‘Traffic engineers are not stupid’

Konsultramesh
3 min readNov 9, 2023

Dear Arun,

Greetings.

Now I have moved into your neighborhood: Gurugram. Until recently, we were 50km away from each other. Now 10km. So, the chances of one-on-one mulaqat is high. Let’s catch up over coffee!

I remembered you this morning (9 November 2023) while reading Daniel Knowles’ Carmageddon: How Cars Make Life Worse nd What To Do About It.

I randomly picked up Chapter 13: What Causes Traffic Accidents (pp.157–167) for today’s mandatory hour-long read, undisturbed.

Here are a few glimpses that I was compelled to underline:

Why accidents?

The reason is a toxic mix of far poorer infrastructure, worse driving and less well-maintained vehicles. But undoubtedly poor infrastructure is the leading cause.”

“The idea that 98 per cent of car crashes are caused by human error is not exactly wrong, but it is misleading. No doubt, if everyone drove perfectly, there would be fewer crashes. But people make mistakes all the time, everywhere. What matters is how easy it is for that mistake to turn into a deadly crash.”

The following passage made me halt to read, re-read, and ruminate.

Why do governments and highway engineers not do more? The problem is not that traffic engineers are stupid, though it is tempting to believe. It is that their incentives, created by politicians, are in favor of drivers. Drivers like to be able to go fast and not have to concentrate too much. One poll of Americans who asked why they liked driving found that the principal appeal was “time to be alone” and “quiet.”

Well, Arun, the politicians are the cause, not the other way around. Do you agree?

Knowles provides a concrete example. Not Indian, but Britain. He writes thus.

Sounds interesting, no?

Back home, it took a helluva of time before Indian cities began to sport decent roads. Then came the highways focus with the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance government’s Golden Quadrilateral program (1999–2004) and again fresh impetus under the NDA government a decade later (2014-) with Nitin Gadkari at the helm of the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways unleashing an adrenalized massive highway build up.

Safety, of course, continues to be dicey. Gadkari is unhappy with his inability to reduce the fatalities from 1.6 lakhs per annum on Indian roads.

Accidents in cities and towns far exceed highways. It is understandable. “Per mile driven, highways are indeed the safest places to drive in America and everywhere,” opines the Carmageddon author, adding that “rural roads are the least safe.”

So, what is his prescription? Making urban roads more like highways is the way to make them safe, advocates Knowles.

Have you heard of the concept called “stroad?” It is halfway between a road and a street. Stroads are essentially highways within cities.

Knowles, without mincing words, points the finger at vehicle makers and administration. “In aid of speed and the safety of car drivers, streets are routinely redesigned in more dangerous ways,” writes he.

He says that pedestrians and other road users (cyclists, bikers, etc) are given the short shrift.

Well, enough for now.

Awaiting your response,

Cheers
Ramesh

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Konsultramesh

An avid watcher & practitioner in the world of communication