Traffic jams: Nightmare on Agra streetsBy Brij Khandelwal, IANS
Monday, February 14, 2011
AGRA - Seeing the Taj Mahal, the monument to eternal love, is a dream come true for tourists. However, a nightmare awaits them before they reach the destination in the form of Agra’s seemingly never-ending traffic jams.
Even while the authorities try out new traffic plans to ease the chaos on the roads, the problem persists, with a growing vehicle population of more than 500,000 and rash driving by careless drivers compounding the crisis.
Around 1.80 million tourists visit the city of the Taj every year. One can only imagine the situation on the roads during the peak pre-winter tourist season.
“A traffic jam can prove a nightmare for tourists who visit Agra by road from Delhi. Every other day the highway is jammed by one agitation or the other. Once the vehicle finally reaches Agra, it gets caught in an even bigger jam, tourism industry leader Rajiv Tiwari told IANS.
This has become the order of the day, he said.
Each time there is VIP movement on the road, there is a jam, says Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society.
Political rallies, religious and wedding processions, indisciplined driving and frequent road repairs in different parts of the city have left the people fuming with anger.
“Oh my god! why did we come here,” wondered young Susan from England, watching helplessly from her car an endless parade of buffaloes crossing the Yamuna Kinara road after their day-long bath in the river.
The situation is now turning grave as most tourists do not visit any other monument except the Taj Mahal.
“The traffic jams have begun to hurt the tourism industry,” said Sandeep Arora, a hotelier of the Taj Ganj area.
“In the past few months there have been many occasions when tourists missed their connecting flights or trains from Agra after getting caught in the traffic. Come summer, the crisis will worsen,” Arora warned.
Two weeks ago Miss Universe Jimena had a taste of the Agra jam.
“From Sikandra (Akbar’s monument on the Delhi highway) to her hotel in the tourist complex, it took over two hours for her to cover the distance that could have normally taken 20 to 30 minutes,” recalled Mahesh Dhakar, a culture critic who shared the traffic gridlock with her.
Agra district authorities said they have drawn up some plans to streamline traffic movement within the city.
Divisional Commissioner Amrit Abhijat said: “Traffic to Delhi from the city will now take an alternative route to relieve MG Road.”
Regional Transport Officer B.K. Sonakia said that strong action is taken against auto-rikshaw drivers without driving licences.
Municipal Commissioner Vinay Shankar Pandey told IANS: “We will soon take up major overhauling of the Bhagwan Talkies crossing which is the main entrance to the city. The encroachments there are being removed and some structural changes will soon be made by the civil engineering department.”
The traffic police have also worked out plans to introduce one-way traffic and install automatic traffic signals at main crossings, fitted with cameras.
Senior officials have had several rounds of meetings with NGOs and elected representatives on the issue.
According to an official, school timings will be adjusted to help students out of the traffic jams at peak hours.
“School children returning home and ambulances with patients have been left stranded for hours due to sit-in strikes and protest marches. Why don’t they act on the issues? Why don’t they stop experimenting with people?” asked activist Shravan Bharti.
Ravi singh, another eco activist, said: “In the early 1980s Agra had just around 40,000 vehicles on its roads and Firozabad was at that time part of the city. Now we have more than 500,000 vehicles. Where do you think all these would be accommodated? They have no road map, no studies and their tunnelled vision obstructs long-term planning.”
According to Rajan Kishore, a social worker, the road and traffic plans generally ignore pedestrians and cyclists.
“We are planning only for 15 percent people - building roads, fly-overs, expressways and other fancy projects. What about the masses?” Rajan asked.
Sandeep Arora, a hotelier, said it is strange that a city like Agra with an international status does not have any nodal traffic expert who knows his job.
“We have the short-sighted administrators, amateur professionals and the selfish politicians who draw up the plans for traffic management in the city. The result can only be chaos, as we are witnessing each day,” he lamented.
(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)