The month of April 2012 saw temperatures soaring to record levels in Bangalore. So it was a welcome holiday on 1st May which also saw a heavy pre-monsoon burst in the evening going on well into the night. It was the first shower of the year. Unlike most showers, however, the disruption was much less since it was a holiday. Commuters who use the Outer Ring Road (ORR) between Sarjapur road and Marathahalli saw traffic piling up till the Bellandur flyover in the morning of 2nd May. This flyover had been inaugurated in February 2012, after a delay of more than a year. The pile up kept increasing until it reached the Agara flyover.
No one had a clue about the length of the pile up was and how long it would take for them to reach their destination. Apparently, that was due to the underpass near Kadubeesanahalli (opened during the preceding winter) turning into a swimming pool as there was no or inadequate drainage of the rainwater that had flowed the previous night. Among the two underpasses, one for each direction of traffic, only one had been completed, after being delayed greatly. And it was taking bidirectional traffic already.
This underpass was part of a masterplan to make the stretch between the Central Silk Board office and Hebbal "signal free" and also support a potential Bus Rapid Transit System. Over a year later, the flyovers and underpasses between Central Silk Board and Marathahalli have been completed.
(c) OpenStreetMap contributors.
There is a flyover at Iblur, and two parallel ones at Bellandur near Central Mall. And there are two more almost immediately after, at Devarabeesanahalli and two parallel underpasses at Kadubeesanahalli. The lack of a drainage system for an underpass that had been operational for many months was one of the indicators of the quality and planning of the "signal free" corridor, at least in the section between Sarjapura Road and Marathahalli.
Kadubeesanahalli underpass after a shower, 2012 (pic:Manjunath Pai)
The section between the two flyovers at Bellandur and Devarabeesanahalli sees three different campuses on one side of the road - Ecospace which houses companies like Accenture, Broadcom, Microland, Bosch, Cadence, Collabera etc, with easily more than 10,000 employees in the campus, LSI and Intel. There's also a road that leads away from there to RMZ EcoWorld which houses Honeywell, Subex etc. This section potentially houses close to 20,000 employees at a conservative estimate.
When the construction was going on, the way people envisaged the system would work, was like this: those who want to continue towards Marathahalli can take the flyovers, and continue along while those who work at Ecospace, Intel or any of the campuses on the side, go under the flyover to take a U-turn to take the service road on the side and enter the campuses. The part in the middle which has two lanes -- one for each direction, is where the buses would go; bus stops would be under the flyovers and one potentially in the middle, opposite Ecospace.
And that seems to be how things are currently working. Well, almost, except that there are factors that were not considered or simply ignored.
Whither go pedestrians?
The trouble with most "signal free" roads in Bangalore (remember the road to the new airport?) is that pedestrians are rarely taken into account. Considering three huge campuses, with Ecospace stretching a kilometre away, to reach the last building, the number of people that would be commuting by public transport would be sizable. In the mornings, there are buses that still take the Bellandur flyover, stop at the beginning and then at the end of the flyover. People get down and have to cross the road.
Crossing the road from the other side involves:
1. Negotiating a road 40-50 feet wide and then a median. This is at the end point of a flyover which vehicles usually love since there is gravity and they can speed up to 70-80 kilometres per hour (kmph). There are no speed breakers to slow them down. Pedestrians are generally considered vermin by those behind wheels or on bikes with 'racing DNA', etc.
2. Passing through some more traffic for a single lane and crossing another median.
3. Waiting for buses from the opposite direction to pass, crossing that lane and yet another median,
4. Crossing another 40-50 feet of road with traffic, moving past a ditch to reach the exit to the service lane while walking on the road and jostling with other vehicles. The fact from point 1 applies here about speed of vehicles is another risk.
5. Moving to the service lane, crossing it while fighting for space with cars and other vehicles backed up while entering Ecospace to reach the side needed.
6. Now walk on the road while Indicabs and Sumos are parked on one side while random people smoke, chew paan and also ogle at you if you are a woman. Of course, if it had rained the previous evening, factor in the slush and puddles from the craters on the road and vehicles plying over those.
During peak hours, there is a traffic warden appointed by Outer Ring Road Companies' Association (ORRCA) who will hold a Stop Sign and help people cross sections 1 and 4 as the traffic will be heavy. Occasionally, there is a police constable or two. Hence, this is mostly taken care of, by ORRCA personnel. They have been there since the flyover construction began, to regulate traffic, from 9:30 to 11:00 AM and 5:00 to 6:30 PM. Now, they mainly stop vehicles to let people pass and at other points where U-turns are allowed, they stop oncoming traffic to let those who take U-turns, pass. But during off peak hours, pedestrians are on their own.
The buses in the reverse direction, from Marathahalli, ply along two paths. Most take the middle lane under the flyovers, stopping under each flyover and also opposite Ecospace in the middle lane. Some enterprising Volvos who probably see another bus of the same route number going towards the path below the flyovers, take the flyover to save some time and capture commuters at other places. Of course, they do not stop. In fact, being Volvos they try to achieve an optimal speed of 70 kmph. So if one is a commuter who wants to board a bus towards Silk board, the person should remember the following steps. If one has to cross to the other side, follow the steps above in reverse order.
1. Cross the service road. During peak hours, usually vehicles wait there to enter the ORR. So, this should be easy.
2. Cross the 40-50 feet road between the flyovers with traffic. Warnings from point 1 and 4 above extend here too. During peak hours, an ORRCA person might help, as mentioned before.
3. Climb the median and wait there. If the person slips and steps down, a bus might run the person over. There is space for only one bus there. If the person slips and steps back, some other vehicle speedming at 70-80 kmph between the flyovers might do that. Never mind that the median itself is incomplete and broken in places.
Of course, at other places, where there are bus stops, like at the Bellandur petrol pump opposite Akme Harmony and Salarpuria Softzone, there are no such ORRCA assistants to help pedestrians cross the road. So, pedestrians run the stretches when they find gaps, which might happen every five minutes or so. Patience is the key. If the pedestrian is a child, elderly person, disabled or pregnant woman, the person must not attempt to cross the ORR at any stage or place. Further, there are other challenges as described below.
Stones lying on the road used to define the medians on ORR. Google Maps or any other mapping applications cannot show a motorist how to cross from one lane to the other between the flyovers lane, the service lanes or the lane in the middle. This is because these are shaped by the whims and fancies of the traffic police, Tempo Traveller/Indica/Sumo car drivers, or two wheelers. Hence, there are gaps that represent the sizes of these vehicles. If motorists use the flyovers and do not want to get into any other lane, it would be advisable to keep to the exact centre of the lane or slow down when at the edges. This is especially true when motorists are ascending in front of Intel. One must not be surprised to see a Tempo Traveller (TT) stuck there between lanes. It is advisable to keep a safe distance when passing in front of those.
Median on Outer Ring Road, defined by stones lying in the middle (pic: Vaidya R)
Medians and gaps in them are formed in real time by knocking down a few of the cement blocks that form them. Innova cab drivers blame the Sumo/TT/Indicab nexus. It is not known whom those blame. Two wheelers have it easy. As always, they need only a gap for a narrow tyre to pass through. This state of the medians also extends to the one between the service road and the main road. There used to be a storm water drain. Now it just holds garbage and turns into a pool of dark green water after it rains.
When the flyovers were being constructed over what seemed like eternity, these service lanes took the brunt of the traffic. During that time, as is generally their wont, BWSSB dug up the roads to install their drainage and water pipeline, on the side close to Ecospace. This, unsurprisingly, also coincided with the time of the monsoons. One can imagine the kind of traffic jams it would have caused after 5 PM. The service lane on the opposite side, however, bore the brunt of construction vehicles. Naturally the quality deteriorated rapidly and the road was unusable by most standards. BBMP did patch up the road at times, which worked for a few months or until the next rain.
Currently, the part next to the Devarabeesanahalli flyover on the Ecospace side is closed, while the section next to the Bellandur flyover on the same side is in a bad state, but takes traffic. The opposite side is open for two way traffic, but the road is almost unmotorable, with 20% of the road having lost all asphalt and fallen away. This is also the only direction that has continuity from Sarjapura Flyover till Kadubeesanahalli. But, if one has to take the service lane from the Sarjapura road signal all the way past the Devarabeesanahalli flyover, one has to deal with roads with craters and humps. What's more, there are mini buses, cars, etc., parked on one side and two way traffic that navigates past these craters by jumping into the opposite lane.
As this area has no Cauvery water supply, water tankers are very visible here. If one glances at them, one can see possibly underaged kids manoeuvering them through these craters. Any nicks with the tankers will force one to deal with the water mafia. One should drive with care or not drive on these roads, if possible. And, there are no footpaths, as such. So, people should avoid walking on these places.
Working at campuses nearby
As mentioned before, places like Ecospace have buildings along a path that stretches up to 1 km inside. Around 10000 employees work there. Add the LSI and Intel campuses next door and one has the picture. Many of these companies have their own bus services which ferry employees from different parts of the city. In addition to the buses are Sumos, TTs and Indicabs, which generally known for their unsafe and dangerous driving practices. Apart from that there are private cars and bikes. Now how does one get them off the road and into the campus?
Anyone going from Sarjapura Road leaves the main road after the Bellandur flyover, enters the service lane on the left and continues next to the Devarabeesanahalli flyover. Then, the traveller turns under the flyover, waits for buses to pass and crosses over to under the flyover on the other side, takes right onto that service road and gets past the gate. Those coming from Marathahalli side, avoid the Devarabeesanahalli (DB-halli) flyover, stay in the middle lane, take left under the flyover and take right into the service lane and reach the gates. As the service lane permits bidirectional traffic, there are some that take the DB-halli flyover and make a U-turn into the service lane just before the Bellandur flyover to enter Ecospace. Some continue in that direction to a cacaphony of angry honking
Intel and LSI have one gate each. One can argue that they take less of the traffic and generate less too. Ecospace, however, has just one portal to access the stretch that houses so many firms. Hence, there is a long queue to enter it in the mornings, stretching to the opposite side of the road in front of the Passport Seva Kendra. The traffic for the other direction is usually piled up much before the DB halli flyover. In the evenings, the pile up starts inside these campuses. All these vehicles, wait in a single file to exit through the narrow gates and turn left to go through the narrow gap before the Bellandur flyover and fly to freedom which lasts till Silk board. Those in the opposite direction, fight traffic on the service lane till the DB'halli flyover and then go under it to the other side and get out towards Marathahalli. Some go under the Bellandur flyover and do the same. On an average, the process of entering and leaving these campuses takes 20-30 minutes each for a car.
These issues are being discussed regularly with the Bangalore traffic police on its Facebook page (as shown in the images). However, there has been little action from the police.
Comment from Bangalore Traffic Police on Facebook post about ORR (pic courtesy: Vaidya R)
Here are some alternatives that the police, BBMP and other government departments could implement, to ease the situation.
1. Considering the sheer volume of traffic that this section deals with, there does not seem to be much respite for motorists who work there. One can safely say that the flyovers have not benefited anyone apart from those who use both flyovers and travel to Kadubeesanahalli or towards Sarjapura road. Imporving the quality of service roads and widening the gates to allow two lane traffic might help. Making service lanes unidirectional during peak hours is another solution.
2. BMTC buses are likely to leave the flyovers and be forced into the lanes in the middle. Having a bus stop at the centre of the road like now is definitely impossible. Bus stops must be just under the flyovers and commuters will have to walk from there to their campuses. Widening the medians to project into the main road and installing bus shelters is an option, but that does not solve the problem of having to cross the roads. Another option is to force the buses into the service lanes on the extreme left.
3. For pedestrians, a subway or a skywalk is urgently required. The BBMP and BDA should work with the property managers and have these installed. The current situation is just too dangerous. It is only a matter of time before a pedestrian is hit, if that has not happened already.
4. Ideally, these flyovers should have been a single biderctional structure that has wider service lanes on the sides. Unlike Agara or HSR Layout, there are no significant junctions under them. Traffic that needs to cross over to the other side could do it under them without the hassle of traffic in the opposite direction to deal with. But this is now moot. And this will haunt users of this stretch forever.