Those in charge of traffic planning, if indeed such personnel exist, did not exactly cover themselves with glory in the last couple of weeks. Two major initiatives were undertaken to ease congestion in Adyar and George Town and while the first was an instantaneous failure, the second was seen as a half-baked exercise at best. What was common to both was that they focused only on vehicle users, ignoring the interests of all other stakeholders – local residents, hawkers and above all the pedestrian, who it would appear, does not even figure in such plans. To what use then these schemes and their flawed execution?

The first of these was a high profile idea. Based on the advice of a well known cinematographer, who it would appear had based his calculations entirely by flying over the land and not bothering to set foot on the ground, it concerned the Lattice Bridge Road and its environs. A series of one ways and a major circular route were at the core of the system, all focused at ensuring “smooth vehicular flow”, to the exclusion of everyone else. This was implemented without any consultation with those who would be affected by such an arrangement – residents in the area. What emerged was a major gridlock and spirited protests from at least the residents of one of the streets who found that what was at best a narrow thoroughfare had overnight become a major arterial road. It goes without saying that the street was in no way equipped to handle the suddenly increased traffic volume, the noise and the congestion. To make matters worse, there were no signboards at any place to inform commuters well in advance of the new arrangements, causing several to reach particular junctions and then being made to take several diversions. A series of gridlocks ensued and the plan was withdrawn almost within a day of its implementation. The impact on the pedestrian was of course completely overlooked. Continuously moving traffic meant no traffic lights and that meant the pedestrian had no place to cross. This in fact is a common feature across most of the one ways, some of which have been in place for years now. But nobody appears to have woken up to the plight of the pedestrian who has to commend his/her soul to God and take the plunge amidst traffic in case he/she needs to cross.

The second instance was on NSC Bose Road, where following a High Court directive, hawkers were evicted to ensure smooth traffic flow. That these hawkers were not authorised to occupy the roads is a well-known fact. But what is noteworthy is that each time it requires the intervention of the Court to make our civic body wake up to this reality. The eviction this time was ostensibly to clear the space to ensure smooth traffic flow in an area that has become severely congested thanks to the ongoing Metro Rail work. But hardly had the hawkers been evicted when cars and buses came to monopolise the spaces cleared, converting the area into an irregular parking lot. The hawkers are now demanding alternative space, something that nobody has in their powers to give, for George Town simply does not have any open space. By nightfall the hawkers were mostly back. Congestion was the end result once again, with pedestrians having to compete for space with vehicles.

In fact, if there is any one variety of road users who is exposed to the maximum risk in connection with the Metro, it is the pedestrian. In several places, people walk in between protective but fairly ineffective railings, often under the nose of heavy equipment. And as the pace of work increases, it does not look as though matters are going to become any easier.

Traffic arrangements it would appear have become ad-hoc exercises. Someone has what they think is a workable plan or some authority cracks a whip and action is taken on this basis. There is no thought given to what impact it is likely to have on multiple stakeholders and there is no attempt at an ongoing dialogue with all those who are likely to be affected. There is moreover no effort in involving the local resident and sensitising him/her on how he/she can contribute. Can a city hope to operate on such knee-jerk reactions without any long-term policy or plan? Or is fire-fighting to be our only policy?