Potholes, poor lighting and flawed speed bumps: The nightmare on Pune roads

Even as the Pune Municipal Corporation goes full throttle with its various Smart City initiatives, regular commute remains an ordeal for residents, particularly due to the terrible conditions of its busy roads.

Even as the Pune Municipal Corporation goes full throttle with its Smart City initiatives, the work in progress is causing major problems for Punekars. The most irksome being poor road conditions. Despite several measures taken by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and other civic bodies, Pune’s roads continue to be plagued with potholes, dim-lights, and ill-constructed speed-breakers and dividers.

“Commuting via the potholed Choudhary Basti Road in Kharadi has become a nightmare for people, who are risking their lives every day to reach their destinations,” said Kharadi resident Anuradha Dubey.  Satish Mane, a resident from Kondhwa added: “The area sees a lot of heavy vehicle traffic. It has become risky to drive through these lanes after sunset. The entire highway stretch hardly has any light and vehicles driving in high beam add to the problems”.

Potholes have become a major menace to life and limb, especially for two wheelers. “The potholes near Nal Stop have reappeared despite the repairs and patchwork done earlier,” said Aditya Nayak, a resident of Kothrud. Adds tech professional Devdatt Jain, a resident of Satara Road: “I travel daily to Hinjewadi and it is a nightmare. It takes an hour to cover three kilometres, thanks to the potholes and failure of traffic lights. The patch from Katraj to Warje is the worst”. According to PMC, the city’s roads have over 3500 potholes needing repair.

In addition to potholes, poorly designed and badly marked speed breakers are another reason for the citizens’ travel woes. The roads are also not well-lit at night which makes seeing an ill-constructed bump impossible. “In the absence of the white marking, many motorcyclists fail to spot these speed-breakers,” admitted Inspector Vivek Lavand of Dighi police station. “Besides, the speed-breakers are not made scientifically. A scientific evaluation of speed-breakers is a must for commuters’ safety,” added local resident Sunil Shinde who lost his car bumper on one speed breaker.

Pune district has a total length of 13,642 km of roads(2001) of which 5394 km roads have Bituminous surface, 3554 km roads have waterbound macadam surface and 4694 km is unmetalled road.The roads are classified according to their importance.

Of the total road length in the district, 331 km is covered by National Highways and 1368 km by State Highways. The major and other district roads have a total length of 5388 km, which passes through all the talukas. Almost all the villages are well connected by road. The total length of village roads is 6555 km.

It is primarily the responsibility of the Road Department of Pune Municipality Corporation (PMC) to manage roads within city limits. However, ancillary duties, such as upkeep of speed-breakers and traffic lights etc comes under the ambit of the traffic police.

What the statistics say

According to a survey by Jagrut Nagrik Mahasangha, an umbrella organization of the citizen forums in Pimpri-Chinchwad, over 1,000 speed breakers in the city are in gross violation of the Indian Road Congress norms causing several fatalities and accidents.

As mentioned in the PMC website, permission is required from the traffic police to ensure that speed breakers are constructed in line with IRC Norms. As such, locations of speed breakers must be authorised by the traffic police with the municipal body responsible for their upkeep and maintenance. However, “The PCMC civic administration states that it is not possible to take permission for erecting speed breakers at different places. As they are, the speed breakers have become death traps,” said Nitin Yadav, president of Jagrut Nagrik Mahasangha.

Badly designed speed breakers. Pic Ekta Joshi

As per IRC-99 (Indian Road Congress) norms, a speed breaker should have a radius of 17m with a width of 3.7m and a height of 0.1m. This is calculated to reduce the speed of the vehicle to 25 kmph. However, 90% of speed breakers in Pune do not meet these norms.

Despite the Smart Lighting Project by PMC that promised LED lights on roads, dark stretches are a common sight. “Every month we see a streetlight going out, either they are not fixed properly, or quality isn’t maintained,” said Trisha Ghadge from Hadaspar. “Even the main roads are not properly lit. The road from the bus stop towards Solapur is the worst, causing at least two accidents a week.” “The roads are always in darkness though streetlights have been installed. People who drive have vehicles’ headlights to guide them, but what about those walking?”, asked Harish Shahane, a resident of Lullanagar.

While road accidents have seen a dip for the first time last year since 2015, the numbers are far from reassuring. In 2018, Maharashtra Highway Police Data revealed that over 1,000 people lost their lives and 1,195 people suffered critical injuries due to road accidents in Pune Rural Area. Within the city limits, the number of fatalities reached 362 and 607 people were severely injured from road mishaps. PMC further recorded 4459 deaths in the city in the last four and a half years (until 2019) due to road accidents. Although negligent driving is one reason, poor road conditions are more to be blamed for these fatalities.

The traffic jams due to bad roads are also causing revenue losses for industry as it affects worker productivity. Satish Pai, president, The Hinjewadi Industries Association (HIA) blamed poor roads near Rajiv Gandhi Infotech Park (RGIP) for financial losses to software companies. “Because of traffic congestion, employees are unable to reach office on time,” said Pai. “On an average, every employee gets stuck in traffic jam for 90 minutes. While offering services to overseas clients, IT companies charge them an average of 25 USD/hour. So, with 1.5 lakh employees working in RGIP, the daily loss to IT firms due to getting stuck in traffic jams is collectively around Rs 25 crore.”

What is PMC doing?

The Road Department at PMC claims it has initiated several initiatives such as the Road Maintenance Van project to improve road quality. The scheme envisages the deployment of four Road Maintenance vans in the city’s four zones on a trial basis to carry out on-spot road repairs. “It is true that city roads have potholes and PMC is trying to repair them,” said Aniruddha Pawaskar, head, PMC road department. “We have hired four road maintenance vans. These vans clear the potholes and repair them when there is no rain. At least 20 complaints are handled every day by these road maintenance vans”.

The PMC has also launched a helpline number wherein citizens can call and report potholes and request immediate repairs. Similarly, the civic body begun surveying speed breakers that do not conform to IRC guidelines in July last year and has assured they will be redesigned to meet the norms.

To improve road conditions, Pune District Collector Naval Kishore Ram recently inaugurated ‘Road Safety Week’ with a vision to focus on road maintenance. “As part of Road Safety Week, an important exercise to identify ‘blackspots’ — where frequent accidents happen — will be undertaken,” said Ram. “This will be done by the highway authorities, state transport department as well as civic bodies. Maintenance of roads is an important aspect of road safety. The officers concerned with road construction and maintenance should bear in mind that apart from constructing roads, it’s important that proper attention be given to their maintenance”.

However, the PMC’s promises inspire little confidence among citizens. “A standing technical advisory committee (STAC) formed by the previous municipal commissioner had given recommendations on how to build, repair and maintain roads,” said civic activist Vivek Velankar. “It has been five years since the report came out, but it is still gathering dust. There is no accountability and no punishment for poor quality work as a result of which potholes keep increasing every year,”

With such a track record, Punekars expect little to change on Pune’s roads any time soon.

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