An afternoon with the Traffic Police: Learning about citizen action

People like me, those who read a lot and write a lot and talk a lot, tend to be armchair activists. Especially when you work in the development sector, it’s hard to actually wear the hat of the citizen activist. I’ve put the tips of my fingers into several pies and then pulled out, feeling confused, under confident and sometimes just disillusioned.

Mine isn’t a novel story, I know. But last week,  I had the opportunity to take off my thinking & analysis cap and became a do-er. Inspired by Aparna, who lives in my community and believes in taking the bull by its horns, I joined a group approaching the Traffic Police to engage in a constructive conversation about specific traffic-related issues in our neighborhood.

To offer a background, I live in a housing condominium on Sohna Road. It is a significant six-lane highway that connects Gurgaon to the Sohna town and then further to Palwal, which lies on National Highway 2. The road sees huge amounts of traffic. In addition to inter-city traffic, Sohna Road has some of the densest residential developments in the city and the volume of local traffic generated is also a lot. Gurgaon’s infrastructure is patchy and constantly under development. After a painful few years in which the road was being upgraded, widened, dug for sewer lines and so on and so forth, we now more or less have the 6 lanes in place with service lanes on both sides. However, erroneous placement of cuts, wrong parking on service lanes, intersections without traffic lights and many such niggling issues make this stretch of the Gurgaon-Sohna road very dangerous for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.

crossing3

No traffic lights at this very busy junction. Result: Chaos and a huge strain on traffic police personnel

Video credit: Siddharth Chopra

Our demands

We (Aparna, Siddharth and me, who all live in the same condo) went in with a letter that Aparna had drafted to the Traffic Police asking for:

1-More effective traffic management at Subhash Chowk, a major intersection where a flyover is being constructed. The construction will go on for many months and there has been no temporary solution provided for managing traffic with the roads in very poor condition.

2-An erroneously designed pair of cuts on the divider and the opposite service lane on this stretch  because of which vehicles cut across and drive on the wrond side of the highway!

3-A solution for a poorly managed T-junction right outside our condo that is a traffic nightmare. The picture and video depict that point.

4-Removal of vehicles parked along the service lane that also causes traffic blockages at entry and exit points for residential and commercial complexes

Our experience

The officer we were to meet wasn’t available when we landed up at the Traffic Police office, but a junior policeman was kind enough to hear us out and advise us to catch hold of the Deputy Commissioner Police (DCP) for Traffic who was just about to head out with a pair of smug and smart looking men driving an expensive car! The DCP, upon learning we were residents of the city with a list of concerns, retreated into his office and heard us out. He was a bit high handed, but he did instruct the concerned Assistant Commissioner Police (ACP) to attend to our needs. This gentleman, who was newly posted to Gurgaon and barely familiar with its roads, called in the Traffic Inspector (TI) for our stretch and opened up his duty roster to us in a very transparent manner to discuss how we could delegate people more efficiently for smoother management of the traffic. Unfortunately, the police can’t do much to improve infrastructure and it has to petition the development authorities (HUDA- Haryana Urban Development Authority) or the local government (MCG- Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon) for making any physical improvements including improved street lights, traffic signals, road condition, speed breakers and even for cranes to carry away wrongly parked vehicles!

What we learnt OR  Things to remember while making requests to government departments

  • Government departments are restricted in terms of their jurisdiction, so we need to have a clear knowledge of who can do what
  • Writing letters is not in vain. Officers do get concerned when complaints come in, but follow up meetings and phone calls are important to drive home the points being made
  • A tone of consultation and partnership works better than one of confrontation; we do need to remember that officers are stressed and overworked. In this case, we felt bad pushing the TI Mr Jai Singh further because we all know how hard working and helpful he usually is. But we were upset by the casual attitude of the DCP, who seemed to want to deflect the blame for accidents rather than addressing the problems
  • Persistence is key. We now need to follow through on our requests and join forces with more concerned residents to place relentless pressure on the authorities till the important problems find solution

The real issue is one of poor road sense and attitude

While we pushed the police for solutions and while we are pushing the authorities for infrastructure, the real problem lies in the horrible way people drive in our city. There is a certain culture of driving each city has and in Gurgaon, that culture is aggression and a blatant flouting of traffic rules. We’re all in a blame game about who the offenders are, but the fact is everyone does- executives in big sedans, taxi drivers, young people, local villagers, drivers of public transportation, we are all to blame. We were, on our way back, talking about how we can change this in Gurgaon. How can we change the conversation from They drive badly to Let me not drive badly. Road attitude and etiquette, following traffic rules and thinking about safety for pedestrians and cyclists are important and it would be great to begin an awareness drive towards this.

Do write back if you have innovative ideas about such an awareness campaign or have seen something like this being done in your community, or elsewhere. Would love to hear from you.

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Posted on May 14, 2014, in Politics & Citizenship and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Bharat Singh

    kudos on your effort. As you noted the biggest problem in Urban India is the disconnect of different authorities managing urban infrastructure. That has to be resolved in the long run. I would recommend two things

    1) based upon some of the activism of residents I’ve seen here, I think residents can force some change by modifying roads to their liking. Berkeley residents began blocking wide streets with planters and informal chicanes to slow traffic. This was done by block groups fed up with technocrats stating the streets widths was essential for peak hour traffic. I know there is a block somewhere faridabad where a few residents have developed their own solution to stop flooding.
    2) develop a regulatory tool for Gurgaon such as the pedestrian guidelines for Delhi and get it to be law. This would help get the disparate agencies to get in line and be held accountable.

    1)

    • Bharat, the damn road is a State Highway! Really limits our window for intervention, if we have any at all! Traffic volumes are stupendous and quite a bit of inter-city inter-State truck traffic too! Regulatory tools sound like a good idea, but how do you get irresponsible citizens to follow the rules? The police is woefully understaffed to cope with the scale of rule flouting in the city!

      • hey mukta. would be great to hear more on what the traffic police did on the actions that are under their jurisdiction. also, i was thinking about the campaign. can we identify certain spots most vulnerable and where accidents have happened in the past. here we post signs saying that x number of accidents have happened here. are you making sure you are driving safe? in englsih and hindi.

      • Vinitas we will follow up with the TI on the actions. Aparna and me….

  2. first of all well done with the effort.
    in my experience I think if the people using the road are more aware amd KNOW how to drive and use the lanes , then it will be much better. there is not much the police can do.

    there is no concept of lane changing, here in UK we have a proper highway code that we have to LEARN and PASS.. that is what is missing , the highway code among people using the roads.

    the sense of RIGHT OF WAY is not there among motorists, it is everyone’s RIGHt of way all the time no matter what direction you are driving..

    majority of the difficulties can be solved if the motorist using the road is intelligent, and respects the law of road.. speed limits , distance between vehicles, courtsey for other users.. even if the police takes action , the users dont bother..

    the funny thing is many of the motorists who use that road MIGHT have travelled abroad and driven and they respect EVERY law, but the moment they reach back home all that goes out of window..

    • I agree. In gurgaon, we live in a very new city. People are still developing a sense of community and bonding with their city. So it’s that much easier to be casual about traffic rules. That attitude needs to change. How do we do it? That’s the question

      • Well, that is easy.. Heavier Fines, Getting a license made harder.

        here in UK a license is a BIG THING, it is something you EARN not jsut get it . and if you lose it it effects everything mainly your JOB and is added to your record so when you go for a interview it comes up.. and you may not get a job.

        human mentality needs to change.

        my cousin’s kid who is 12 or 13 drives a car in india, how can a 13 year old do that. THe dad says with Pride my son does it .. to me its stupidity, and when i said it to him, he is not on talking terms with me now :(.

        A vehicle is a WEAPON I say , because if used wrongly it kills.. I had written a post years back on that.

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