Friday, December 17, 2010

Traffic in India

Traffic in India….

We spent some time in a car while in India…a lot of time…traveling around Delhi, driving to Agra, driving to Jaipur….so I have some India traffic observations.
Indian traffic is like water, it flows about obstacles in an organic path of least resistance. So, if there is a stop light, suddenly a 2 lane road becomes a 5 lane road, as every car and motorcycle (and bus and truck), begin to spread out at the stop light, like dammed water. Then when the light changes, all the traffic floods forward and a bit down the road it settles back into the streambed. One aspect of this is that “roadway” is a much broader term than in the US. Basically, it means that roadway is the direction the traffic is headed…not a clearly defined path that vehicles take…sometimes it includes the side of the road, sometimes into the other lane (where vehicles are coming directly toward you). We might say “driving down the wrong side of the road. Very flexible definitions…..

Indian traffic is optimized on the individual level. Cars, motorcycles, trucks and buses (CMTB) all drive in such a way that they move forward most quickly. So, darting around in traffic gaining one or two car lengths is SOP…for everyone….While this local optimization may work fine for some, there are no rules like “slow traffic keep right” (of course in India they drive on the other side of the road). Instead, the rule is “If I see a space, it is mine”. Global traffic flow seems to suffer…

Indian traffic infrastructure is operating at the very, very edge of capacity. If there is any disruption (an accident or a bad weather issue), then the system completely freezes up and traffic over a wide area can come to a halt. India is getting more cars…they need more highways. They are building them, but maybe not fast enough.

Trucks, trucks and more trucks…

On the road from Delhi to Jaipur, I have never seen so many trucks. I can’t even begin to count. These are not semi-trailers, like you would see in the US. These are big, sturdy trucks with bed for cargo (which is always tied down and covered). Tata trucks rule the road.

The expanding truck stop…

With all these trucks, there needs to be truck stops, where people can eat, bathe and get their trucks repaired. Truck stops are built on the sides of highways, sometimes with access roads and sometimes not. But, the number of trucks exceeds the capacity of truck stop “parking” (if there is any...). So, the truck stop begins to expand…

First, all the space on the access road is taken…then a second lane of parked trucks forms on the space between the access road and the main road. Here you sometimes have people working on their truck repairs right next to the highway. But, when that is not enough space, the truck stop expands into the highway, turning a 2-lane road into a 1-lane road with a truck stop in the other lane, generally with people working away on their vehicles. Of course, this is a bit dangerous and slows traffic to a crawl. But, that is the way things are…

Other highway friends…

The most common non-vehicle on the highway is the cow. Cows wander about in the country and sometimes wander near, or on the road. This is not really much of a problem, as traffic is moving quite slowly and the cows are pretty savvy with regard to moving directly on the roadway. On my trips between major cities, cows were simply another potential traffic obstacle. It may be different in more rural areas.
Other animal powered vehicles seen on the access roads include horse and donkey carts, buffalo carts and the very elegant camel carts, particularly near Jaipur. These animal powered vehicles generally keep out of the main roadway and deliver goods along the access roads.

Tractors

If animal powered vehicles are not a problem on the main roadway, tractors are. Tractors are used to haul big loads (think a big cart of bricks) on the access roads, but also on the highways. They cannot move very fast and are slow to start. After all, they are tractors. And, they can cause serious traffic slowdowns, particularly in the dangerous instance where one tractor tries to pass another tractor. Think of two semis passing on a hill. Then imagine that the traffic behind these semis can drive on the shoulder or the other side of the road…yikes!!!

But, for all these problems, India transports huge amounts of good over its highway infrastructure. All credit to the hard working drivers and service personnel. But, I worry about the daily increase in load on the infrastructure.

2 comments:

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