Off-colour traffic signals trouble for city motorists

Apr 09, 2012, 10:07 IST | Shashank Rao

Non-functioning or blinking traffic lights, especially at night, are a major cause of accidents in Mumbai; traffic authorities are trying to usher in a new system

Red, amber and green — these are the only true colours to heed if you want to stay safe on the roads. Ignore them at your own peril. BEST driver Jalinder Bhosale did on Friday. His double-decker bus keeled over, squashed a biker, and injured several passengers after he allegedly tried to run a red light. But what if you are driving on the city streets and there are no guiding lights? The situation is not the invention of a fertile imagination, but a stark reality if you are out on Mumbai’s roads at night. The situation gets chaotic after dark when traffic signals are either not working or are put on ‘blinkers’, wherein post-11pm either amber or red colours keep blinking constantly at intersections. This is when motorists throw caution to the wind, leading to accidents.

No light relief
Experts feel that there are teething problems in functioning of traffic signals, as many of them are either switched off or kept on blinkers. There are around 544 traffic signal junctions across Mumbai, including the suburbs. “Every day we receive around 15 complaints about problems with signals, which are attended to immediately,” said a BMC official on condition of anonymity. 

Which way to go? There are around 544 traffic signal junctions across Mumbai, including the suburbs. Traffic policemen feel that non-functioning signals lead to impatient motorists breaking traffic rules. Representation pic

Due to such issues, motorists complain that several times a non-functioning signal only results in traffic jams, and loss of time. “Signals are not coordinated at all and they operate in such a way that by the time a vehicle that has stopped at a previous red light reaches the next signal, it displays red,” said Jitendra Gupta, member, citizen transport committee. This also causes problem for traffic cops manning the roads, who tend to pave way for vehicles on one side where the density is higher. Traffic policemen feel that a non-functioning signals leads to impatient motorists breaking traffic rules. Transport experts claim that at big junctions, a roundabout structure works better than a signal.

Blink and you miss
Another major problem is when signals either constantly flash amber or red. Traffic police claim that they leave the signals blinking as this would caution motorists while manoeuvring vehicles at that junction. Meanwhile, senior officials in the traffic department claim that over 95 per cent of these signals are kept on blinkers after midnight. Actually these signals switch to blinking amber or red colour at around 10 pm or so.
“Signals are put on blinkers during night hours when it is not possible for traffic to be manned. During such times, motorists tend to be more careful while crossing junctions,” said Brijesh Singh, additional commissioner (Traffic).
Traffic cops claim that during night hours, even if signals are still functioning, motorists could end up speeding, and there are fair chances that vehicles coming perpendicularly and breaking the signal could dash against them. If the amber colour is blinking then a motorist needs to drive slowly at that junction before moving ahead, while if it’s the red colour that’s being flashed, then a motorist needs to halt at the junction before proceeding.

Out for the count
For a period of several months 2010-onwards, a system of reverse countdown timers was introduced at major signals. Traffic experts and BMC officials claim that the whole intention was that motorists would turn off their vehicles and wait for the stipulated period, saving fuel in the process.
However, such signals are hardly visible now. “This was only a psychological satisfaction for motorists who were aware of the time when the lights would change. It actually didn’t serve much purpose,” claimed a traffic cop.

Sources in BMC said motorists often became impatient and zipped past, despite the countdown continuing. “This was a dangerous trend as many motorists, especially two- wheeler riders, would start violating the zebra crossing as the seconds lowered and at times even jumped lights, which could result in accidents,” explained a transport expert. Now, officials have begun replacing this system with something called ‘area traffic control’ (ATC), which they claim would not only allow vehicles to move smoothly for at least three junctions continuously, but also function depending on the density of vehicles.

Reality check
Currently, the signals are working on fixed-time mode. Through ATC they will be linked in real-time mode. The traffic control room will be able to reduce or add the signal time depending on the traffic at the spot. “Traffic signals will be dynamically controlled with help of ATC and it would function depending on the number of vehicles on a particular stretch,” said a traffic policeman.

This technology will constantly acquire data on traffic status, including number of vehicles arriving at intersections by each access point. The acquired data will adjust traffic lights in coordination with neighbouring intersections.BMC and traffic police are implementing ATC after connecting 253 signals with 135 sensors across the city at a cost of Rs 72 crore. The project was funded by World Bank. The first two phases were to be completed in October 2009, but they took till June 2011.

However, transport experts feel it is a waste of money. “The ATC project is completely bogus as the density of vehicles is always high and it would be an unprofitable expenditure. Rather, they should try to improve the traffic discipline on road,” said Ashok Datar, transport expert.
BMC has proposed to connect 38 signals to ATC system, which will include 18 signals in the island city and 20 in the suburbs, at a cost of Rs 4.4 crore, by May 2012. Gradually, other areas will come into focus.

No prizes for guessing!
>> In late-2011 BMC received an award of Rs 2.5 lakh for Best Intelligent Transport System project from ministry of urban development
>>  The award was presented by Kamal Nath, urban development minister, and was received by the then mayor of Mumbai Shraddha Jadhav, and Additional Municipal Commissioner Aseem Gupta

What is Area Traffic Control?
>>  It is a system of centrally coordinating traffic signals using real-time data collected through detectors
>>  There are several loop-like sensors on the surface of the road to record vehicular movement and send the information to the control room
>>  This signal system will also have the ability to change depending on the traffic flow
>>  If there is an ambulance, the remote sensor will transmit the data to and from the signal so as to allow the light to remain green for a few more seconds till the emergency vehicle passes 

Chandavarkar Road Junction, Borivli (W)
The junction came into existence a few years ago after the road was cleared off encroachments, directly connecting it to the road leading to Gorai creek. Since the junction marks the amalgamation of four major roads, it has become one of the busiest in recent times. However, lack of signals and zebra crossings, have created a chaotic situation, putting lives of motorists and pedestrians at risk alike.

Motorists exploit the absence of a signal at the junction and forget about lane discipline. This leads to a chaotic situation, especially during peak hours — Kunal Chaudhary, marketing executive

Installation of signals is the BMC’s responsibility. It’s their engineers, who are supposed to do the job once they survey a particular area.
— Traffic official

Kalpana Chawla Junction, Borivli (W)
The junction was christened around two years ago, after a circle was built at this spot. However, motorists and residents allege that the positioning of this circle is such that it leads to horrific traffic jams during peak hours. All the motorists coming from S V Road, who want to go to Vazira Naka, prefer taking an easy right instead of going around the circle.

Also, the vehicles from Sai Baba Nagar cannot go straight, as the circle obstructs their path, forcing them to go around it. This has increased their chances of bumping into vehicles going towards S V Road. Even the pedestrians face problems while crossing the circle, as it becomes difficult for them to gauge the speed of incoming vehicles.

The positioning of the circle is improper. Numerous accidents have occurred, forcing the motorists to go around the circle. — Ronak Davda, shopkeeper

Whenever I come from Sai Baba Nagar, I cannot go straight to Vazira Naka, as the circle obstructs my path. If I go around the circle, there are chances of colliding with vehicles heading for S V Road. This leads to a chaotic situation during peak hours
— Lalbahadur Gupta, businessman

When the local MLA had proposed the circle, we had recommended it to be of a smaller radius for smooth functioning of traffic. However, our recommendation was overlooked. We have now taken various measures, including installation of speed breakers and zebra crossing following which the numbers of traffic-related mishaps have decreased. In addition, traffic constables have been deployed to manage unruly situations.
— Traffic official

Text: Nivedita Dargalkar. Pics/Rane Ashish

Godrej Junction, Eastern Express Highway
This three-way junction outside the Godrej Foods factory is notorious for motorist disrespecting traffic norms. Besides, pedestrians here also complain of the apathy shown by the traffic police on the matter.

Since most of the motorists jump signal, movement of pedestrians and motorist wanting to enter the factory lane is affected. The traffic cops are present only for a couple of hours in the morning. The company installed its own post with a guard, who helps people and motorists wanting to enter the factory premises. This has helped reduce the number of violations and accidents
— Varun Matoo, resident of Godrej Colony

Patrolling at this post is carried out between 6.30 am to 10.30 pm daily. Cars jump the signal at high speeds, which often leads to accidents, as cars are also coming in from the two service lanes and the Godrej factory. The police are mostly indifferent. — Guard

There is a traffic policeman stationed at the junction from 8 am to 12 pm daily. After that, there is a police patrol vehicle, which patrols the highway. We are short-staffed, which is why we cannot afford to have more traffic police at this junction. It is true that a lot of violations occur here, but we are helpless. We cannot be expected to risk our lives trying to stop speeding vehicles on the highway. If this menace has to be curbed, then the fine for speeding and jumping signals must be raised to Rs 500 (from the existing Rs 100). Also, more signboards should be put up on the highway displaying speed limits
— Traffic official, who was present at the spot

Larsen & Toubro Junction, Powai
Locals complain that the traffic signal at this three-way junction has been dysfunctional for the last six months, thus resulting in ugly traffic jams during peak hours on a daily basis. Apart from jams, the junction has witnessed a few road mishaps as well.

Text: Jaideep Vaidya, Pic/Sameer Markande

The signal has been dysfunctional for the past several months. Buses, tempos and trucks, all heavy vehicles pass through this junction, creating unpleasant traffic jams and make it an accident prone junction during peak hours
— Deepak Shetty, civil engineer

I have been a victim of the signal, which has been dysfunctional for the past six months. Thankfully, I wasn’t hurt much. This is an extremely dangerous junction for pedestrians as well
— Dr Momin Javed

For the past one week, the BMC has been digging up the road under the junction at nights to work on an underground water pipeline, during which they accidentally cut the cables supplying power to the signal. However, the issue will be fixed in the next couple of days. Moreover, traffic cops are present at the junction all day long. — Traffic official

Mata Lakshmi Signal, Sion Hospital
Motorists coming from Dadar TT take right for Sion Koliwada. However, this right turn is taken without observing traffic norms, thus resulting in traffic jams. Moreover Matunga Traffic Police Station is located near the same signal, but the issue is yet to be resolved.
This signal is a major problem. Pedestrians have to be ultra careful while crossing the road, as motorists drive at breakneck speeds and jump signals. There is a school just two minutes from here and kids are vulnerable to accidents
—  Rajgor Vasant, a local
Motorists prefer taking a right from the signal, which can be prevented by blocking the space. Despite lodging numerous complaints with the local corporator, action is yet to be taken. This road is a deathtrap for pedestrians
— Naveen Mehta, Chartered Accountant
We haven’t noticed any problems here. Motorists abide by the traffic rules
— Traffic official
Airport Road, Vile Parle (E)
About four signals on the highway near the Airport Road appear to be non-functioning. As a result, there is no clear instruction to vehicles on whether it is safe to drive or not. A majority of the vehicles travelling along the highway, speed through the intersection, which makes it hazardous for vehicles coming in from the Airport Road. Thanks to the dysfunctional signals, even pedestrians are forced to take risks while crossing the intersection.
We were told that all signals on this stretch would be functional a month-and-a-half ago. Only one functional signal per lane is not enough, especially for the kind of traffic this area receives. There may not be any accidents, but there are countless opportunities for them to occur
— Anil Kumar Supla, autorickshaw driver
There is at least one signal working at any given time for a particular lane, so motorists can refer to it. Even though some signals may not be operational, there are others in the same line to guide vehicles. There have not been any accidents reported in this area so far. We have policemen stationed at various locations to avoid confusion and ensure that motorists observe traffic norms — Traffic official
Flank Road, Sion
Regardless of being a three-way, the junction lacks signal for cars coming from the bridge until they reach the circle. Adding to this, motorists take a left turn, which is not allowed. This has created commuting woes for the residents of New Matunga Police Quarters, located at Flank Road.
I narrowly escaped from being run over by a speeding trolley. Though the traffic cops were standing close by, they did nothing.
— Ashok Virmani, senior citizen
There is a request to install speed bumpers, as they will help in slowing down vehicles until they reach the signal
— Traffic official
Sena Bhavan, Shivaji Park
It has been reported that signals here don’t function after 10 pm, causing traffic issues and commuting woes for pedestrians.
Since vehicles are driven at higher speeds during nighttime, having a speed limit is a must. Jumping of signals happen even during daytime. Till the time traffic cops are around, motorists follow signals, after that nobody 
cares about what colour the signal is 
— Eknath Kadam, a Shivaji Park resident
Motorists jump signals at night because the flow of traffic is less. Moreover, it doesn't make sense to operate signals during late night.  — Traffic official

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