Building new roads does not solve traffic congestion, analysis finds

Arterial roads, which were built with the purpose of removing congestion, have worsened the traffic speeds across Delhi-NCR

By Usman Nasim
Published: Wednesday 12 July 2017
Researchers have found that traffic speed remains slow even during non-peak hours (Credit: Vikas Choudhary/CSE)
Researchers have found that traffic speed remains slow even during non-peak hours (Credit: Vikas Choudhary/CSE) Researchers have found that traffic speed remains slow even during non-peak hours (Credit: Vikas Choudhary/CSE)

An analysis of traffic on major arterial roads—build with the purpose of removing congestion—has found traffic speeds across Delhi-NCR have worsened. The study was carried out by non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) using real-time Google Maps data from 13 main arterial roads in Delhi.

The average speed of traffic on the arterial roads was much lower than what they were designed for. Air pollution in any region increases with congestion, the analysis concluded.

Researchers also discovered that traffic during non-peak hours is almost as bad as peak hours of the day and weekends are more congested than weekdays, debunking a popular belief.

More than 60,000 passenger cars crossed the selected stretches which were spread across the south, north, east, central and Lutyen’s zones of Delhi; and connected to national and state highways in NCR towards Gurugram, Faridabad and Ghaziabad. Delhi’s major arterial roads have been designed to improve vehicular movement.

What the analysis revealed?

Non-peak hours are as bad: Researchers studied traffic patterns on these stretches between 8AM to 8PM in June and found the average speed to be 25-30 km/h for nearly 75 per cent of the time. The speed was more than 30 km/h for only 8 per cent of day’s time. There was barely any difference between peak and non-peak hours and evening peaks were worse than morning peaks.

Source: CSE analysis based on Google Maps

Weekend traffic is worse than weekdays: The analysis debunks the myth that Delhi’s roads have less traffic during weekends. There was more congestion during weekends (Saturday and Sunday) than weekdays (Monday to Friday). The average peak speed during weekends was 25 km/h, lower than the weekdays’ 26 km/h. While the average traffic speed on Saturday is 21 km/h, on Sunday it improves slightly to 23 km/h but remains still worse than weekdays. This shows that use of personal vehicles increases significantly during weekends.

Actual average speed is lower than design and regulated speed: Average speed is significantly lower than the designed speed of the arterial roads as well as regulated speed.

Source: CSE analysis based on Google Maps

Lutyens zone without arterial roads has less congestion: The average traffic speed in Lutyen’s zone, with 50 metres wide primary arterial roads, is considerably higher. The average peak hour speed is 44 km/h—almost 40 per cent higher than on other arterial roads. The average off-peak speed is 52 km/hr, which is almost double that on other arterials.

Air pollution increases as traffic speed reduces: CSE also analysed hourly air quality data for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – largely influenced by traffic—for a selected day. Real time data from the Central Pollution Control Board shows when the average morning peak speed of 28 km/hr drops to 25 km/hr in the evening, NO2 levels increased from 68 microgram/cubic metre to 94 microgram/cubic metre.

Source: CSE analysis based Google maps and CPCB air quality data

Making more roads is not the answer

The current obsession with more, wider roads, elevated and underground stretches attract more traffic and aggravate congestion. Studies show more roads induce more traffic. For every 10 per cent increase in lane mile capacity, there is a resulting nine per cent increase in traffic. As capacity increases, people using other congested roads, on different times, and via different means of transportation, converge to take up the increased space. It is time to change track and adopt restraint measures and scale up alternative to personal transport.

CSE has given a list of suggestions to manage and regulate traffic:

  • Scale up affordable, comfortable and reliable bus and metro transport services; build cycling and walking infrastructure; organise para-transit and shared mobility to reduce dependence on personal vehicles.
  • Finalise and implement the proposed parking policy as a stringent demand management measure including. The policy entails effective variable parking pricing, demarcation of legal parking areas, stringent penalty for illegal parking and residential parking permit. 
  • Earmark low emission zones and pedestrian zones in the city to regulate entry of personal vehicles. 
  • Improve inter-city public transport connectivity. 
  • Stop building highways through the city.

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