May 13, 2008

Delhi Bus Lane Has Major Flaw

A new, $52 million, nine-mile bus lane on one of this teeming city’s busiest roads was supposed to be a model of how India can improve the lives of its citizens as it builds out its infrastructure. Instead, it has become a symbol of how the government’s tackling a problem often compounds it.

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At left, high-capacity buses halt at a Bus Rapid Transit corridor in New Delhi. 

The Bus Rapid Transit system is designed to get people on and off buses more efficiently and to cut down travel time. But it has a major flaw: The bus stops were put in the middle of the highway, three lanes of traffic from the sidewalk on each side. Any pedestrian who wants to reach the buses must run a gantlet of Delhi’s chaotic and unyielding traffic, which pays little attention to the niceties of staying in lanes or obeying red lights.

Since the first five-mile stretch of the road opened on April 20, there have been three or four accidents a day, says Vijay Kumar Singh, a marshal whose job is to try to ensure the system works. And in the morning, he says, it can take schoolchildren up to 30 minutes to cross the road to reach the bus stops.

“The lack of footpaths and garbage dumped in the walking areas leaves no space to walk,” says Subhash Chand, a 38-year-old school worker. “Also, there is the constant risk of being run down by a speeding motorcyclist while crossing the road.”

Delhi Transport Commissioner R.K. Verma says the city government is addressing the problems. “We understand there is a design flaw, especially with bus stands right in the middle of the road,” he says. “It takes time for any new plan to be successful.”

No one questions the merits of helping traffic move more quickly. Delhi was once a city of wide, sweeping roads. Now its traffic is among the worst in the world: The number of vehicles in Delhi has been growing at 7% a year and now totals five million, according to the Delhi government. And buses stopping in general traffic lanes have been a big problem in the past: City buses killed 20 Delhi citizens last year and 28 in 2006.

Before the BRT opened, the Delhi government held workshops and classes in English, Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi to try to teach drivers the importance of staying in lanes. Marshals such as Mr. Singh are supposed to help guide bus passengers and direct traffic. Signs list do’s and don’ts for the new bus lane. But they’re not regularly heeded: SUVs regularly jump the newly installed dividers into the bus lane to avoid jams in the car lanes, and motorcycles, three-wheeled auto-rickshaws and the occasional taxi crowd the new bicycles-only lane that now runs next to the sidewalk. “We get crushed in the mad rush,” says one cyclist.

Mr. Verma acknowledges it’s an uphill climb: “You can deal with technological issues, but not cultural issues.”

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Delhi Bus Lane Has Major Flaw


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