Inept traffic management a major reason for bulk of the accidents on ECR
The scenic East Coast Road that connects Chennai with a number of tourist destinations in coastal Tamil Nadu has turned into a virtual death trap due to poor traffic management. The stretch falling under Chennai City limit is the most affected with several accidents reported due to unscientific traffic planning. The Weekend Leader turns the spotlight on the stretch frequented by thousands of domestic and foreign tourists daily. The following is the first in the series of articles being planned to catch the attention of the authorities for restoring sanity and safety in the corridor. - Editor
Tamil Nadu Road Development Company (TNRDC), a public private partnership Company between the Government of Tamil Nadu and the Infrastructures Leasing and Financing Services Ltd (IL&FS) was set up in the year 1998 as a Special Project Company for the up-gradation of the East Coast Road (ECR) that presently connects Chennai with Tuticorin.
Total chaos: A common sight in ECR. Vehicles and pedestrians vying for space at a narrow crossing near Neelangarai
The Project involved widening of ECR to two lanes, besides improving the road geometry, wherever it was deficient, provision of extensive world-class road signage, furniture and markings and crash barriers in high embankments and curves.
Another highlight of the ECR Project was provision of value added services like 24-hour ambulance services, round-the- clock patrolling, tow-away/vehicle break-down services and help-line kiosks at every 3 km interval. These facilities addressed major concerns of road users in terms of safety and security.
The Road is flanked both sides by beautiful natural sceneries besides, historically important locations, religious places and monuments. The road is further marked by Theme Parks and entertainment centres. Consequently, it attracts large number of tourists and visitors.
Nevertheless, it has turned into a death trap for its users, particularly pedestrians, and those travelling by two wheelers and cars. The stretch of the ECR that starts from Thiruvanmyur and extends up to Uthandi within city limits is one of the most accident prone corridors.
Reasons are not far to seek. Human factors, road factors and inept traffic management might be attributed for bulk of the accidents.
A major deficit in the design was defective geometry, particularly the sharp curves with very low radius of curvature and consequent inadequate sight distances resulting in head on collisions and over turning of vehicles in curved alignments.
The alignment passes through an ecologically susceptible and environmentally sensitive region. Therefore, the alignment was to follow the lie of the land, felling of land had to be the barest minimum, and acquisition of land that may cause ecological imbalance to be avoided.
However, the preservation of ecology and the upkeep of the environment could not be at the cost of human lives and safety of road users.
The TNRDC claimed the road was of international standing with world class facilities. However, the absence of the median was disastrous. It resulted in head on collisions and proved fatal for pedestrians while crossing the road.
It is heartening to note that the Department of Highways has started constructing central medians for 5.5 km between Neelankarai and Akkarai.
The one metre high median might improve pedestrian safety to the extent that it would prevent jay walking and indiscriminate crossing. Median must be adequately high enough precluding vehicles falling on the other side in the event of hitting the median.
The ECR is flanked by series of villages on the landward side. However, the Road does not have any pedestrian subways or Foot Over Bridges for habitants to cross the Road.
There are no service roads to enable residents owning cycles, motor cycles/scooters and cars to merge or diverge to and from the main stream of traffic. Cutting across the main stream of traffic plying at neck break speed is a nightmarish task for these vehicles owning population. Good illumination also plays a crucial role in the road safety.
Speed is the single leading factor causing accidents. Fatality rate increase by 15 % if the speed increases by 5 %. It is disquieting to note that there are no speed breakers planned and designed conforming to Indian Roads Congress’ standards.
The crude and primitive method of traffic control by the Traffic Police by putting barricades and other blocks is counterproductive as they take motorists, particularly two wheelers unaware and riders stumble during night times.
Effective traffic management and education of road users may play a crucial role in thwarting accidents. Education has apparently taken a back seat. An awareness needs to be created among the local population on the need for the safety consciousness.
Absence of pedestrian crossings force people to take risks squeezing themselves in the narrow gaps between lamp posts and medians to cross the road
Any amount of traffic management measures, however, laudable their objectives may be, will not succeed unless stakeholders are involved in the process.
Locations of pedestrian crossings and ‘U’ turns have to be decided based on analyses and interpretation of traffic surveys. They cannot be located arbitrarily and according to whims and fancies. The enforcing personnel should have a sense of empathy in taking such decisions.
Pedestrians will obviously jump the median or squeeze through the gap between the median and street lights if zebra crossings are far apart.
Last but not the least is the need for co-ordination among various quasi-government organizations such as Local Bodies, Highways Department, Traffic Police, Transport Corporations and others.
A co-ordination committee comprising representatives from these Organizations, besides Non-governmental Organizations, Community Based Organizations, and elected representatives may be formed and this Committee might decide all matters pertaining to traffic engineering and management of the ECR.
The author is a Retired Professor of Traffic Engineering, Anna University