15 challenges in executing the ORR bus priority lane project

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Traffic police has notified the bus priority lane. File pic: Kashinath Prabhu

Bengaluru’s bus priority lane (BPL) project was to be launched in Outer Ring Road (ORR) today, but has been postponed yet again. In the first part of this series, I explored issues with respect to the overall strategy of the project. What’s also clear is that the BBMP and BMTC have not thought through many practical difficulties in implementing it.

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Here are some of those:

BPL is actually Bus ‘BMTC Priority Lane’!

Presently the BPL is only for BMTC, and not for other forms of mass transport such as:

    • State transport buses from all states
    • Private intercity (long-distance) buses 
    • Private buses catering to commuters
    • Contract buses (hired by LG, Samsung etc.)
    • School buses
    • HOVs (High-Occupancy Vehicles like tempo travellers, cabs and school vans)

This is a massive issue because other buses outnumber BMTC buses by a ratio of 4:1. And this does not even count the LCVs (Light Commercial Vehicles).

If private buses are not allowed to stop at BMTC stops, they cannot do business. On the other hand, passengers cannot be offloaded in the middle of the general lanes on ORR. So the only option left for them is to use the service roads, which will lead to the mother of all traffic jams.

Parents of school children will have to work out a different routine, including a different point for pick-up and drop. If they are picking up and dropping their children themselves, it could conflict with their office timings.

BPL may not be able to achieve desired speeds

Since the BPL does not allow overtaking of buses, a single-lane BPL will very likely lead to bus bunching. We have bus stops or junctions every 500 m. This is too short a distance – at high speeds, the buses will quickly reach the end of the stretch, and bunch rapidly. Bus bunching will reduce the speed of buses radically, even below their current speed.

This makes the whole idea unviable.

How fast a bus reaches the next blockage

Speed (km/h) Minutes to reach the next blockage
5 6
10 3
15 2
20 1.5

Note that this is the time taken by the lead bus to reach the next blockage. As the queue builds, subsequent buses will not have to go that far, and will take lesser time to catch up with the previous bus.

No provision to catch and punish intruders into BPL

Traffic laws are rampantly violated in Bengaluru due to the lack of enforcement. The chances of getting caught and punished for most violations is extremely low, and the rewards are just too great.

So, if we want the BPL to be clear of private vehicles, we will need a much higher level of vigilance and enforcement. People must be convinced that every single violation is found and punished. But BMTC does not have a strategy to prevent private vehicles from intruding into the BPL.

Traffic police may not protect BPL from intruders

A couple of years ago, a proposal was made to set up BPL on the Old Airport Road. The traffic police wanted a budget of Rs 15 cr for manning that smaller stretch. The project was shelved because this budget was not available.

Now a far bigger project is launched, and there is no mention of a traffic police budget. Hence it’s unclear if the traffic police would be equipped to protect BPL from intruders.

Service roads will be choked. Traffic study required urgently!

When BPL is implemented, the traffic in each ‘general’ lane will increase by 2-3 times. In response, heavy traffic will move to the service roads, and choke them. Service roads in this stretch of ORR are not the usual two-lane bidirectional roads – both lanes of the service roads are one-way, and in some stretches the direction is even reversed.

On top of this, BMTC wants to seal off most junctions between the left lane and service road. This will have a major impact on traffic from the people hubs located on ORR. Just the Marathahalli-Ibbalur stretch of ORR has 38 public hubs such as malls and tech parks! It will also complicate life for the neighbourhoods along  ORR – for smaller trips, they will have to take very long roundabouts.

Therefore, BPL must be launched only after BBMP launches a major study, including  microsimulation, to check its impact.

Several what-if scenarios must be worked out to select the best option: 

    • which service lane stretches to be made two-way/bidirectional
    • which segments need a reversal of traffic direction

All illegal shops on service road must be closed to prevent congestion

There are many legal and illegal shops on service roads, and many of these do not have parking space. Their customers park on the service road illegally. BBMP has never bothered to correct this situation.

But after BPL implementation, the service roads will have much more traffic, and illegal parking here will cause severe traffic jams. So, service roads must be declared as ‘no parking’ zones, and establishments without adequate parking space must be closed. But BBMP has not taken action on this so far.

Ban traffic queues from spilling on to service roads

Many software parks, hotels and malls do not process their incoming vehicles rapidly. As a result, long queues of cars keep waiting on the service road. These queues block legitimate traffic on the service road. After the launch of BPL, these will contribute much more to the congestion on service road.

Hence BBMP must force all commercial properties to contain such queues within their campuses, and not allow any spill-over on to the service roads. But BBMP has failed to address this factor also.

Address pain-points of other mobility providers

City planners have never arranged infrastructure for various mobility providers. But when the BPL is launched, these providers will face unprecedented problems; these will have to be addressed beforehand.

    • Autos and taxis are not provided official stands to wait for their next fare. They park in the left-most lane (which is admittedly not a good thing). Once BPL is implemented, they will have no place to go, including service roads. BBMP must urgently identify parking bays for these vehicles
    • Shared taxis and pooled cars will also be hit hard, as passengers cannot be picked up or dropped in the middle of the road.
    • The delays in general lanes will severely affect Ola/Uber users, as they pay for travel time.

Metro work will reduce the general lane by half

The work for Metro Phase IIA (Silk Board to KR Puram) will start soon. The Metro line is aligned to the center of the ORR. When work starts, one of two general lanes will be occupied by Metro.

That is, the ORR will then offer only one lane for general traffic, instead of two lanes. That means the remaining general lane will be overloaded by a factor of 7-8.

Is this the right time to launch BPL?

BBMP must immediately reclaim back-roads that are encroached

In any area, having a grid of roads is critical, so that the traffic gets evenly distributed.
This reduces congestion drastically. But Mahadevpura zone has very few grids or alternative roads. On top of that, a few major back-roads are blocked by builders to create illegal “gated communities”.

The launch of BPL will bring this issue to a boil. Now is the time to reclaim all encroached back-roads and set up a grid, to minimize the impact of BPL.

Address the problem of road-hoggers

BMTC and BBMP have not planned ways to get rid of road-hoggers such as:

    • Carts selling ragi and majjige
    • Two-wheelers parked in BPL during rains while the rider waits under a tree
    • Two-wheelers parked at bus shelters during rains, with riders hogging the shelter
    • Two-wheelers crowding in underpasses during rains
    • Tempo travelers and cabs waiting in left lane for pick-up and drop.
    • Rented scooters abandoned inside BPL

These road-hoggers were always a nuisance. But after BPL, they can cause significant traffic slowdown.

Bollards serve no purpose, and are dangerous!

BMTC had earlier fixed bollards to separate the BPL. This design choice has major issues:

    • Bollards will constrain buses to the BPL, but not block other vehicles from coming into the lane. This is the exact opposite of what is desired – buses should be able to cross over to the general lanes, but other vehicles should not be able to come into the BPL.
    • While cars and buses are designed to drive in a straight line, two-wheelers are inherently unstable. For them, a moment’s inattention means running into a bollard and being thrown off. Even if the driver is mindful, he could easily swerve into a bollard while trying to avoid a pothole. A barrier rail would have been the best choice, because a bike can recover even after grazing a railing.
    • By design, blacktop roads are not suited for mounting bollards with foundation bolts. The pathetic quality of our crumbling roads makes it a laughable idea. Several bollards had got knocked over too.

[Edit: Bollards have been removed, but there’s no clarity on what these will be replaced with. Varying reports say plastic barricades, reflectors, and so on would be used. Currently double yellow lines have been painted to demarcate BPL.]

No provision for rapid transit of emergency vehicles

BPL will be fenced off from other lanes with bollards. Whereas the other lanes will have 3-4 times the current traffic. Hence it would be difficult for emergency vehicles – such as ambulances, fire engines and police vehicles – to quickly pass through either the BPL or the general lanes.

Even the service roads will have heavy traffic, and weaving through it would not be easy. Besides, once an ambulance driver takes a particular lane, he would not able to change his options. He may even not be able to enter or exit the ORR as before.

At minimum, emergency services must be provided with a map of the new entries and exits, so that they don’t get bogged down in dead ends.

[Edit: Bollards have been removed now, and it’s unclear what kind of barrier will be used to demarcate the lane]

Make exigency plan for a breakdown in either lane

The proposal does not plan for an accident or break-down of a bus. Specifically, what type of barricade would now be placed along the BPL, and how would a stalled bus be extracted across it? Note that we do not have an emergency shoulder lane reserved for such purposes. BMTC must draw up a plan for this.

No plan to allow private vehicles to enter/exit ORR

BBMP has not planned how other vehicles will enter and exit ORR. For this, the BPL will have to be interrupted at every 1-2 km, and also blocked for a significant time to let other vehicles pass. This will create bus bunching. It remains to be seen how BBMP and BMTC will create diversions for private vehicles.

[In Part 3 of this series, I suggest solutions to some of the above concerns.]


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About Nagesh Aras 14 Articles
Nagesh Aras is a resident of Bellandur. He works on urban governance issues like mobility, lake and water management, and STPs.

5 Comments

  1. I am confused by the issues mentioned in this article. So many of the points seem to be from a very car-centric view. In fact, the entire article doesn’t once mention the biggest problem plaguing us right now – CARS. Very weird.

  2. Citizen Matters 16.11.2019
    Bus lanes in Bengaluru:
    For commuters to use bus transport, the bus lanes should be covered in all parts of Bengaluru. If only a part of the City is covered, it will not help the commuters to reach different destinations. Reserving bus lanes in our not so wide roads affects road space for other vehicles, create congestion for other traffic affecting citizens, etc. One ways to be enforced along the bus lane network will affect the other vehicle owners and the residents and complexes. They may have to cover extra distances and the journey time will be more. Petro/Diesel consumption will be more. It will be difficult to provide pedestrian crossings to cross the bus lanes and the roads on either side of the bus lanes.
    The best thing is provide convenient Metro Rail facility and suburban Rail facility covering all stations on the existing railway routes and new stations. If possible, Ring Railway net work may be provided by connecting Mysore line to Salem line as there is no railway line on the south of Bengaluru City.
    -Dr. A. S. Kodanda Pani,
    Urban Planner & Civic Analyst

  3. In the developed countries like USA n UK.. They will devide normal lanes with bus lanes with yellow paints..
    People having brains dose not use this lanes.. Its only used by fire engines, cops vehicles, ambulances n buses etc..
    Government should follow same strategy, Install CCTV Cameras, Leavy heavy fines for normal vehicles using the lane

  4. After seeing the new bus lanes introduced, I ditched my regular carpool group and thought of giving the 500D bus a go. From Horamavu to Silkboard. I could not find any difference in travel time at all. This may be a great idea but it is implemented for namesake. No real commitment. The motorists move into the bus lanes as usual. and these bus lanes don’t work from the leftmost lane, vehicles crossing over to the service road will always be blocking the bus lanes. they should atleast have a traffic warden in the busses and request motorists to move out as the bus goes. If they do this, and really improve travel time, more motorists are going to take the bus and it will have a cascading effect on improving travel time on the bus.

    Also they should allow other high occupancy busses to use the priority lane, ultimately the goal is to have efficient transport, there is no harm if Infosys buses help in removing motorists from the road.

    • Corporate buses that even run by BMTC should not be allowed in bus lane. The lane should be for public utility buses and not private buses. To be precise, BMTC bused running for infosys should not be allowed

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. "Bus priority lane in ORR: Ambitious but poorly thought-out?" | | Citizen Matters, Bengaluru
  2. "How Bengaluru's flawed bus priority lane project can be salvaged" | | Citizen Matters, Bengaluru

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