Express highways, freeways, sea links, flyovers, tunnels, monorails or metros. The need for speed never seems to end.
If bigger is better,
Faster is best.
So many people
Are laid to rest.
Here is a story I never tire of repeating, even years after my British collaborator, Dennis Taylor, initiated it. A farmer owned a goat; it went its way each day in search of grass. The farmer would follow the goat’s munching trail and bring it back every night. The goat grew bigger, strayed farther, as the farmer grew older. So, he bought a cycle, then a motorbike, finally an expensive car. All to get the goat back at night. The countryside was rough on the car, and the man complained. The municipality made him a nice, motorable road. Speeding down the road one night, the man got killed. An enquiry followed.
It was determined that the road had a faulty design and the engineer was to blame. He had to be identified and needed to be fired. On enquiry, it so happened that the engineer, the one who had originally ‘designed’ the road, was the goat.
One is bound to ask how many more goats are there in municipalities. I wrote this as I got set to vote in the Mumbai municipal elections.
It happens everywhere. In New York, it was the consequence of over-designing. A street was planned in careful detail. Four lanes, two each way. All designed to allow time-saving for motorists passing through. Could anything go wrong?
Yes, it could. And it did. Soon, a 12-year old cyclist, Turturro, got knocked down. The driver, one Louis Pascerella, was doing more than 80km an hour. The victim, 10 years later, is still terribly disabled. Then followed many more accidents. Another cyclist died. The mayhem seemed unending.
After Turturro was knocked down, issues were raised. The locals warned about the tendency to accelerate on runway-type roads. And in true municipality style, the authorities took ‘action’. They painted some lines on the street. As if that would stop the take-offs. They even named the exercise and called it a ‘Road Diet’. Talk of pulling the wool over your eyes. Four fatal accidents occurred after the Road Diet!
You be the judge. What would you do if such a case came to you?
Public outcry did help a lot. It took 12 long years but, finally, several changes were made. Special bike paths were put in place. There were refuge islands for those pedestrians who wanted to cross safely, reducing the time they were exposed to danger. Crossing lights were timed long enough for people to walk across, not run. (Commissioners of Police, Traffic, are you listening?).
Finally, it was the court that did its bit. But should every problem be taken to overburdened judges? In a landmark ruling which, one hopes, will assist action groups not only in America but across the world, the bench held: “… an unjustifiable delay in implementing a remedial plan constitutes a breach of the municipality’s duty to the public.” The city (municipality) was found liable and ordered to pay $19 million of the $20 million settlement to Turturro. Negligence over time, not negligence in original execution of the plan.
If one looks at it, even while each one is trying to stay alive, there are a myriad ways to die. Vehicles care for no law; everyone is confident that palm-grease is a definite solution. Increase in traffic fines means little. The cop, with a straight face, tells you how much more it will cost you to pay a fine. These are the terms in use: ‘settlement’, ‘adjustment’, ‘samajh lo’. Each breach, and a blind eye, brings a child’s, maybe your own, life closer to extinguishment.
“If there’s a mishap,
We’ll wait and watch.
Let a few more die,
Then we will launch
One new enquiry,
And yet another,
Collect lots of paper,
Then, don’t even bother.”