking to see if any car/auto-rickshaw/truck has broken down on this miserly 2-lane stretch which could block traffic for hours, and then being ready to tow it away? Considering the BRT stretch is not that big, how difficult would it be, to employ a tow truck?

There is in fact regular patrolling. And  the Bus lane offers the possibility of a Tow Truck – driving in the Bus lane – reaching affected spots faster than otherwise.  I don’t see how the generally poor quality of enforcement becomes a specific problem of the BRT. Like I said, if enforcement is poor, it is poor for all systems. This my friend is called an externality. And, as I repeatedly mention, enforcement in this system is easier because buses are now de-facto enforced.

•    After segregating the traffic, is anybody enforcing it? If bicycles are still spilling out onto the main road, and not using the part segregated for them, then the whole idea is a failure, isn’t it?

Bicycles are not spilling out onto the main road, so the whole idea isn’t a failure. Ibid my point on using the lack of enforcement as a flaw of the BRTS, rather than a flaw of the enforcement agencies.

•    Do pedestrians actually cross at the parts designated for them, as theory suggests, or do they cross just about anywhere, leaving their lives, as always, in the hands of the Traffic God (otherwise known as the poor schlub behind the wheel). Is there any enforcement, or at the very least guidance, of where pedestrians should cross?

Yes there is guidance. Perhaps you have seen black and white strips painted on the road near traffic lights?  These designs are not, as you might think, an expression of abstract art. These are called Zebra Crossings.  This does not mean that they are designed specifically for moving Zebras from one side of the road to the other, you can use them as well.  The “Zebra” refers to the black and white pattern – which is similar to the pattern found on Zebras. A Zebra is a large horse-like animal with the aforementioned stripes.
The BRT also has pedestrian traffic signals. If you travel along it – you will find at least one dedicated pedestrian signal (apart from integrated pedestrian signals) and traffic marshals to help you cross the road.  Hmm…. I am beginning to see a pattern here: it  appears that our critic has never been a pedestrian.

•    What does one do about the numerous cars who break this segregation and use the bus lane, simply because there is no fine for doing so?

Who told him there is no fine for doing so? Of course there is. Perhaps our critic is one of those who drives noisy cars with tinted windows and  zooms off without paying fines.

He also has a problem with me making this an “us and them” class battle; which is surprising – because his post appears to be a “ME ME ME I, I, I” type post – another unfortunate tendency of many bloggers.  He also doesn’t acknowledge a major point in the article – which is that

“Buses account for 62 per cent of commuters along the BRT stretch; bicyclists make up another 18 per cent and cars, motorcyclists and auto-rickshaws account for only 20 per cent of commuters.  By providing reserved lanes for buses and bicyclists, the BRTS benefits 80 per cent of commuters.”

Apparently, the fact that close to two thirds of the commuters along that stretch travel by bus – and do so in relative comfort and safety, is of no interest to him.  He assumes that a majority travels by car – and so a majority is affected.

His next point – where he accuses me of having my brains in my buttocks – is that:

just because I am from that despicable Middle Class, the fact that the BRT corridor also has a flyover on one side of the T-junction, allowing a smoother ride for traffic heading north-south (also pre-BRT). Now, above, our author had made a comparison between the BRT, and the August Kranti marg, and talked about how the average speed on August Kranti marg is….less. Does this man use his buttocks for brains? If anything, it manages to show that despite there being 5 traffic lights and no lane segregation, you can still hit a 15 km/h average on Khel Gaon Marg!”

In my defence, I offer the following conclusions: a) the traffic lights argument is a flawed one – and he knows it – which is why he throws it in at the end.  As he must know – being an expert on variable gear ratios – that the length of the light also makes a difference. The BRT has much longer red lights, while Khel Gaon Marg has more lights – so it’s a toss-up and so not a particularly good control condition.  The point about before and after stats is a good one. They weren’t available at the time of print and at present I don’t have access to them. If he finds them it would be great if he can post them. They would offer a degree of clarity.

There is however a problem there as well, since the number of cars is not constant. As we know, Delhi adds a 1000 cars a day to its roads. Therefore to compare before and after stats might be misleading.  However comparing two parallel roads – i.e. August Kranti and BRT – offers us a useful side-by-side comparison, which is what I have done.

His point about people avoiding the road is another one of the points that I don’t blame him for making – but alas it is a bit naïve and incorrect.  If we look at flows in a system that runs on close to full capacity – we would realise that traffic functions at a certain equilibrium between alternative routes.  Hence there is rarely a huge difference between two stretches. If one route is faster than the other, logic suggests that over time more traffic shall adopt that route and so congestion shall reduce traffic rate.  Thus boosting car speeds within a city is a hard, hard task because demand for road space always rises to meet available supply– as I have pointed out in the comments section on the other post on the BRT. Instead what he again doesn’t acknowledge or engage with is, as I have pointed out

“Thus, if seen objectively, car speeds along the BRTS are comparable to those anywhere in the city.  The advantage of the BRTS is that bus speeds along its dedicated bus corridors are between 20 and 25km/hr at all times.  What this implies is that 62 per cent of commuters along the BRTS are travelling significantly faster than anywhere else in the city, at no cost to car drivers.”

But as is evident, he has no interest in bus commuters.

Finally he accuses me of not acknowledging that green cover in Delhi has increased. I’m sorry, but the point I’m making is that trees improve the quality of the air and roads detract from it. What is amazing is that after nagging on about how cars need more space, he accuses me of being anti-environment. The point about trees being cut for the BRT should be seen in the context of the trees cut to make flyovers to help car drivers drive longer and more unsustainable distances at clearly unsustainable speeds.  If I erred in not pointing out the trees lost to the BRT, he errs in not pointing out those lost to the flyovers.

To sum up, as he did, I am pleased that our critic has taken the pains to engage with my post in such detail. I hope he is similarly pleased with my ministrations to his text.  It is always helpful to read well-meaning, but ultimately naïve vitriol. I may be a “bigoted idiot” (another one of his choice epithets), but at least I have the courage to put my name to what I write. I wish the same could be said for our agitated resident of the 2.5 world country.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Aditya Nigam permalink*
    October 22, 2008 2:19 PM

    Hi Aman, Just catching up on Kafila posts after a long forced absence. This was delightful.

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