CMDA advocates sprawl, police proud about ‘fine’ performance

The City Pulse feature in The Hindu provides an amusing assemblage of views about traffic from the high personages in whose hands our free movement and safety on city roads rests.

Smart city development is definitely not the message that emanates from comments made by M.R.Mohan, the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority’s Member-Secretary. “As the city centre becomes congested, people need to move out towards the suburbs. This would require the complementary facility of easy transport into the city from the suburbs,” he is quoted as saying.

Mr. Mohan’s comments are a direct encouragement to sprawl, and go against the grain of smart city development completely. Density of development, access to services and facilities in the immediate, walkable neighbourhood and development of people-friendly common areas is the goal of all enlightened policy. Apparently, not in Chennai. This can come as good news only to the real estate lobby, of whom many are shady politically-connected speculators.

What one wonders is the logic behind the implementation of the Chennai Metro railway. Such a high density transit system presupposes that it will be possible to use central city space optimally, and build vertically. Conversely, there is not much effort to provide safe, efficient transit links to the “suburbs” that Mr. Mohan is talking about. Even the ambitious Metro, if the Tamil Nadu authorities can run it well, does not connect the suburbs, say, like the commuter trains that run from London neighbourhoods into the city’s geographical centre.

Even more interesting is the comment from the Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Mr. Sunil Kumar. Obviously, Mr. Kumar is very well intentioned, but he badly slides into the statistics trap in his comments published by The Hindu.

Through a strange combination of a claimed reduction in fatal accident during non-peak hours, and a staggering amount of fines collected (Rs.10 crores in 2007), Mr. Kumar is making the case that things are going well on traffic enforcement.

The Hindu’s own statistics given earlier state that fatal accidents are on the rise; there were 550 in 2005 to 1,082 in 2006; in 2007, there were 704 fatal accidents in just six months (it is not clear whether these figures are for as many deaths or as many accidents, which means the deaths could be higher).

It is not difficult to see, and we have been pointing this out earlier, that collection of fines is not a proxy for safer roads. Using statistics mindlessly to state that there were marginally fewer fatal accidents in a hair-split assessment is also not creditable.

As we have been repeatedly emphasising, the cause for so much of bloodshed on the roads is the complete absence of rational policies of urban development and road safety. The comments of Mr. Mohan and Mr.Kumar make it clear that the lessons are far from evident to our administrators.

It is strange, for instance, why no money out of the Rs.10 crores collected as fines has gone into building pedestrian subways in the most congested or dangerous areas. If the traffic police is very clear about high-risk areas, what steps has it taken to invest some of that money in creating facilities to cross roads safely?

I have been witness to people slaughtered by vehicles early in the morning, because motorists will not go by road rules, will not obey lights and there is no policeman on the roads.

For just Rs. 10 lakhs, the traffic police could buy 20 high definition camcorders, and record the road rule violations at major intersections. They could fine motorists with ample evidence, and withdraw licenses from repeat offenders. So why has the Rs.10 crores not helped do something like that?

The pious and platitudinal approach of our administrators to safer and more efficient road systems is pathetic. It displays an unconcern for public welfare, and isolation from everyday reality. 

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