Hello Bangalore Traffic

..or should I say, Bangalore madness.

I grew up in Bangalore; life in the 80 and 90s was as pleasant as the salubrious weather, the teenage problems notwithstanding. I admit that I was a daredevil rider when I started riding/driving, mainly focussing my skills on the two-wheeled seats of death and destruction. Those days, my speed riding was confined to a stretch of road near my house known as the “Suranjan Das road” or “test road”. I don’t know the provenance of “test road” but I took it to mean, a “Bike testing road”. The road was usually devoid of traffic in the afternoon, of both the mechanical and human variety, and that time slot is when I made it my personal Utah salt flat. The approach that a novice bike rider takes stems from the sense of invulnerability that envelops him, and the need to push-the-boundaries thing {akin to what kids do to test their parents, but I was testing the traffic gods}. I touched the boundary. More than once. The first time, the adrenalin rush and the crash made me feel sick to my stomach, when I had to decelerate from 60 km/h (37 mph) to zero in a few seconds to avoid hitting a dog {i think, it may even have been a large squirrel). Eventually, i got inured to the shaking and the dry heaving and continued on my mad max ways. I did not get into any accidents, though there were more than a few lucky escapes {for the animals, that is}. Ironically, when my first (and only) bike accident happened, I was going at a sedate 20 kmph (12 mph). I found out what a massive adrenalin rush, and subsequent crash, does to my mental and physical self [and to the skin of my knees when I was dragged under my slow moving vehicle for about 10 yards; i still bear the scars]. Once that happened, i became the very epitome of a safe driver {I have blurred out the outlier instances when safety was not the norm; i assure you that those instances were exceptional indeed 🙂 }.
In the past 3 weeks I have been out on a motor vehicle about 10 times, that is when I’m behind the wheel. As an indication of how safe I feel on these roads, I have to tell you that on day 1 of my return, I vowed to never honk at another vehicle or pedestrian unless there was a risk to life, either for me or for them. the result: In the 10 instances I have been out I have gone honk-happy exactly three times. The first time, it was on a highway when I was coming back from Thanjavur {see previous post}, when a truck swerved into my lane when we were both at speeds of 100 kmph. I honked and braked, and my brother, who was sleeping during his break from driving, fell out of the seat. Similar situation on a bangalore road, this time it was a smaller van and the speeds were ~70 kmph. The third time, I was going at a below-the-speed-limit 40 kmph and a family of people surged across the highway; honking had no effect, they blithely ignored my now-suddenly-stopped-from-40-to-0kmph car as they went about their still-alive lives. I have shown remarkable self-restraint in not creating a noise machine in response to how aggravating I find the disregard for the rules of the road in everyday motorists and pedestrians. And this is not some newfound decrease in sensitivity after spending 9 years on the US roads. There is some of that, but remember my daredevil past. The Motto of every vehicle on the road is this: See a Gap, Fill it. Every time a space is created between two vehicles, a surge of traffic heads to the gap to fill the hole. No matter that you are two lanes away, the immediate imperative is to point the nose of your vehicle towards the new space and move towards it. “oh wait, another space”. lets change direction again! My cousin expects that my over-reaction will get muted as time goes by, and I don’t see why that cannot happen; but I do not want to numb myself to the reckless disregard for the laws of orderly road traffic that passes off as the norm. And road rage is not the answer. 🙂 What wil I do? Time will tell; watch this space.

How bad is it on the road? In 2011, Bangalore had 4.2 million vehicles on its roads, if a combination of potholes of varying shapes and sizes can be called roads. Now it’s more like 5 million. Let me take you on a mental journey down a Bangalore road during regular traffic hours – I’m trying to give you a “road map”, if you will [ha ha ha ha].
Imagine the most dickish of Massachusetts’ drivers – King Masshole. To that dry mixture, add 1 part defensive drivers, 1 part drivers who should not have been given a license and pour that mixture into 4.2 million drivers (subtract at least 10 to account for drivers who do know how to drive and are courteous, orderly and law-abiding; yes, it includes me). Imagine all these drivers on the road, all of them want to be the first to get to where ever they want to go, and all of them care not a white about the others on the road.

An example from earlier this morning,

Holy Close Bus, Batman
Holy Close Bus, Batman

He was trying to squeeze his fat-ass bus into a space meant for an autorickshaw {Google it!}.

As we started moving, the lanes which were blurry to begin with, all merged into one unholy lane

Holy Claustrophobia, Batman!
Holy Claustrophobia, Batman!

I’ll wait to see traffic in other cities before I stereotypically declare the end to good traffic in India {I’ve had many good experiences when I lived here before}.

PS: I will document this with a pic but I believe Bangalore is the only place in the world where there is a speed bump placed at a stop line for a traffic light; and not just any bump, the Mother of all Bumps. Way to go, urban planners. What were you smoking when you devised this ingenious {not!} way to control traffic? Vehicles stop before the bump, and when the light changes green, all of them inch forward slowly, clear the bump and then burn rubber, as if to compensate for the initial crawl. Safe, yeah, and oh so smooth {again, not}.

PPS: It appears that rear/side view mirrors are optional {pretty sure they are not but I’ve seen plenty of vehicles doing without them to give doubt to that belief}. Do they expect that their larger-than-life presence on the road {at least larger than 1.5 lanes} will protect them from the speeding vehicle coming up behind them on the adjoining lane when they attempt a lane shift? I see little evidence that drivers use their rear view mirrors when changing lanes, leave alone a cursory look at their blind spot.

PPPS: If I were to describe the madness in one word, I would call it “surging”…like a slow-moving tidal wave