Editorial: Traffic Jammed in Gangtok
It will get worse because nothing is being done
Commuting in Gangtok is comfortable only during holidays or on a Saturday immediately after a break like the one we recently enjoyed with Dasain and will get to enjoy again after Tihaar. This is so because it is only during these extended holidays that traffic flows on Gangtok roads instead of snarling. But even this reprieve is getting rare because tourist vehicles are now in close competition with the office and school jumble on the roads. The tedium of driving into Gangtok from Ranipool has become the new normal and will only get worse. And it will be getting worse not just because more people will own more vehicles or because more tourists will get attracted to Gangtok, but more so because nothing appears to be in the works by way of even planning, leave aside implementation, to improve the situation. Suffice to say that traffic is a problem in Gangtok. The jams are becoming longer and denser and parking has emerged as a challenge for which no one has presented a practical solution. There is, after all, only so much road available to accommodate the march of vehicles which show no signs of tapering off. What also continues to hamstring Gangtok when it comes to managing its traffic is the fact that most of the solutions that consultants could offer – like wider roads or bypasses or flyovers – are not possible here. The capital will have to work with the roads it already has, at least along stretches where most of the congestion takes place. There is no scope for widening or creating alternate routes. That said, there are still some options it could explore even when it comes to road usage and also some experiments it could try out. Let us start with the situation shared at the start of this piece. The worst congestion on Gangtok roads is in the block from around 10 a.m. till around noon, the morning office rush hour. Many commuters will disagree and insist that jams are a permanent feature through the day nowadays. Let us presume for now that it is worst during office hour rush. The jams standstill again once offices give over later in the afternoon. For anyone who sees traffic as a problem, this should then be the first situation to be addressed. One way to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads at this time would be to increase and incentivize the use of office car pools. This option is already being used to some extent in government offices. However, not all government servants travel in their own vehicles or car-pools, and many use share cabs. Further, car-pooling serves only government servants, but government offices also attract lay people coming there, and they too mostly use share taxis. What could ease congestion would be the introduction of a good public transport shuttle during the peak rush hours. Before anyone points to the city runners as a public transport service already deployed, let’s accept that these are too few and too erratic in timing to be taken seriously as a solution at present. Traffic flows can be eased, and so congestion removed, with better information. Better information among commuters about how frequently buses will be available. Ply enough of them on the roads during rush hours, and inform the people about the frequency, and most would prefer buses to clambering for share-taxis at the designated stops. Of course, since office hours trigger the biggest jams, the policy makers could also consider staggering the office hours so that the rush of office-goers is also spread out instead of being bunched together. But then again, for this solution to bear any results, the work culture will have to be much more consistent than the present trend of casual timings. But if this were to work, then the arrival of lay people to offices could also be spread out by appointing timings, say to two hours after offices open, for people to meet officers. What the planners need to also ponder on is to make the link roads, like the one flowing through Arithang to the bypass or from ICAR to 5th Mile or the Paljor Stadium Road shooting down to bypass, more motorable and convenient for people to consider bypassing the gridlocked zones unless they have to necessarily suffer through them. At present, the alternates are not even close to being convenient diversions and anyone who has to reach anywhere Gangtok is forced to drive through the entire length of it. It goes without saying that if the driving surface was improved on the many feeder roads, more people would consider using them even if they were longer than that NH10 route. For instance, too many people who have the option of using the bypass don’t do so because of its terrible condition. Also, since tourists cannot be kept away from Gangtok, at least the government offices need be clustered around the main town. Of course, there are more options that could be considered, and definitely many more, much better solutions that can be attempted, but let’s take these as a starting point for more ideas to be voiced to do a better job of managing Gangtok traffic.