Roundabouts: From boon to bane 

Far from easing traffic snarls, these structures are unable to handle spiralling vehicle count

Published: 13th January 2018 10:44 PM  |   Last Updated: 14th January 2018 07:10 AM   |  A+A-

A massive traffic snarl at the Teen Murti Circle in New Delhi | shekhar yadav

NEW DELHI: Try negotiating Delhi’s numerous roundabouts during peak office hours and you’re sure to wonder what’s up with the traffic. Originally planned with the aim of easing traffic snarls, it’s anyone’s guess whether roundabouts are serving their purpose these days.

Experts say Delhi’s ever-increasing vehicular load is the reason the once-efficient roundabouts have been rendered inefficient. “When the traffic at a roundabout crosses 4,500-5,000 units (cars), the roundabout becomes non-effective. The flow of traffic is affected and this leads to congestion,” Dr PK Sarkar, director (transport) at the Asian Institute of Transport Development, said.

Backing up Sarkar’s observation is the staggering rise in the number of registered vehicles. According to the Delhi statistical handbook, the national capital recorded a 64 per cent rise in vehicular registrations in 2015-16. Around 9 lakh vehicles were registered in 2017 alone.

Sarkar, a former professor in the transport planning department of the School of Planning and Architecture, said roundabouts had their own merits and demerits. “The presence of roundabouts ensures non-interrupted traffic flow and also eliminates direct conflict points, enhancing safety of commuters,” he said.
On the other hand, their capacity is very low and even a slight rise in traffic renders them inefficient. “You can see a locking effect happen,” he said, adding that the gap approach – keeping a certain distance between vehicles -- is lost when this happens.

The concept of roundabouts is not new to the city. It was first suggested by Lord Hardinge as an alternative to the New York-like grid setting that an earlier city planner had recommended. Hardinge insisted that roundabouts must be a part of the city’s landscape to decrease the intensity of dust storms that frequently hit Delhi.

Speaking of the difference between roundabouts in developed countries and those in India, Sarkar said that most roundabouts in countries like England were mini-roundabouts. “The number of vehicles is fewer there  compared to India. Also, the traffic in England is very disciplined. More than anything else, there needs to be a shift in the mindset of people for traffic rules to work in India,” he said, adding that cyclists and pedestrians also need to be taken into account while installing a roundabout.

The former professor called for a stronger political system to improve traffic conditions. “Very often you see the rich and the affluent being let off for traffic violations. This must stop,” he said.
According to him, the roundabouts near Parliament, Connaught Place and Dhaula Kuan had been effective earlier but were now grappling under the pressure of vehicular traffic. “We had suggested an innovative design for the Dhaula Kuan roundabout in view of the surroundings. But due to some issues, it was not cleared. A normal structure was installed there,” Sarkar said.

So what needs to be done to ensure roundabouts are effective? According to Sarkar, an ideal roundabout must have a diameter of at least 30 metres. “Also, proper entry/exit angles, preferably 90 degrees, must be provided and there must be proper signage to prepare the commuter for the oncoming roundabout,” he said.

Speaking of possible solutions, Sarkar said converting the roundabouts to signalled intersections would help ease congestion.

Whose idea were roundabouts?
First proposed by Lord Hardinge
Most roundabouts in Lutyens zone
What are the problem areas?
Increased vehicular traffic congests roundabouts
Some roundabouts not big enough
Entry/exit angles not always 90 degrees

What's the car count?
64 per cent rise in vehicle registrations in 2015-16
9 lakh new vehicles registered
last year
5000 is the maximum number of vehicles a roundabout can handle

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