Linda Poon is an assistant editor at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
An attempt to ease congestion on one of India’s busiest highways has made things much, much worse.
In the Indian capital of Delhi, traffic is part of life as commuters routinely find themselves snarled in miles-long gridlock. And a series of photos tweeted out by social activist Anil Sood, who’s been protesting the lack of adequate traffic management by local governments, shows just how bad these gridlocks can get.
Corruption, inefficiency, robbery, fleecing of Commuters colossal national waste of precious FE man hours - NH8 GGN pic.twitter.com/B08QqdNypZ— Anil Sood (@anil0420) September 5, 2015
Pictured is a 26-lane jam on National Highway 8, a 17-mile long expressway that connects Dehli to the industrial district of Gurgaon. It’s one of India’s busiest highways. Ironically, the standstill is in large part the result of an experimental effort to ease congestion along that expressway, according to The Daily Mail.
Last year, the Delhi high court shut down a 32-lane toll plaza that for years has made headlines for bringing traffic to a grinding halt, with wait times of up to 45 minutes. By June of this year, the Sirhaul toll plaza was fully dismantled, according to The Times of India. (Just six booths are left for officials to collect taxes from commercial vehicles.)
When the toll plaza’s barriers were removed, commuters were supposed to experience a smoother ride. But that hasn’t been the case. Making headlines now are stories of congestion so bad that it lasts hours, with traffic jams that spill over to nearby roads. Residents have also complained that the surrounding roads are more dangerous since the lights at the toll plaza went dark. And when commuters try to make U-turns, they find themselves stuck between large trucks in the six commercial lanes.
With each jam, drivers (and spectators) take to Twitter to complain:
The blame has largely fallen on local and national authorities, who residents accuse of mismanagement due to this and other failed experiments with regulating traffic flow. In May, for example, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) took commuters by surprise when it blocked 24 of the 32 lanes to narrow the highway. The result: roughly 5,000 cars stuck in 6-mile-long gridlock that lasted four hours.
“Little thought seems to have gone behind each experiment,” writes reporter Sharad Kohli in an op-ed for The Times of India. Each time a new plan goes wrong, officials from the Gurgaon Traffic Police and the NHAI begin pointing fingers at each other. More recently, commuters going from Delhi to Gurgaon were stuck in traffic for five hours during rush hour after barricades blocked three exits on the expressway to “prevent driving on the wrong side.” Commuters blamed Gurgaon traffic cops, and the cops blamed NHAI for working on road projects during peak hours.
Either way, commuters lose. “When those in charge are conducting experiments like mad professors,” Kohli writes, “the highway ends up becoming a lab and commuters exasperated guinea pigs.”