CHAOS

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Faisal Akhoon

IN the picturesque city of Srinagar, a not-so-serene reality prevails – the vexing and persistent traffic mess.

The city, known for its scenic beauty and cultural heritage, is grappling with an increasingly challenging traffic situation that is affecting the lives of its residents and visitors alike. As the summer capital of the region, Srinagar attracts thousands of tourists, patients, and commuters daily, making the current traffic congestion a matter of grave concern.

The ongoing construction on key roads connecting four major hospitals in the summer capital has led to persistent traffic congestion. Patients and staff at these hospitals are urging the authorities concerned to expedite the construction to save lives. The Karan Nagar- Kak Sarai road is vital for patients visiting the SMHS Hospital and Super Specialty Hospital.

Despite promises of completion by May, the construction delays continue, causing significant inconvenience to patients and ambulances. This road also links other major different hospitals – Government Dental College and SKIMS Soura besides other public, educational, residential and private centres. Therefore it has a daily load of thousands of commuters, patients, students and employees.

The Srinagar Smart City Project emerged as a promising endeavour aimed at enhancing the urban amenities of a city grappling with a growing population. However, the current state of affairs, though not reflecting the full spectrum of planned initiatives, undeniably warrants a critical revaluation.

Any urban development endeavour, particularly in a city with tourism potential like Srinagar, must prioritise the overarching goal of enhancing liveability for both residents and visitors. Unfortunately, the present reality suggests that Srinagar’s liveability has been compromised, as the city accommodates around 1.7 million people.

A major catalyst for this decline in liveability is the decision to constrict roads within Srinagar’s vital transportation junction, Lal Chowk, at the heart of the city centre. This area, stretching from Batamaloo to Dal Gate, houses crucial public and private institutions. Regrettably, this congestion has generated an economic disparity between urban and rural Kashmir and could impede the broader economic productivity of the entire region. This issue is particularly significant due to the City’s trade and business prominence, with the city centre serving as a pivotal mobility route.

Consequently, the cumulative effect of these road constrictions prompts valid inquiries into the fundamental goals of the Srinagar Smart City Project. While the creation of pedestrian spaces and aesthetic enhancements in Lal Chowk may enhance the City’s visual appeal, the resulting road limitations have substantially worsened traffic congestion. The expanding vehicle count has already led to longer travel durations, commuter frustration, and decreased overall efficiency. Moreover, traffic bottlenecks can adversely affect emergency services and transportation efficiency as a whole.

The narrowing of roads in the city centre has also negatively impacted local businesses. Reduced accessibility and heightened traffic congestion discourage potential customers from patronising shops, eateries, and other establishments. This decline in footfall has consequently led to reduced sales and economic activity, adversely affecting various business sectors situated in the city centre. The constrained roadways have generated challenges for diverse modes of transportation, including public buses and emergency vehicles.

Furthermore, school buses encounter difficulty in manoeuvring through limited spaces, creating inconvenience for students and their parents. Regrettably, the increased traffic congestion has amplified air pollution levels, posing health hazards for both Srinagar’s inhabitants and its tourists. As a result, Srinagar’s appeal as a tourist destination may diminish. The overall liveability of Srinagar has been significantly compromised due to severe limitations on transportation mobility. Addressing these issues requires a holistic strategy.

The Boulevard Road experiences significant foot traffic from both residents and visitors, particularly during the present season. This heightened activity has led to frequent traffic congestion and the consistent occurrence of traffic jams. The primary cause for this situation is the unauthorised halting of vehicles, disrupting the smooth flow of traffic along the road.

Furthermore, the road section has become a gathering spot for several vendors, attracted by the high concentration of houseboats, businesses, hotels, and restaurants on both sides. The issue is compounded by the tendency of auto-rickshaws, taxis, and private car owners to park directly on the main road, resulting in traffic congestion and inconvenience for commuters and tourists alike. Traffic congestion in this region has become a persistent challenge for the local inhabitants residing along Boulevard Road, encompassing areas like Nishat, Shalimar, Harwan (Mughal Garden stretch), and the neighbouring vicinity. Numerous appeals from residents have been made, urging authorities to address and alleviate this ongoing issue.

Muneer Qazi, a traffic cop, shares his concern. “The moment people stabilise financially, a new mode of transport is purchased irrespective of whether they already have it or not. And then, people are not too cognizant of traffic rules. On the other hand, shopkeepers and vendors always need more space. The parking rules and parking spaces still need to be highlighted; traffic routes and directions need to be taken seriously; speed limit needs to be maintained; and most importantly, safety rules need to be understood before driving a vehicle,” he says.

He further adds: “The traffic department has already made the rules and regulations public in which routes, zones, restricted areas, no halt areas, no honk areas, signs and signals are explicitly specified and if followed, 70% of the traffic chaos would resolve itself”. He also appeals to parents to not allow minors to drive on roads. The Traffic SSP (Srinagar) recently issued a public notice declaring a Rs 25,000 fine and imprisonment for three months for the guardian of any minor found driving.

Waseem, a private employee and a daily commuter describes the situation as frustrating and time consuming. Says he: “The traffic in Srinagar has become a serious and a stressful issue. Traffic jams occur everyday during prime hours, mainly at TRC, Batamaloo, Santnagar, Rambagh etc. Students and employees suffer. And if a VIP is passing by, everything is kept on halt, irrespective of their strict schedules. Roads have been widened only in some areas, while there are places that look exactly as they did 50 years ago. Route bifurcation has a severe impact on day to day life plus the climate adds to the misery. The number of vehicles on the road increases everyday. The private bus and cab owners charge as per their fancy; also these buses won’t move till they are overflowing with people.”

The following strategies could ease the congestion:

  1. Fine and action against road-parked vehicles, enforcement of strict rules, and strict implementation for alternative parking options.
  2. Designate pick-up/drop-off points could be mentioned to reduce haphazard stops and queues.
  3. Maximum and minimum speed limits for smoother traffic flow during boarding and off-boarding.
  4. Establish paid parking lots to discourage random parking and promote designated spaces.
  5. Raise awareness of traffic rules through educational campaigns.
  6. Regulation of heavy vehicle movement during peak hours in an efficient manner.
  7. Increase in the presence of traffic personnel possibly at every stop, who could provide training, and using technology for better enforcement.

Addressing traffic issues requires a multi-pronged approach involving parking management, vehicle rules, awareness campaigns, and infrastructure improvement. While these steps offer temporary relief, long-term investments and innovative solutions are essential for a lasting change. Through comprehensive planning and community engagement, a more efficient traffic management system could be established, coexisting with limited roads for a safer and sustainable transportation environment.

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