[An edited version of this post was published in bangalore.citizenmatters.in here.]
The month of April 2012 saw temperatures soaring to record levels in Bangalore. So it was a welcome holiday on the 1st of May which also saw and a heavy pre-monsoon burst in the evening going on well into the night. It was the first shower of the year. Unlike most showers, however, the disruption was much lesser since it was a holiday. The morning hours of the 2nd of May dawned for commuters who use the Outer Ring Road between Sarjapur Road and Marathahalli with the traffic backing up all the way till the Bellandur Flyover. This flyover had been thrown open just that February, after a delay of more than a year. The pile-up kept increasing until it extended all the way till the Agara flyover, with none having any clue as to how long the pile-up was and how long it might take for them to reach work. Turned out that the issue was that the Underpass near Kadubeesanahalli which had also been thrown open during the winter had turned into a swimming pool as there was no/inadequate drainage for the rainwater that flowed in the previous night. Among the two underpasses one for each direction of traffic only one had been completed, that too after much delay and it was taking two-way traffic already.
This underpass was part of a masterplan to make the stretch between the Central Silk Board and Hebbal signal-free and also to support a potential Bus-Rapid-Transit-System. More than a year on now, the flyovers and underpasses between Central Silk Board and Marathahalli have been completed and there are only 2 signals that one needs to navigate for that direction and one for the return direction. This section consists of two parallel flyovers at the junction of HSR layout 14th Main Road and ORR, two similar ones at Agara where Sarjapur Road from Koramangala merges into the ORR, one for the direction from Marathahalli towards ORR where Sarjapur Road branches away from the ORR towards Sarjapur, two parallel ones at Bellandur near the newly constructed Central Mall, two more almost immediately after at Devarabeesanahalli and two parallel underpasses at Kadubeesanahalli. The lack of drainage system for an underpass that had been operational for many months was unfortunately to be one of the indicators of the quality and planning for the signal-free corridor, at least the section between Sarjapura Road and Marathahalli.
The section between the two flyovers at Bellandur and Devarabeesanahalli sees 3 different campuses on one side of the road – Ecospace which houses companies like Accenture, Broadcom, Microland, Bosch, Cadence, Collabera etc, with easily more than 10,000 employees in the campus, LSI and Intel. There’s also a road that leads away from there to RMZ EcoWorld which houses Honeywell, Subex etc. This section potentially houses close to 20,000 employees at a conservative estimate. When the construction was going on, the way people envisaged the system would work was that, those who want to continue towards Marathahalli can take the flyovers, and continue along while those who work at Ecospace, Intel or any of the campuses on the side, go under the flyover to take a U-turn to take the service road on the side and enter the campuses. The part in the middle which has two lanes in total, one for each direction is where the buses would go and bus stops would be under the flyovers and one potentially in the middle, opposite eco-space. And that seems to be how things are currently working. Well, almost, except that there are factors that were not considered or simply ignored.
1. Whither go pedestrians?
Trouble with most ‘signal-free’ roads in Bangalore (remember the road to the new Airport?) is that pedestrians are rarely taken into account. Considering three huge campuses, with Ecospace extending to 1 Km to get to the last building, the number of people that would be commuting by public-transport would be sizable. In the mornings, you have buses that still take the Bellandur flyover, stop at the start and then right at the end of the flyover. People get down and have to cross the road.
Crossing the road from the other side involves this:
- You have 40-50 ft of road to cross and then jump over a median. Do note that you are at the end point of a flyover and vehicles usually love this part since there is gravity and they can speed up to 70-80 Kmph. There are no speed-breakers to slow them down and you are generally considered vermin by those behind wheels or on bikes with ‘Racing DNA’ etc.
- Pass through some more traffic for a single lane, jump over another median.
- Wait for buses from the opposite direction to pass, cross that lane, jump over yet another median,
- Cross another 40-50 ft of road with traffic, move past a ditch to the exit to the service lane while walking on the road, jostling with other vehicles. Standard warning from point 1 applies here about speed of vehicles.
- Move to the service lane, cross it while fighting for space with cars and other vehicles backed up while entering Ecospace and then you are on the side you need.
- Now walk along on the road while Indicabs and Sumos are parked on one side while random people smoke, chew paan and also ogle at you if you are a woman. Of course, if it had rained the previous evening, factor in the slush and puddles from the craters on the road and vehicles plying over those.
During peak hours, there’s a guy from ORRCA (that’s Outer Ring Road Companies’ Association) who’ll hold a Stop sign and help people cross sections 1 and 4 as the traffic will be heavy. During non-peak hours you are on your own.
The buses in the reverse direction, from Marathahalli, ply along two paths. Most take the middle lane under the flyovers, stopping under each flyover and also opposite ecospace in the middle lane. Some enterprising Volvos who probably see another bus of the same route number going towards the path below the flyovers, take the flyover to save some time and capture commuters at other places. Of course they do not stop and being Volvos they try to achieve an optimal speed of 70 Kmph. So if you are a commuter who wants a bus towards Silk board the following steps are for you. If you have to cross to the other side, follow the steps above in reverse order.
- Cross the service road. During peak hours usually vehicles will be standing there to get onto the ORR so this should be easy.
- Cross the 40-50 ft road between the flyovers with traffic. Warnings from point 1 and 4 above extend here too. During peak hours an ORRCA guy might help you as mentioned before.
- Climb onto the median and wait there. If you slip and step down a bus might run you over. There’s space for only one bus there. If you slip and step back, some other vehicle screaming at 70-80Kmph between the flyovers might do that. Never mind that the median itself is all over the place and falling off.
Of course, at other places where there are bus stops, like at Bellandur Petrol Pump opposite Akme Harmony and Salarpuria Softzone there are no such ORRCA assistants helping you cross the road and you pretty much run the stretches when you find gaps, which might happen every five minutes or so. Patience is the key. If you are one of these groups – children, the elderly, disabled or pregnant women – strictly Do Not Attempt to cross the ORR at any stage or place.
2. Flexible Medians
The picture above would also show you stones lying around on the road. Those are what used to define the medians. Google Maps or any other mapping applications cannot show you how to get from one lane to the other between the Flyovers lane, the service lanes or the lane in the middle, simply because these are shaped by the whims and fancies of the Traffic police, TT/Indica/Sumo drivers, or two-wheelers; hence there are gaps that represent the sizes of these vehicles. If you are taking the flyovers and don’t want to get into any other lanes, it would be advisable to keep to the exact center of the lane or slow down when at the edges. This is especially true when you are ascending in front of Intel. Do not be surprised to see a TT stuck there between lanes like an overweight thief trying to get through a worm-hole on the wall. Keep distance when passing in front of those.
Medians and gaps in them are formed real-time by knocking down a few of the cement blocks that form them. Innova drivers blame the Sumo/TT/Indicab nexus. Not sure whom those blame. Two-wheelers have it easy – as always, all they need is a gap for a narrow tyre to pass through and they’ll make the most of it.
This state of the medians also extends to the one between the service road and the main road. There used to be a storm water drain. Now it just holds garbage and turns into a pool of dark-green water after it rains.
3. Service Lanes
When the flyovers were being constructed over what seemed like eternity, these service lanes took the brunt of the traffic. During that time, as is generally their wont, BWSSB dug up the roads to install their drainage and water pipeline, on the side close to Ecospace. This, no surprises here, also coincided with the time of the Monsoons. You can imagine the kind of traffic jams it would have caused post-5 PM. The service lane on the opposite side, however, bore the brunt of construction vehicles. Naturally the quality deteriorated rapidly and the road was unusable by most standards. BBMP did patch up the road at times, which worked for a few months or until the next rain.
Currently, the part next to the Devarabeesanahalli flyover on the Ecospace side is closed, while the section next to the Bellandur flyover on the same side is in a bad state, but takes traffic. The opposite side is open for two-way traffic, but the road is pretty much unmotorable, with 20% of the road having lost all asphalt and fallen away. This is also the only direction that has continuity from Sarjapura Flyover till Kadubeesanahalli. But, if you have to take the service lane from the Sarjapura road signal all the way past the Devarabeesanahalli flyover, you deal with roads with craters, humps, with mini-buses, sumos etc parked on one side and two-way traffic that navigates past these craters by jumping onto the opposite lane. Also, please note that this area has no Cauvery water supply and water-tankers rule the roost here. If you glance up at them, you can see apparently underaged kids maneuvering them through these craters. Any nicks and you deal with the water mafia. Drive with care. In fact, if possible, better don’t drive on these roads at all.
Of course, there are no footpaths as such. Avoid walking on these places.
4. Working at campuses on the side
As mentioned before, places like Ecospace house buildings along a path that stretches up to 1 KM inside. A potential 10000 employees work here. That’s just a conservative estimate. Add the LSI and Intel campuses next door and you have the picture. Many of these companies have their own bus services which ferry employees from different parts of the city. Add to that Sumos/TTs/Indicabs, generally known for their unsafe and dangerous driving practices. Apart from that there are private cars and bikes. Now how do you get them off the road and into the campus?
When coming from Sarjapura road, you go off the main road after the Bellandur flyover, enter the service lane on the left, continue next to the Devarabeesanahalli flyover, turn right under it, wait for the buses to pass and cross over to under the flyover on the other side, take right onto that service road and get into the gate. For those coming in from Marathahalli side, you avoid the Devarabeesanahalli flyover, stay in the middle lane, take left under the flyover and take right into the service lane and get to the gates. Do note that the service lane is two-way. So there are some that take the DB-halli flyover take a U-turn into the service lane just before the Bellandur flyover and enter Ecospace. Some continue in that direction to a cacaphony of angry honks.
Intel and LSI have one gate each. One can argue that they take less of the traffic and generate less too. Ecospace, however, has just one portal to access the stretch that houses so many companies and no points for guessing, there’s a huge queue that forms for entry to the gate. In the mornings, it stretches all the way across to the opposite side of the road right in front of the Passport Seva Kendra. The traffic for the other direction is usually piled up much before the DB halli flyover.
Evenings, the pile up starts inside these campuses. All these vehicles, thousands of them, wait in single-file to get out through the narrow gates and take a left to exit through the narrow gap before the Bellandur flyover and fly to freedom which lasts till Silk board. Those for the opposite direction, fight traffic on the service lane till the DB-halli flyover and then go under it to the other side and get out towards Marathahalli. Some go under the Bellandur flyover and do the same.
On an average, the whole process of getting in and out of these campuses would take 20-30 minutes each for a car.
- Considering the sheer volume of traffic that this section deals with, there doesn’t seem to be much respite for motorists who work there. One can safely say that apart from those who use both flyovers and head over to Kadubeesanahalli or towards Sarjapura Road, the flyovers have not benefited anyone else. Imporving the quality of service roads and widening the gates to allow two-lane traffic might help. Making service lanes one-ways during peak hours is another solution.
- For BMTC commuters, buses are likely to go off the flyovers and forced into the lanes in the middle. having a bus stop in the middle of the road like now is definitely a no-go. Potentially bus stops will have to be just under the flyovers and commuters will have to walk from there to their campuses. Widening the medians to project into the main road and installing bus shelters is an option, but that does not solve the problem of having to cross the roads. Another option is to force the buses into the left-most service lanes.
- For pedestrians, a subway or a skywalk is urgently required. BBMP/BDA should work with the property managers and have these installed. The current situation is just too dangerous. Only a matter of time before a pedestrian is hit, if not hit already.
- Ideally, these flyovers should have been a single two-way structure that has wider service lanes on the sides. Unlike Agara or HSR Layout, there are no significant junctions under them. Traffic that wants to cross over to the other side could do it under them without the hassle of cross-traffic to deal with. But this is now moot. And this will haunt users of this stretch forever.