Saturday , 25 January 2020

Managing Traffic and Tackling Safety during Highway Construction

It is extremely difficult for pedestrians to cross National Highway 1 (NH1). Sometimes there are no steps to climb down, you have to literally slide down – sometimes 70-years-old do this sliding. It is a painful experience. After all this, you have to cross over escaping the traffic moving at a speed of around 140-150kmph since very good construction of the roads means high speeds too. The pedestrians need to be good short distance runners to be successful in crossing this. So one can imagine how difficult it must be to cross these highways, especially for the elderly. Plus, there are no footpaths on national highways. Road safety audits have found that the main reasons for the accidents are the lack of pedestrian crossings and high speed of vehicles. The Delhi Police has discussed the issue with National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and other agencies, but they were unwilling to do anything because of fund problems. So ultimately, we put some basic measures in place and saw a decrease in accidents.

It is extremely difficult for pedestrians to cross National Highway 1 (NH1). Sometimes there are no steps to climb down, you have to literally slide down — sometimes 70-years-old do this sliding. It is a painful experience.— Satyendra Garg

We have introduced speed calming measures – increased checking of vehicles for their speed and better signage – at two high accident spots where a lot of people were dying. And they have produced results. These simple measures brought down the accidents in the first four months of 2012 to six from 32 in the corresponding period in 2011. This shows that these accidents are entirely avoidable. In police jargon, NHAI and other concerned agencies can be booked for abetment to accidents. We made NHAI put speed breakers on national highways which may not be correct and may damage vehicles. But if nothing works then this has to be done, and this has slowed down vehicles and the rate of accidents has dropped.

The foot over-bridges over NH1 have been approved in principle, but will take years to be finally constructed. The NH2 stretch from Ashram Chowk to Badarpur in Delhi had a different problem. People would rush across the roads at about 9.30pm when entry opens in the city. The Delhi Police had to instil in them a lot of discipline, but this paid off – in the first four months of 2012 the accident rate has decreased from over 24 to 6, compared with the same period last year. Similar measures taken on NH8, NH10 and NH24 have resulted in a decline of accident related fatalities on these stretches. Overall on national highways, in 2012, there has been a 75% decrease in the number of accidents. This shows that proactive effort by the police, sometimes with cooperation from the agencies involved, and sometimes in spite of the agencies, can lead to a substantial improvement in road safety.

The reason why we have problems in traffic management is faulty planning in city areas of national highways such as insufficient crossover facilities for pedestrians. During the construction phase of highways, there are insufficient safety provisions. The contractors do not do what is laid down in the contracts – they have to often be forced to carry out the required measures. The solution for all these problems is not so difficult. For city areas, on national highways proper speed control of vehicles with speed calming measures needs to be implemented. There should be sufficient pedestrian facilities such as crossover points and subways. There should also be good infrastructural facilities along with adequate emergency response and emergency care facilities for accident victims.

Bongirwar’s observation: I have to again admit that we, in the government, have failed to make adequate provision for safety measures on highways – both during the construction and afterwards but the awareness of the importance of safety is gradually increasing. E.g when we launched the 50-flyover project in Mumbai, we suddenly realised that the speed of the vehicles had increased and we were forced to sanction another package of fifty foot over bridges (FOBs) and pedestrian subways. We used a mix of FOBs and modified subways for this project. The highway was constructed at a raised elevation of about one metre and a subway was constructed below it with a vertical clearance of 2m instead of the normal 2.5m. This was alright because there are no head loads in urban areas. Now these subways have become very popular since there is good ventilation, good light and comparatively, less effort to climb up and down. For multilane highways to avoid people from having to run to cross the roads, an alternative could be to make a central line or median where pedestrians can wait before crossing the road so that they have to negotiate only a two-lane crossing which is much easier.

Personal discipline can reduce accidents and accident related deaths: Sudhir Hoshing

As a member of IRF I used to go to a lot of safety seminars. Once I was going from Gurgaon to Delhi for one such seminar. The driver of the car went into a wrong lane whereas it was very clearly written that he should not enter the lane. When I asked the driver why he had done so, he said that he was not educated and could not read the signage. So the question of one of the four Es in road safety – Education arises here. A point to ponder is how do such people get licences in India? He was putting his life and others’ lives in danger.

We are doing a lot of road construction projects. Nowadays in road projects a lot of underpasses for pedestrians are provided but we cannot have such passes everywhere. What is needed is discipline to go over to the underpass, subway or FOB to cross the highway. One cannot expect to cross the highway just outside one’s house. On the other hand, I have also observed that when highways become 4-lane from 2-lane, the speed of vehicles increases and there are a lot more accidents which is not a good sign. We were executing a road project in Tamil Nadu and the underpass was almost ready when the villagers protested its construction. They said they were not able to see the other side due to the underpass. And we had to abandon it. But within six months when the accidents increased a lot due to people crossing the highway and the vehicles moving with increased speed, they again made a representation to put the underpass, which we did.

Installing speed breakers on urban roads is one solution as it slows down the vehicles and results in fewer accidents. There is a lot of pressure on us to put median openings, on about every 20 metres on highways. But we cannot expect to have underpasses and subways everywhere; it is not practical. It is not done anywhere in the world. We cannot also expect constables everywhere. You have to have the patience to go to the median opening that is provided and then come back. I do feel pity for a farmer who has to go around and come back in his bullock cart, but it is for his own safety.

As far as safety during highway construction is concerned, we would like that warning signs about road construction on highways should begin around one kilometre from the work region. Of course people should read them. Often, drivers dash into the warning signs themselves, even though they are quite illuminated and noticeable. As far as the cost of providing safety measures during construction is concerned, that is not a significant factor. We need to enclose the work zones better and more effectively so that the public has absolutely no chance of entering into it. Safety can of course be thought of at the design stage itself. When the road is complete, there are a lot of checks which can be done for the road. There are safety audits which need to be done now for each road that is completed.

For safety during highway construction, we would like that warning signs about road construction on highways should begin around one kilometre from the work region. Of course people should read them. Often, drivers dash into the warning signs themselves, even though they are quite illuminated and noticeable.— Sudhir Hoshing

What we, infrastructure companies, can do is to provide a lot of reflectors and barricades. Signage is very important. Putting painted drums wherever construction is going on also is a good strategy since they are quite visible. Safety provisions have to be soft devices or objects which can be seen from a distance; hard objects would themselves be the cause of serious injuries during accidents. Our contract drawings show the various safety requirements to be implemented – how the diversions have to be done from one lane to the other and how many warning boards have to be displayed and so on. What we are trying to implement, probably in a month, is that all our concerned employees will have the hospitals’ numbers on their mobiles so that they can call up the hospitals and arrange to treat the accident victims, especially during the critical golden hour. We have ambulances every 50km on the highways on both ends. So an ambulance can cover 25km in about 15-20 minutes. These are some of the measures to improve safety on highways. I would say that it is mainly personal discipline which can reduce accidents and accident related deaths.

Bongirwar’s observation: I am happy that construction companies are considering road safety as one of the factors that need to be provided for in highway construction, as evidenced by Hoshing’s presentation. Once the provision is made, rest is easier. We have to mentally be prepared that proper safety provisions would cost about 6-7% of a project and that it is an aspect which cannot be neglected. And from the presentations it looks the infrastructure construction companies are prepared for this.

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