Tackling the Traffic Mess of Shillong

By T.B. Subba

The residents of Shillong and its visitors have been subjected to hours of delay while travelling through the city for over a decade now, except on Sundays. The case of Shillong is of course not unique in India, as almost all Indian hill towns are choked today, thanks to their haphazard growth, lack of planning, poor civic and traffic sense of the people, and above all, lack of governance. As the problems of a mal-grown Shillong pinched us we took corrective measures, but they were cosmetic rather than systemic and structural. As a result the traffic mess of the city looks beyond redemption, but there is no problem that has no solution if there is a will to solve it. I have the following suggestions, if there are any takers.

What the state government must do:

Build overhead bridges or subways

It is a must to have overhead bridges or subways at all crossroads on GS Road. Between the two options I recommend subways, wherever possible, because they are cheaper, less time-taking, and are aesthetically less invasive than the overhead bridges.

Modify the drains

The existing box drains should be covered or replaced with shallow drains so that a car can go all the way up to the wall side of the drain to get out of a jam, as the proposed drain gives the road an extra width of about 1.5 feet.

Modify the footpaths

The footpaths must be made disabled-friendly, which will ease the human traffic on the road. At present even normal people find it difficult to walk on the footpaths for more than a few minutes. That is why they are forced to walk on the road, which is not just risky but which disturbs the flow of traffic because they walk on the busy roads as if they are walking on their courtyards. The foot paths can be made disabled-friendly by having it at the same level, without steps, and having a railing on the side of the road so that one does not risk one’s life if one accidently gets pushed or tripped. The foot paths can be lowered in height and made just 5 inches above the road height but the width must be at least five feet. The railings should not be discontinued in front of every shop and should be at least one hundred metres long. Finally, footpaths should be on both sides of the roads and if there is no space on the cliff side, cantilever footpaths can be made, but if there is no space on the wall side the wall must be pushed back to construct the foot paths.

Create embarkation and disembarkation points for taxis and buses 

One of the reasons why Shillong traffic is so bad is there is no earmarked embarkation/disembarkation points for taxis. Some places that could be converted into embarkation/disembarkation points in the city have actually turned into taxi/bus stands. No vehicle, private or otherwise, should be allowed to stop anywhere except at such points and not for more than two minutes. If this rule is violated, they should be fined at least Rs.500/- per offence.

Implement traffic rules and signals

One of the issues of traffic in Shillong is a set of local traffic signals. For instance, all cars blink the right indicators to give pass, which confuses the driver at the back, as they should be blinking the left indicators for the purpose. Again, all cars blink the hazard light to go straight, whereas they should not give any indication if they want to go straight. And, every car that wants to cross a narrow road first flashes the headlight, which is wrong, as the right of way is clearly defined in traffic rules. All this happens because most drivers have got their driving licenses without any test by an authorised motor vehicle department staff. Most driving school teachers and traffic officials/policemen also do not seem aware of correct use of blinkers/signals. I have been scolded by a traffic policeman once for not using the wrong signals at Dhankheti crossing. They should be given a crash course on traffic rules before they implement them. It is also sad that no vehicle stops to allow the pedestrians to cross the road at zebra crossing. Just the other day I had to wait for almost five minutes at the zebra crossing in front of the DC’s office because no car stopped even after seeing me and a few others waiting to cross the road. Unfortunately, most frequent violations come from official or police vehicles. Further, the right side of the rear door of taxis should be child-locked so that the passengers can embark and disembark only from the left side doors. Disembarking from the right side is not only dangerous to the lives of passengers but also disturbs the traffic flow.

Remove speed breakers

At present, Shillong has numerous speed breakers, but nowhere is a signage provided for the drivers, which is unfortunately also true of my beloved NEHU campus speed breakers. I think this is a criminal negligence on the part of the authorities and there is no reason why the High Court of Meghalaya should not take suo moto cognizance of this. The speed breakers not only break the traffic flow but also damage the cervical bones if the speed is above 40 kms per hour. Campaign to sensitize the people, including the traffic policemen, is hence badly required. Instead of speed breakers the administration should have speed limits and impose fine on those drivers who violate the same.

Stop digging the roads

One of the most irritating features of Shillong roads, particularly its feeder roads that are already very narrow, is digging, which in itself is ok if it is done once in five years or so, but it is not ok if the same road is dug 2-3 times every year and the same is not covered soon after laying of the cables/pipes etc. and black topping is not done for another couple of months. The dug areas are left unattended for months and the mud is either allowed to turn into dusts or silt the drains, depending on which season it is dug. It is also not ok if two to three different government organisations or PSUs cannot synchronise their work and must dig the same road separately, which is the unfortunate case now. The concerned authority can well ask them to plan and synchronise their work so that the road is dug only once in five years and repaired within a day or two after it is dug. This will not only save the various organisations a lot of expenditure and save the drivers a lot of inconvenience but also control the migrant labourers from outside.

Regulate registration of private cars and taxis

The number of private cars and taxis owned by the people of the city is already more than what the city roads can accommodate. Although it is an easy source of revenue for the state government there must be a law forbidding someone to register a car if the person does not own a private space for parking. And, even at the cost of curtailing individual rights and ignoring the policy of the government of India no family should be allowed to buy as many cars as it wants.

Regulate city buses and taxis

Ideally we should have as many buses and taxis as possible for transporting passengers and discouraging the use of private vehicles, but the buses should have low foot board for easy boarding by elderly, disabled and children (unlike the buses at present, boarding which is like climbing a mountain or sorts for short persons!), must be comfortable to sit or stand, must have a good exterior, and must maintain its routes and timings well. Similarly, taxis should not be allowed to take more than four passengers and should not be allowed to switch off the engine while going downhill, as this can lead to brake failure which can be fatal in a hill area.

Regulate the vehicles coming from outside the city

The number of vehicles coming to the city from other states of India is more or less equal to the number of local vehicles, which is one of the reasons for day time traffic jam. Therefore a slew of measures are necessary to regulate them in order to have a smooth traffic in the city. First, there must be a taxi cum bus terminus located in the outskirts of the city for most taxis and buses coming from outside the state. Only such taxis and buses that have been issued permits to enter the city should be allowed to do so. The service trucks should also be allowed to enter the city only between 11 pm and 5 am on all days.

Regulate motor bikes

The motor bikes have become a new menace in the city today. They are supposed to keep the dipper on during the day but they always keep the headlights on causing a lot of difficulty for car drivers coming from the opposite direction, who are equally guilty of not using the dippers at night when they see a car or bike coming from the opposite direction. Most bikers do not strap their helmets and most of them, being driven by young boys, tend to over-speed and overtake cars from the wrong side. Hence, even the motor bikes should be regulated.

Manage the GS Road

We all know that the GS Road is quite narrow and there is very little scope of widening it. Hence, a lot of attention must be paid to regulating the traffic on this road, which has become nightmarish, to say the least. First of all, there has to be a divider from one end of the city to the other, which will force the vehicles to remain in their lanes and not overtake or stop wherever they want, which is a common cause of traffic jam in Shillong. The dividers should also not be less than one km long. Second, wherever possible, the road should be widened. Third, the entire stretch of this road should be declared as a no stoppage zone except at embarkation and disembarkation points which in turn should be at a distance of at least one km. There should be a total ban on private, government or police cars stopping on this road for buying cigarettes, kwai, meat, or vegetables at any time of the day or night.

Manage the feeder roads

The management of feeder roads is as important as the management of the arterial GS Road. Most feeder roads are much narrower than the arterial road, and they are choked by cars parked, often wrongly, on the roadside, which must stop because if a feeder road is blocked even the arterial road may be blocked. Hence, the feeder roads should not only be widened, wherever possible, but they must also be governed.

No horn zone

If the urban administration can ban honking within the city limits the quality of life for the city dwellers will improve immensely. No honking has also other benefits besides bringing sound pollution to zero level in a city full of schools, colleges and hospitals. The vehicles will also be compelled to stop at the zebra crossings for the pedestrians to cross the road. Unless the motto of the traffic department is ‘pedestrian first’ no one wants to be a pedestrian, if one can help.

           What NGOs can do:

The city NGOs can play a very important role in respect of the traffic problem in Shillong by conducting awareness programmes in various innovative and indigenous ways from time to time for the public, the drivers, the traffic policemen, and other such stakeholders as they may consider important.

What educational institutions can do:

The pre-primary schools and primary sections of all schools in Shillong Urban Agglomerate Areas may open at 8 am and close at 1 pm whereas the schools for higher classes and colleges may open at 10 and close at 4 pm. This will greatly reduce the traffic jam in the city.

What we as citizens can do:

Have car pooling

This is highly desirable but equally difficult to practise. Some of the reasons are as follows. One, the children in the neighbourhood may not be going to the same school. If the schools are different the parents may find it difficult to sort out which school children to drop/pick up first and which afterwards. Two, even if the school is same some children may in primary and others in secondary sections, for which pick up timings are different even now. The children at primary level may insist on going home quickly on this or that plea. Indeed, the issues can be many, including the lack of rapport between the children or their parents, but pooling is certainly worth trying because if pooling is done by two families, the number of cars going to the same destination will be reduced by half and if three families join, it will be reduced by two third. Further, all children studying at higher secondary level and above should walk to their schools and colleges if the same is within a distance of 1 km from home. That is one reason why I have suggested about broad and disabled-friendly footpaths on both sides of the arterial as well as the feeder roads. Our children have not experienced the pleasure and benefits of walking as my generation did. I think they deserve to be given this opportunity to use their feet to reduce the carbon foot print.

Use zebra crossings, overhead footpaths for crossing the roads

We must walk up to the zebra crossing or overhead footpaths to cross the road, instead of signalling the approaching vehicles to stop and allow us to cross the road wherever and whenever we want to cross. If someone is seen doing this, the person must be shamed by uploading his/her photo in the social media.

Walking up to the embarkation/disembarkation points for stopping taxis and buses

We must walk up to the nearest embarkation/disembarkation points for boarding taxis and buses and not stop them wherever we want them to stop. When taxis do not stop where they are supposed to the flow of traffic is disturbed. The public can be forced to board taxis and buses from the earmarked points for embarkation and disembarkation by levying fine on the taxis/buses if they stop anywhere else.

I will consider writing this to have been fruitful if the people of the city read it, point out mistakes herein, and suggest a better option. Making the city a better place to live for everyone is not easy because it needs discipline, awareness, rule of law and a little sacrifice on the part of everyone living here. Most of us will find it difficult to shed old habits but we must do that for the future of our children and for the comfort of the sick, the disabled and the elderly in our society. The state government must sacrifice its revenue from registration fees and recoup the same by collecting fines from the defaulters. Most importantly, it must take the primary responsibility of governing the city.

(The writer is former VC Sikkim Central University and is currently in the Dept of Anthropology, NEHU. He can be reached at  [email protected])

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