Road Safety

Death of pedestrian activist turns spotlight on Bangalore's dangerous roads

Husband of researcher killed by bus wants greater accountability for errant motorists.

For the last few years, Kadambari Badami had been fighting to make India’s streets safer for pedestrians as part of a project on improving the governance of Indian cities. On March 2, as the 37-year-old was driving through Bangalore to her parents’ home, a bus allegedly travelling on the wrong side of the road ploughed into her Reva. By the time her husband – who was in his own car barely 10 minutes behind her – reached the scene, Badami was already dead.

“My wife was an urban planner by profession. She worked extensively to make India’s roads safer,” said her husband, Mayur Vamanan, a director of consulting at an analytics firm. “Given that that’s what she stood for, it feels like a real shame that this is what happened.”

For a city that has spent crores on upgrading its traffic infrastructure, integrating technology into its public transport system and training bus drivers, fatal traffic accidents like Badami's are still all too common. Last year, the Bangalore City Traffic Police recorded 737 fatal incidents, which resulted in the deaths of 771 people. As of February, it had already registered 124 accidents that caused the deaths of 127 people.

Badami – a researcher working on pedestrian safety at the NGO Transparent Chennai – was travelling down her side of the road on an undivided two-lane highway when the bus, heading the other way, attempted to overtake three vehicles at the same time, Vamanan said. “She tried to get out of the way, but, being in a Reva, she didn’t really have a chance,” he said.

Although an FIR has been lodged, Vamanan is afraid that deaths like this are dismissed as being inevitable in a city choked with vehicles, rather than as a consequence of Bangalore's infrastructural problems. “My worry is that this will be treated as just another accident," Vamanan said. "I just want to ensure that when a life has been lost here, someone is held accountable.”

In a city where the line between road and footpath is often non-existent, pedestrians often face the greatest risk. Half the people killed in accidents in Bangalore in 2012 were pedestrians.

Bangalore is one of the worst Indian cities for pedestrians, according to a study conducted by the city police in coordination with the National institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences. The city scored 0.63 on a walkability index that measured pedestrian facilities, footpaths and other amenities.  By comparison, Chandigarh scored 0.91 and Delhi 0.87.

With almost 1,200 new cars hitting the city's streets every day, it's hard for urban planning to keep up. But the problem is also structural. For example, drivers of the ubiquitous Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation buses, known for being overcrowded, are forced to speed because of bad incentives. "The [bus] trip timings become inadequate because of ongoing infrastructure projects all over the city, like metro and flyover construction,” said traffic expert MN Srihari. “It adds 10-15 minutes in delays, and to adjust to this, the driver is under constant stress, forcing him to drive fast in order to keep up with the schedule.”

Drivers face considerable pressure if they are late, in their individual evaluations, and BMTC loses out on revenues if buses don’t keep to the schedules.  “BMTC needs to be aware of the way the city is changing, how all these roads are different," Srihari said

Elsewhere, poor planning of roads, bad placement of bus stops and the same haphazard construction that affects bus drivers also encourages unsafe behaviour by motorists. Since the city is choked with traffic, motorists speed up – often dangerously – when they glimpse the slightest bit of open road.

The police have identified the city's 10 'black spots': corridors that recorded the most deaths in accidents last year. Their study found that people in the 12-19 age group, generally on two-wheelers, were more likely to be on the receiving end of a traffic accident.

The study recommended the establishment of a road safety action plan with time-bound measures, stronger enforcement of road safety laws and a more efficient post-accident medical system to reduce fatalities. Indeed the police are not short on recommendations and have even instituted a number of technological measures aimed at improving safety.

But Vamanan, who is hoping to raise awareness about the state of Bangalore's roads in the aftermath of his wife's death, believes much of the money and effort put into these measures have been wasted.

The Intelligent Transport System is one such example. The ITS was supposed to be able to record the movement of public transport vehicles and assist with planning to ensure a safer, more reliable commute. The system was allocated Rs 150 crore but has regularly missed deadlines and experienced procurement problems.

In a city that will continue to expand at breakneck speed, the problems are only set to get worse. If Bangalore is to prevent accidents like that of Badami, Vamanan believes the authorities need to take more responsibility for what happens on the roads. More importantly, he said, citizens need to be able to hold those at fault accountable.

"Much more has to be done, and I'm just hoping, after this, that something can change," Vamanan said. "I just wish there's some concrete action to make the roads safer. Whether it’s just a number on the back of the bus that you call to complain about rash driving, or just having realistic trip times, something needs to change."

 

 
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