The average Bengalurean spends about two hours a day stuck in traffic. The sheer volume of vehicles is impossible to manage manually, through traffic policemen on ground. While Bengaluru has led the way in terms of a tech-savvy traffic police force, there is room for improvement. Artificial Intelligence and technology have revolutionised traffic management across the world but have not yet been adopted in Karnataka, which prefers to use traffic policemen in some areas and a Westernised Webster model that doesn't suit our traffic conditions in others. Civic agencies have also fallen short in terms well-designed roads, construction regulations and meeting infrastructure needs of a fast growing population, leading to congested roads, reports M.K. Ashoka
Life in Bengaluru is dominated by time spent in traffic, the average speed on the road is a mere 18.6 kmph. The average Bengalurean spends about two hours on the road every day, with Monday being the worst day to travel. On the whole, Bengaluru is a smoke-emitting, fuel guzzling, congested mess and in all, this adds up to about 1.18 crore citizens wasting 60 crore man-hours a year! If time is money, this translates to about Rs 3,700 crore, about half of which is lost on fuel, according to Revised Master Plan 2031 data, released by the Bangalore Development Authority. While the city is known across the world for being a hub of technological innovation, this definitely does not translate to solving our own daily problems.
The city's disordered traffic system is due to the absence of transport and traffic engineers in the traffic police department. The sheer volume of vehicles makes it impossible for traffic to be controlled manually. Artificial intelligence and algorithms can provide solutions but the traffic police department is simply not tech-savvy enough to understand this.
Ashish Verma, Associate Professor, Transportation Systems Engineering, IISC, says, the Webster model, which is based on regulation of traffic flow based on delay lengths and queues at signal intersections, has been modified by consultants to the traffic police department to suit Indian conditions. "It has not been adopted in practice, however," he says. "The Western model is still in use, but it has been designed for traffic conditions in the West. We have developed algorithms and used data from Bengaluru junctions to demonstrate the delay each vehicle experiences," he says. With proper analysis, says Professor Verma, "Vehicles will spend less time at every junction, thereby reducing overall travel time. But the traffic police as an organisation don't have the technical capacity to understand this, because these methods are highly technical. They don't have staff educated in Transport Engineering and Traffic Engineering. So they will never be able to understand and utilise them."
Professor Verma says that the research lab at IISc has attempted to customise the Webster model to suit Indian roads. "The city needs a separate traffic engineering cell, with a dedicated technical staff to handle the database, rather than the police doing it on their own," he maintains.
Roads are full
one of the main problems is that the number of vehicles exceeds the capacity of the current road network. During peak hour travel, most of the junctions are saturated. Simply put, it means that one signal cycle is not enough to clear the queue on each of the approach roads. This is why, junctions on M.G. Road and Queens Road, for instance, take multiple signals to get past. This is most evident during the morning and evening rush hours.
"Presently, consultants are brought in to decide the signal timings," says Professor Verma. "The consultant who gets the project divides the whole day into time zones - the morning and evening peak periods, afternoon non-peak and so on. The Traffic volume count is done to create signal time settings for each time block." The method used to do this is the Webster method.
These are a pivotal part of the urban transport network, because when you travel from Point A to Point B, the major delay takes place as one waits at junctions. They need to be managed more efficiently.
The manner in which the signal traffic timing is controlled is totally unscientific. Because of this ad hoc management, there are more delays at the junctions.
Back to the stone age
"The situation is worsened because traffic constables are sent to man the junctions. If the signal system is unscientific, the cops constables override the system by manually pushing buttons. This makes it worse," declares Professor Verma. The trouble with this is that the cop pressing buttons at one junction fails to consider the queues piling up at the junctions before and after his own.
White topping work
Every Bengalurean knows this refrain: Delays are caused because 'white topping work is being carried out at certain places'. According to Dr Sowmya Latha, DCP, Traffic, West, "Traffic police are working hard to ensure smooth flow of traffic. No parking sign are being put up and vehicles towed to decongest the roads."