Monday, 14 December 2015

God Bless America: Part IV

When I mentioned that “commonly known differentiating aspect, the driving discipline and traffic mannerism, is my next point of interest”, I was posing to be humble. In fact this one is a glaringly differentiating character. Many of us may even generalize it to be an aspect differentiating a developed and developing society.

Chaotic hold ups resulting from seemingly unplanned growth, sub-standard infrastructure, undisciplined behavior of vehicle users, is a way of life and we are almost used to it, if not the cause of it. Many of us like yours most truly may even not be silent spectators and may be abusing spectators for that matter. 

Traffic safety is a subject most discussed and little attended by all most all governments. I find studies after studies since the beginning of civilization (sarcasm intended) having been undertaken by many well meaning and other profiteering and politically motivated organizations and committees appointed by all and sundry government departments. The focus of these studies has been largely traffic safety.

It is irony, governments are more interested in quantity of life (and why not?) then quality of life on the road.

Traffic congestion is a major problem for transportation professionals in India. Most of the cities are suffering from medium to high level of traffic congestion. Although in some major cities the growth of private vehicle usage has increased at a faster rate, in general, car ownership and usage has remained at a much lower level in Indian context, as compared to increase in vehicular traffic of other varieties including bicycles, two wheelers and three wheelers. Poor road condition, non-uniform roadway specifications and features in terms of road width, lane width, shoulder width, turnings and round abouts, encroachment of road, abutting land use and resulting pedestrian activities, poor lane discipline, improper bus stop location and design, vehicles of wide ranging characteristics of technology and operating condition, heterogeneity of traffic, uncontrolled on-street parking, etc. indicate that the nature and cause of congestion in India are substantially different from those, if any in the developed countries.

Governments have been expending huge sums in expanding road networks, but little or no attention is paid to other softer and therefore difficult causes for abysmally poor quality of life on the roads.

Having experienced what roadway specifications can be while traveling in US, I was noting the lane width in particular. For us at home in India; width of Road (all rough edges counted) divided by two is the centre divider. And that is a broken line, meant for general guidance and not necessarily for restricting movement. If the road is wider, it can be because of many reasons, not necessarily current or projected traffic density (including financial considerations for parties to decision making), further divide by two to make two lanes each side. I wonder there are any standards and if any where have they been imported from?

I feel there must be standards but they are not for Indian traffic composition. Can we not have lanes designed keeping in view composition of our traffic, providing lanes with appropriate width for pedestrians, bicycles, two wheelers, three wheelers, cars, buses and heavy vehicles? I can not blame the traffic.

The causes of our traffic vows are thoroughly inadequately planned roads, lack of discipline, varieties of vehicles, our social customs, our religious beliefs related to animals, absence of laws and law enforcement. I am not talking rocket science. This is a matter of common sense. 

Who is responsible for this state?

I got my car driving license in early 70’s from a place, I had no connection with. That was because my uncle was District Superintendant of Police there. I do not remember I was tested at all. And that I am sure is true for many. Not everyone is as honest as I am. Compare this situation to what I experienced back in USA. My host has crossed 65 years (almost my age) and his license got due for renewal. He appeared at a written test of 100 questions. I believe we have introduced that system, but am not sure how effective is testing.

Traffic jams are experienced on US roads as well and I could witness on many occasions. But the way in which law enforcement agencies operate, the way in which vehicle users behave is totally different. There may be queues of miles on, but there will not be attempts to shift to lanes, there will not be honking of horns.

I believe there is dire need to educate law makers, law enforcing agencies and vehicle users including pedestrians.  I believe in US there is an institution of School Resource Officers, a type of Police Constabulary who help developing traffic sense in schools and may be even conducting driving classes for 10th grade students, since they have to bring cars from 11th grade on wards.

I looked at traffic signage and found thrice as many as we can find here, each making huge sense. I found the system of lines on the roads, broken, white full, yellow full and each has clear meaning which every one understands and mostly follows.

I found left only and right only arrows on roads. And everyone went by it, even if that meant travelling 10 additional miles for making a minor error of not following Right only lane arrow.

I am sure we will catch up and bridge the difference. I am sure our teachers will take up that onerous duty. Any comment from teachers in my circle?

So long. I will await for criticism and plan writing some more learnings. I have an explanation. Wait till you hear from me next. The cause is in Cultural aspects.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

God Bless America: Part III

I have a habit of continuously checking quality of my work. Though I am not jotting down my impressions and observations for mass communication, I am keeping an eye on how many of my friends have retained their interest in reading what I write. The second part shows decline. I may still wait before undertaking root cause analysis and carrying out mid-course corrections.

Let me get back to definition of Culture and relive what we saw, heard and experienced, for the time being. That will also provide some respite to those who may not appreciate theories much.

Your first impression of any place could be based on, if you are observant, what you see from air while landing, that is if you are flying in. And the first impression about my port of landing was “how can the streets be so geometrically aligned?” What you see from air when you come close to landing at O’Hare air port is perfect (almost) rectangles created on ground by a grid of streets. I could not take the picture, since I was not in window seat, but have borrowed image from Google Earth. This one is from a height of about 1000 ft.

Though yellow lines are not streets, if you enlarge this image, you will find perfect rectangles of plots made by streets. In fact the network is based on grid and streets are numbered such that the address can be used to find the distance between two points.

The road network in Chicago, our first port of calling, was so interesting; I looked for some details and found that Chicago's streets were laid out in a grid that grew from the city's original town site plan. Streets laid initially later became arterial streets in outlying sections. The streets are laid out with eight streets to the mile in one direction and 16 streets to a mile in the other direction. A scattering of diagonal streets, many of them originally trails, also cross the city.

The road naming/ numbering and house address system adopted by the city and extended to suburbs is so methodical, that one needs to know house number and street number/ name with an extension of North- South or East – West. The Street numbering is East – West of State Street and which runs north and south, and north – south of Madison Street, which runs east and west.

And this is not true of just Chicago, all the places we visited had similar character. Wikipedia has pages full of how Americans handle their roads from planning to sizing to maintaining and how do they plan their cities and counties to enhance public conveniences.

I was thinking about what is that distinguishing character of USA, which makes such planned layouts possible to the extent of being extremely predictable? How can the Freeways or Highways as we call them, be running straight in one direction for miles on without having even a 5 degree bend?  I believe the underlying pride among citizens to sacrifice own interests in favor of city or state and integrity of the public servants could be the reasons. I believe if decisions in public life are taken in individual interest, as against in interest of common good, such decisions will result in crocked roads, unplanned development and resultant public hardships.

My conclusions are, Americans behave more responsibly when it comes to society and public good, than us Indians. They do not have small temples and durrgahs to be shielded and protected. They perhaps do not have private plots of land to be retained in the shape the powerful owner wants to retain. They perhaps care for nature and natural heritage more and provide all that is necessary for protecting nature, storm water drainage, forest reserves, green belts, you name all.  

The other commonly known differentiating aspect, the driving discipline and traffic mannerism, is my next point of interest. Let me do some study and come back with concret stuff.

Till then, please comment and keep me awake.

I must appreciate a younger friend from USA, also one of our host, who insists I must keep writing and in fact demands.