Saturday, February 24, 2007

Fantastic Freeways!

We have been on the desi freeways a few times since our return. And overall, I am impressed! The quality of the roads is fantastic. Not a single bump will you notice. The last time we were on the Bangalore-Mysore freeway was about 5 years ago, when we were here on a vacation from Calif. Then, it was like a village road, filled with pot holes and very narrow. Coming from the US, it was really sad to notice the absolute contrast. But now, you have these beautiful 4 lane freeways that can easily compete with the freeways in the west for quality. See pic below.

The engineering is very good. The roads are banked well. Banking was never done on the Indian freeways before. You had to navigate the ups and downs, and the turns and curves with the clutch and brake. Now, you can simply step on the gas, much like on any freeway in the US. You can touch 120-140 kph! The pic to the left shows the banking pretty well. This pic and all the following pics were taken on the way to Chennai.

The roads also have boards with National Highway number, the different places that the roads lead to and the respective distances in the typical green board, just like in the west. Also notice the shoulders for pulling over. Amazing, isn't it?

And like a typical Indian road, some stretches also have trees lining the roads, making it scenic and enjoyable.

Unfortunately, it is not all good. You still face some typical Indian problems while on the freeway. The road sense is fairly lacking amongst the users, making it very difficult at times to predict what you will meet with on the road. You actually have people driving in the opposite direction on a divided freeway!!! Since the freeway is divided, they just assume that they can use the side of the road that most satisfies their individual needs. So, as you drive on these beautiful roads, you can very well expect a vehicle to come right at you!!! It could be a huge truck too! Unbelievable! You just have to make way and "adjust". Once, we saw a tractor guy actually arguing with the police who was reprimanding him for being on the wrong side of the road. The tractor guy just didn't get it that he was wrong! Sigh!

You have all kinds of vehicles using the freeway. Everything from a cycle, auto rickshaw, tractor, to the cars, buses, trucks etc. Since the moving speed of every vehicle is different, you can't really cruise at your own speed. You will always have to be watchful, and not miss a cyclist by accident. Scary, eh!

And when the freeway cuts through a town, like in the olden days, the freeway magically transforms into the main downtown street of that town/village! This considerably lessens your speed, and you have to navigate through cows, pedestrians, bus-stops, vendors, etc! The pic below kind of typifies the scenario.
This is mostly never the case in the US. The freeways pretty much stay out of towns and even if they do cut the towns, the town traffic can get in and out of the freeways only using ramps/exits. I say 'mostly' cause in old cities, the freeway still transforms into the main street of the town/city. For example, the 101 in San Francisco.

The Indian freeway is still just a road for the pedestrian to cross/jay walk. Pedestrians magically appear almost anywhere. And when the road is wide, and the sun is bright, and you are speeding at 100 kph, you can only imagine the difficulty in even noticing the jay walker. And at times, the freeway actually has a zebra crossing! What the !! Do the road designers except the speeding motorist to suddenly come to an absolute halt at a zebra crossing? Cause there are no signals at such crossings!!! Notice the zebra crossing and the pedestrians below. Notice also the lack of signals.
The shoulders typically are also spots for a variety of activities. and these activities can actually spill onto the freeway!!! The first pic below shows some political activity happening right next to the freeway. Look at the number of people standing along. The second pic shows a typical shop set up under the trees. People pull up and shop right there on the shoulder/freeway.
Having listed the +es and -es, I still have to say that the roads are a 1000 times better than they ever were. And with Sri. Vajpayee's Golden Quadrilateral, the largest express highway project in India, coming to completion, we can actually travel around India on road!
Image source: National Highway Authority of India (NHAI)
I still fondly remember all our innumerous road trips in the US. We always preferred the roads, mostly cause it was so easy! And not to mention, very pretty! Some of California's and Oregon's freeways along the Pacific coastline are also some of the most scenic. To think that we can do similar road trips here covering most of India is exciting, to say the least. And with India's varied culture and landscape, it will be an absolute pleasure to go on a Golden Quadrilateral road trip. :)


Ober Fuhrer said...

The Highways are indeed beautiful. Nothing like roadtrips!!! I love the US 101....u r right, roadrtrips in India would be so much fun....Hopefully the roads inside the city also can get better!! bangalore roads are pathetic...chennai and mumbai roads are so much better than blore roads...

Kamlesh said...

Freeway, Niceway, Keep it up! I recently had bus journey through this road and I can see it again in front of my eyes thru your post :-)

Also, not sure if those Street Lights/Signals are functioning. We need to visit sometime during night time (ofcourse with a Night Vision Camera. hehehe) and see how good is the drive in this road!

There is definitely a good progress w.r.t roads outside bangalore. Inside Bangalore, only the VIP roads are maintained well. All other roads are eagerly waiting for repairs! Hope we get good roads to drive. Getting good roads is not enough; every Indian must follow traffic rules.

The pedestrian is forced to cross the roads in between because they are not provided good foot-over bridges. There are few such bridges installed (E.g. - the one just before Manipal Hospital/Leela Palace on the way to Airport) in Bangalore, which makes both pedestrian and drivers life easy. Bangalore needs more of these too.

Finally, did you try playing FM 104? :) It was not catching signal in Mysore. Other FM receptions were also weak.

My final question to you - Here we notice those Heavy Trucks/Goods vehicles carrying loads and halting side of the roads. They also create problems for traffic. How do they operate in west? Do they also have Dhabba's without proper parking place ;)

silkboard said...

Nice writeup and pictures Chitra. Our highways are definitely getting better though policing hasn't been keeping pace. said...

nice post, enjoyed the pics. the high-res versions really are nice.

i am suspecting something fishy about the pic about the banked highway. isn't it banked the wrong way? the banked road typically have the outer edge at a higher level than the inner edge.

anyway, i think we should probably spend more $$$ on railways (privatization, probably). somehow, pouring money into high-cost modes of transpo (petrol prices!) doesn't seem the right thing to do.

oh well. - anil

Chitra said...

Fuhrer, you are right about the city roads. Another post! :)

Kamlesh, yes now we listen only to Fever 104. Didn't you see my post? I have thanked you there for the reco.
You are right about the pedestrian bridges. We need them, and badly! In the US, nobody parks on the shoulder. Shoulders are only for vehicles that have some trouble and need a tow or some help.

Ty Silkboard.

Anil, welcome to my blog. :) You are probably right about that pic, it was taken while driving. So, I am guessing the angle is not right. (Let me see what I can do on Picasa.) But, the roads are banked well and we could drive easily on curves and bends.
About the railways, we should probably be spending more money on them. I do want to write about the railways, but that is going to be a lot of work. When time permits, maybe. However, don't you think we will always need great roads? If/when we migrate to alternate fuel resources, we will still need good roads.

Deeps said...

Very nicely written. I have heard that the Mysore road is really good and more than that, very convenient..

But as you say, freeways are something else in US, "2-wheelers/cycles/pedestrians not allowed" and "ramps entry/exit" factors are what makes a road a "free"-way. Moreover the state/county taxes are used to fix/widen roads whenever possible. And since, usually there are more lanes than 2, road work doesn't bother the drivers either (though there might be a bit slowing down). So I guess we still have a long way to go in India..

Chitra said...

Deeps, yes what you say is true. We still have a long way to go, but the good thing is we have come a long way too!

Debbie Ann said...

We just took a bus from Bangalore to Mysore and yr description is perfect. at first I was shocked to see people go the wrong way and then it just became normal. and we had to detour around several protests. it was all fascinating.

Kamlesh said...

Deeps/Chitra - India took the definition of Freeway in a different sense. Its a "Free" way for anyone to walk/drive Freely ;)

Deeps said...

Kamlesh, now it makes perfect sense. Guess the Americans have got it wrong eh? :-D.

Pradeep said...

The road is excellent, no doubt. Also, the ride to Kerala on the Hosur Road, via TN. The golden quadrilateral project is nearing completion in 2008-09.

Very true about people's road sense. That's what I keep saying, what ever progress we make, unless there's a matching progress in our attitudes, there'sn't much change actually... sounds very cynical, but I can't help it!

Chitra said...

Debbie Ann, it must all be so new to you. Iam glad that you find it fascinating! ;) PS: Thanks for pointing to my blog.

Kamlesh, Deeps, :)

Pradeep, I can understand your cynicism.

Usha said...

"The roads also have boards with National Highway number, the different places that the roads lead to and the respective distances in the typical green board, just like in the west. Also notice the shoulders for pulling over. Amazing, isn't it?"

hahaha, we are so used to our normal crappy roads that a proper highway seems like a miracle!!

Nice write up and nice pics.

Chitra said...

I know! True miracles. Never expected to see what I saw! :)

Thanks Usha!

Smitha said...

Another thing our roads miss are the "Maamas" - as in cops :-)

I keep wondering how would it be if we outsource our Police department in entirity to a country like Germany or even China for that matter.

Chitra said...

Smitha, :)

Anonymous said...

And there is no official speedlimit on Indian Freeways so one is free to test the limits of their vehicle obviously keeping in mind the hazards of doing so. But if you see open road, nobody in sight for miles, and no speedlimit you can push the throttle to hilt. It's track baby..

deepa said...

iam deepa from london.iam returning to bangalore on march.i was searching pre-school in and around vijaynagar.please can anybody tell me which is the best pre-school.

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