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Friday, February 23, 2007

Traffic #7: Bypass the Flyways

India - Symbols & Images - 004 - Ads own the cityWe pass another flyway under construction. There is a big set going up by the airport, towers of scaffolding rising a couple storeys around the street like looming skeletons, half-completed trenches and the ever-present piles of debris and detritus placed in random and inconvenient locations in the road.

Flyways, raised sections of road that arch over intersections, are Chennai’s solution (and apparently only solution) to traffic congestion. Or at least that appears to be the idea. I can’t say I see them helping. I really would like to have someone explain the idea, the sales pitch to me. How do they improve traffic flow? Why are they the best chosen solution? I really want to get this other side, because frankly, they don’t make any sense to me.

India - Sights & Culture - 011 - Flyway 1Building anything raised, a giant pile of precision concrete (or let’s just hope and assume it is precision) is extremely costly compared to a road built on the ground. They darken and ruin the space underneath, creating dingy, run down, seedy areas. Who wants to live or work under an overpass? Considering these are usually built over major intersections, which usually means bustling and vibrant ones, that seems very damaging. And despite being raise, they still really cut a street in two, the same as a highway does because the up ramp and down ramp segments do not allow for pedestrian or vehicle traffic crossing underneath. There are a dozen areas around where I work where you have to walk a long way to get around or under a flyway. And of course crossing a flyway area, a natural speed-up zone, is even scarier than usual. Yet for all these problems, they seem only marginally useful for traffic flow because they are only short, disconnected segments. Unlike a proper highway, you only get high-speed, no-intersection road for 100m (and most of the autos, trucks, carts and cows cannot take advantage of the speed up the hill anyway). After the flyway, the next intersection is slow, and the next after that. Plus they often slow down the intersecting streets and for traffic wanting to exit to turn right or left rather than going over the overpass. What a mess!

India - Sights & Culture - 012 - Flyway 2One solution is to connect the flyways into a continuous road, but if you’re going to connect them all, then why not have just built a dedicated highway in the first place? It has got to be cheaper, faster to build and in the long run better. Or better yet, since you are putting the damn pillars up everywhere, why not just build a raised mass transit system and leave the cars to the regular streets below (without all the up-ramp and down-ramp issues)? I shake my head. For a city of 7+ million and growing, and a growing class of families wanting cars, they sure are limping along in infrastructure and doing it half-assed. They are spending a fortune building giant concrete pylons and yet the rest of the roads have more holes than a cheese grater (and feels about the same as one would expect driving over one).

There's my little traffic rant of the week.

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