As an American in Bangalore, many people ask me what’s the most glaring difference between Bangalore and one of the leading US cities such as New York or San Francisco. While countless items run to mind, my response is usually a bit unconventional: speedbumps. Yes, that’s right, those not so delightful humped surprises that ubiquitously litter the streets of Bangalore. Take to the streets in any form of transportation here and they are impossible to ignore. Regardless of the neighborhood in Bangalore, there is just one constant, the not so mighty speedbump (ok, maybe the lack of sufficient sidewalks which I will touch upon in a subsequent post).
My contention is that the speedbump really has no place in Bangalore. A first class commercial city such as Bangalore should not be constrained by asphalt undulations in any form. A very limited number of speedbumps may be required (in only rare instances), but anything above that is surely counter productive.
Zoom’s first 7 vehicles are situated at the Brigade Gateway in Malleshwaram. This neighborhood is most certainly prolific when it comes to various on-road obstacles, however the speedbump typically takes center stage. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to travel for more than 50 meters without hitting one (hopefully you don’t have motion sickness!). From my understanding, the government views these speed bumps as a powerful deterrent against intra-city speeding. The speedbump policy was clearly designed to make the city safer for pedestrians (ironic given lack of sidewalks). Unfortunately, this is a case of unintended consequences spiraling out of control.
It is painfully evident that the fundamental problem with speedbumps is that they are not uniformly designed across the city. As a result, you often see Himalayan size speedbumps followed immediately by far more gentle bumps. This inconsistency certainly does not help the cause of drivers, particularly at night or during an intense rainstorm. This type of schizophrenic speedbump placement inevitably wreaks havoc on drivers since the element of surprise is taken to a new level. This results in many drivers being falsely lulled into a sense of security only to plow over a large speedbump entirely too quickly (especially devastating for new or infrequent drivers in Bangalore). This is the absolute worse scenario since this puts their vehicle at risk as well as the pedestrians all around them.
While this is a major issue, it pails in comparison to the incremental traffic and pollution that results from the saturation of speedbumps in Bangalore. Given the severity of most speedbumps, it requires vehicles to slow down to under 15 km/hr (or at least that’s advised). This results in a consistent stop-start that ravages most cars fuel mileage and ends up causing unnecessary traffic bottlenecks across the city. Just ask any local car dealer in Bangalore and they will tell you that most vehicles will get 15-20% worse fuel performance in Bangalore compared to the countryside or other major cities such as Delhi where less speedbumps are present. This means that many Bharat Stage IV vehicles are neutered given the government’s propensity for placing speedbumps everywhere. In addition to worse fuel performance, the speedbump also takes its toll on the vehicle’s maintenance since it subjugates the car to more wear and tear from all the speed variation than would otherwise occur without speedbumps. With exceedingly high vehicle maintenance costs on a per km basis already, this is certainly not what the common man needs. With diesel prices now rising to parody with petrol over the next 18 months, the government should do everything in its power to reduce vehicle maintenance costs, thereby providing relief to the average citizen. Removing unnecessary speedbumps is a great way to accomplish this objective.
On a personal level, the most frustrating element of speedbumps is their overall effect on the environment. Studies (as shown here) indicate that locations such as toll plazas that necessitate cars coming to a nearly full stop result in significant increases in overall air pollution for the surrounding area. In most cases, bottlenecks and traffic jams typically ensue and this creates a permanent recipe for congestion, thus increasing overall pollution as cars are often creeping along at much slower speeds. In fact, cities such as London and Singapore have deliberately designed sensor systems that allow them to implement vehicle billing without having the vehicles slow down. This allows them the opportunity to implement sophisticated congestion pricing schemes while also minimizing pollution impacts. Similar approaches have been effectively taken in the US with respect to toll booths that allow vehicles to maintain high speeds (75 km/hr) while still making payment. These developments showcase the fact that large metropolitan areas realize that unnecessary vehicle slowdowns only lead to more pollution and inconvenience. Bangalore should take note!
Overall, this is a plea for the Karnataka State government to take the sensible step and remove the majority of Bangalore’s highly unnecessary speedbumps. At the very least, let’s put in place 3 or 4 pilots across the city in different neighborhoods to at least test my thesis that they are in fact a detriment. Let’s be honest, the current situation is clearly not working.