Misplaced Reaction to Road fatalities in Pune: Chandni Chowk
Just last week I had begun to compile a blog post on Pune's infamous Chandni Chowk and its precarious traffic and safety situation. While I was writing my blog, a young motorbike riding student was rammed into by a school bus in this very Chandni Chowk, to lose his life at the age of 18. Suddenly, overnight, the Chandni Chowk witnessed citizen and political protests and believe me, when I say that in 2 days, all encroachments were removed, the road was widened by mobilizing 3-4 JCBs and the road resurfaced during the night. The reaction of the otherwise slumbering administration was worth watching!
However, I am left wondering how the reaction of the political and administrative departments is completely missing the point of the tragedy. The Chandni Chowk is, because of its ill design, high slopes and cramped road widths, a spot of slow moving traffic. So a fatality, which occurred would actually have been of a greater magnitude if the traffic was faster moving. But the reaction and the protests held across all political parties missed the point of the tragedy and actually initiated quicker action to increase the traffic speed. How, in the heaven's name, does the action of increasing road width justify as a solution for the tragedy that occurred and ensure that such tragedies do not recur?
So in fact, it seems that all the political parties actually pushed just their own agenda of faster moving traffic at Chandni Chowk which is demanded by all vehicle users, including me. And the municipal corporation carried out its specific agenda of taking credit for a quick redressal by responding by lightning speed in removing encroachments and widening the road.
The other important issue that was thrown up was the issue of safety in school buses in the city, which we see is being tossed about like a tennis ball between all stakeholders, namely the schools, the bus contractors and the education department. I certainly hope that with increased speed at Chandni Chowk, the gradient of the road and its intersection with a Highway, this issue is sorted out in a manner that will actually ensure safety of school children in the least.
But I come back to the cause of the tragedy. Countless two wheelers are actually on the roads of Pune because there is no option available for urban mobility in Pune. If I choose not to take the risk of riding a two wheeler in Pune, I cannot move at all. That's a fact. To reduce this risk, as incomes grow, people choose to shift to smaller cars and then to bigger cars. These further fuel the demand for wider roads and faster moving traffic. Which further causes situations, like at Chandni Chowk, which was just a small insignificant junction about 6 years back.
I am surprised that not a single tragedy in Pune asks for options for safer transportation. Bus and public transport is only spoken of as solutions to traffic congestion and pollution. But I think, safe, reliable public transport options also need to be spoken of in reducing road accident fatalities. Only when we realise that the young productive demographic of our City is being lost to fatalities on road and actually when we decide to calculate the losses incurred, will we wake up to the fact that investing in safe, reliable and clean public transport is not such a losing investment after all.
So while media reports tell us that running a public bus service by the PMPML is a losing proposition, we should ask it if considers the money value of losses that the city incurs by way of loss of life, by way of risks taken and the stress induced in its young productive population. If it doesn't consider these 'hidden' costs, then we need to re-question the economics at work here. Because, if human life is not valuable, then what is?