When the Jammu and Kashmir administration dismantled some of the several government focus bunkers and checkpoints dotting Srinagar to reduce military visibility ahead of the foreign delegation’s visit, some of the city residents had breathed a sigh of relief.
The removal of the traffic hurdles had eased the traffic on the few roads, mostly in uptown Srinagar, as there were no personnel armed with assault rifles to stop and frisk vehicles and vehicles didn’t need to slow down to navigate the curves on barricades.
The momentary relief, however, is likely only temporary. According to the traffic police, more than eighty thousand vehicles from different parts of Kashmir entered the summer capital Srinagar on a daily basis till 2019.
With its dilapidated conditions of roads, traffic jams are a consistent feature in Srinagar, home to more than a million residents and being the seat of the government as well as centre of commerce, increasing the cost but also the duration of travel.
In recent months, the traffic police have come up with new diversions and rerouting of traffic on longer routes to manage the traffic flow. Along the city’s bypass road, this has meant digging road dividers to make new intersections and de-operationalizing traffic signals on some pre-existing intersections.
However, the end result has been elongated jams and creation of new bottlenecks.
Srinagar’s traffic mess is in large part owing to the failure of the city’s planners and administrators, as even admitted by the official Srinagar Master Plan report that has proposed a vision-plan to be implemented by the year 2035.
Besides the bunkers and checkpoints, traffic is also hindered by the forcible halting of traffic by government forces to make way for military and paramilitary convoys, sometimes lasting for more than half an hour and multiple times during the same trip, particularly from Srinagar to Kashmir’s southern districts.
Poor enforcement of traffic regulations and the public’s ignorance of road safety rules — besides illegal overtaking and parking, the disregard to lanes and driving on the wrong side of the road is commonplace in Srinagar — has turned the city’s roads chaotic.
The lack of infrastructure has only deepened the chaos. The city’s road networks, the masterplan noted, “is cramped because of missing links, incomplete rings, inefficient radials, bottlenecks, etc” with many dead-ends that connect to no major arterial roads for smooth flow of traffic.
The report also noted that “the location of strategic installations across the city has been another key impediment in the development of an efficient transport network.”
The city also lacks zebra crossings and jaywalking is understood as part of life. Pedestrian safety and consequently uninterrupted flow of traffic is a challenge as just ten percent of the roads in Srinagar are accompanied by sidewalks. Of this, the majority of sidewalks are of uneven elevations, lengths and widths, and are moreover blocked by street vendors or occupied by government forces personnel, dissuading the public from using those.
In several instances, prominently along Srinagar’s MA Road, the sidewalk along the Pratap Park was removed to widen the road. Today, the portion where the sidewalk had once existed remains unused owing to continued pedestrian use and the erection of a bunker.
The masterplan, however, discourages the practice of road widening “in view of the potential loss to heritage” except in areas where it is “inevitable”.
Srinagar has expanded haphazardly over the years in the absence of governmental checks and balances. The city’s layout is planned on a radial model but, the masterplan’s Land Use and Traffic & Transportation Survey team observed, “all the radials are witnessing extreme traffic flows much beyond their capacities, hence poor level of service.”
The report also noted the administration’s incompetence in implementing two previous traffic management plans: “not a single step has been taken so far” to implement the Srinagar Urban Transport Project of 1992 and the Comprehensive Mobility Plan (CMP) of 2012 by Rail India Technical and Economic Services.
The city’s annual population growth rate is estimated at two percent which has resulted in “a phenomenal increase” — of more than 7 percent every year — “in vehicular population during the last decade”, the masterplan stated.
This exponential increase in traffic combined with the inadequate upgradation of infrastructure has led to the city’s traffic problem worsening over the years. “Traffic congestion is already severe on many city roads and the gridlock plaguing Srinagar has reached a tipping point, with the region spending millions of man hours in traffic congestion each year,” the report states.
The survey team concluded that “The city road network needs a complete relook so that an efficient and sustainable transport network is developed to cater to the future demand.”
Future in a jam
The CMP projects that the future demand in Srinagar will require at least nine-hundred buses and seventeen-hundred minibuses by the year 2031. The masterplan proposed the purchase of a fleet of five-hundred modern buses for Srinagar by 2020 — it remains a distant dream in 2021.
The J-K administration has also approved the construction of a metro project for Srinagar and Jammu. However, according to the CMP only about twelve percent of trips are beyond ten kilometres and the passengers per hour per direction traffic (PPHPDT) estimates showed that metros would be inefficient.
“As per CMP, the recommended PPHPDT for having a Metro system is 30,000 and above. The maximum passenger demand is 9,100 – 14,400 PPHPDT on high capacity corridors for which Metro will be inefficient and very expensive. Also, 12% trips are too few to be considered for a high capacity metro rail system for the city,” the report states.
As per the CMP of 2012, the existing road infrastructure in Srinagar “is characterised by inefficient pattern, inadequate widths, missing links, bottlenecks, flawed design of intersection curves etc.”
The 2035 master plan has proposed to “reform” the idea of streets being designated solely for use by automobiles by giving a preference to pedestrians who, according to the report, constitute a major portion of road users, and cyclists as well — helping ease vehicular traffic.
If immediate action isn’t taken, the report issued in March 2019, warned “If Srinagar city and its suburbs are allowed to grow without any intervention towards a sustainable transport system, the city may witness systemic breakdown.”