Lockdown Turned into Gridlock! City Streets Choked with Traffic even during Lockdown. Who said Mangaluru is Under Lockdown? Because it doesn’t look like such a huge traffic flow seen between 6 am and 10 am- and even after that.
Mangaluru: In spite of the spike in Covid-19 cases in Dakshina Kannada/Mangaluru, for which the government and district administration have enforced lockdown, unfortunately the City streets have already started flooding with traffic. Citizens took to Twitter highlighting the issue, giving us a glimpse of the situation on ground. People make a beeline right from 6 am at supermarkets, medical shops, fruit and vegetable shops, milk booths etc. Hurried efforts to stock essentials saw quite a few traffic jams and long queues in the city since the last few days. Pan shops make a quick buck as cigarettes are sold for Rs. 20 extra per pack, and are being sold secretly. A few other non-essential shops had their shutters half closed and there were people shopping outside the shops. Chicken, mutton and beef shops too saw long queues before the curfew time.
Even though the City traffic Police personnel were well equipped to instantly enforce the lockdown, with barricades set up on main roads, quite a few motorists were seen violating the rules by traveling through inner roads or where cops presence is absent. With many people still on the roads, the barricades led to some traffic jams as people tried to rush back home before 10 am. The three-four-hour relaxation period appears to have become counter-productive to the very objective of lockdown — to arrest the spread, and bring down the incidence of Covid-19. With several vehicles hitting the road, traffic almost comes to a standstill on streets near Kankanady market, Kadri Market, Jyothi-Balmatta road, Bendoorwell-Kankanady road, Highway between Nanthur and KPT, and other points.
Every day from 6 am, the city bursts into economic and social activity, compressing and capturing the entire day’s activity in a short span of three- four hours.While traders and vendors are happy that economic activity is running uninterrupted in those four hours, experts are worried about undisciplined crowds spilling out onto the roads without wearing masks or maintaining social distance, and jammed traffic . Certain bazaar areas, including Market Road are brimming with people in the three-hour phase, so much so that the traffic in these areas takes about an hour to clear after the lockdown hours come into force at 10 am.
With a large number of street hawkers and vendors who do business on the roads, people throng to make purchases. Most of the rush is seen only between 7:30 and 9:00 am at these places. “The vendors cannot stop the heavy rush as the relaxation bracket is for a short duration. The only way it can be maintained is by extending the relaxation period,” says a street vendor selling fish. Police say that they have been effectively enforcing Covid-19 appropriate behaviour during the four-hour window, but the situation on the ground shows a different picture. They say that the first lockdown in 2020 was completely different from the situation now. Nonetheless, they are trying to inculcate discipline in crowds. “Anyone who violates rules is booked and action taken. After the relaxation period is completed, all officers are distributed to checkpoints and patrolling.” said police commissioner N Shashi Kumar.
A few police officials recall that the lockdown in 2020 when except for establishments selling groceries, vegetables and a few other essentials, others used to be closed and people were allowed to travel only within 2km radius for any purchase. “The police department which was at the forefront in enforcing the lockdown, did it very strictly, But not anymore,” said one police constable posted at Nanthur junction check post. Few citizens have expressed that allowing all commercial activity in four hours visibly increases chances of overcrowding and some restrictions need to be in place to spread out the crowds. “The district admin or MCC must make these rules. Either they must stagger the timings of operation — starting with milk and groceries in the morning, and then open up others like banks. Commercial establishments can open from 9 am onwards. So, on any given street, there will only be one commercial establishment open.
Few others said that uninterrupted travel in the four-hour open period must be discouraged and travel for essential purposes alone must be allowed as it was in 2020. “There are a couple of super- spreading areas we noticed in both waves —Supermarkets and restaurants. Both these are crowd pullers and bring in public from across the city. Some restrictions must be there like travel only within 5 km radius etc to ensure unnecessary vehicular traffic is not attracted. Such initiatives are crucial to contain the surge. One more important step is to involve citizens in all containment activities. Ward-level information dissemination is crucial to make the best use of such restrictions,” said a college professor.
In order to ease the crowds at shopping places and also to ease heavy traffic on streets, we need to Segregate economic activity into essential and non-essential, and designate different times to both. Allow essential establishments to operate all day or in staggered timings in morning, followed by non-essential ones in mid-day. Extend the relaxation period up to 8 hours for alternate days to spread the crowds coming in. Deploy volunteers apart from police — roping in NGO, NSS, NCC volunteers for pandemic management. A relaxation of two more hours will put both vendors and customers at less risk as crowding won’t happen and also traffic chaos.
Now, the larger question is whether we can make this liveable Mangaluru the ‘new normal’, and if this will become permanent. Yes, the new normal will remain as long as COVID is around us. However, it can become permanent only if lessons are learnt from this pandemic and specific interventions introduced. We need to reduce the need to travel: This can include interventions like work-from-home and study-from-home on some days, staggered and flexible work hours, more online shopping and home-delivery options, etc. Reduce travel distances. It will be a pity if we don’t learn our lessons even from a pandemic. It is also important to understand that there is no silver bullet.