Donna and Joe have finished their assignment in India. Occasionally they still travel somewhere.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Stupid Traffic

"Stupid Traffic!" is a common sentiment around the world. Here I am referring to traffic jams created by a particular dysfunctional Bangaloraen driving habit. Sitting in the traffic you can't really capture with a photograph what is happening so I included this diagram to illustrate how it happens. On an ordinary two-way street something blocks the street; it could be a couple of wandering cows or a truck backing out of a driveway. So traffic backs up waiting for the road to clear.
Now in some parts of the world when the road cleared cars going each direction would begin to move again. But in Bangalore when the road clears there will be two walls of vehicles, filling the whole width of the street facing each other where the road was formerly blocked. This is a result of the 3rd rule of Bangalore driving. (The first two are "Don't hit anyone." and "Don't put your vehicle where someone else can't avoid hitting it.") The third is "Always move forward."
This rule is followed even if it means moving into a space only a few centimeters wider than your vehicle. Or moving into a space normally used by vehicles traveling in the opposite direction. So if there are vehicles headed south and but none headed north on a particular stretch of road it naturally fills from side to side with south-bound vehicles even if everyone can clearly see that the road is blocked.
You might expect that once flow started everyone would quickly return their own side of the road. But this would require implementation of another driving rule which does not exist in Bangalore. Since there are few north-bound vehicles north of the original blockage, south-bound vehicles continue to be able to move south (all be it very slowly) on the north-bound side of the street. They do this because it does not violate any rule--they can do so without hitting anyone and without making it unavoidable that someone else will hit them.
While this is clearly dysfunctional from a global perspective,from the individual motorist perspective, given the driving environment this is optimal behavior. The driver who always moves forward ends up ahead of the driver how stays in the left lane. Cooperative behavior depends on both a common understanding of what behavior is cooperative and a shared expectation that almost everyone will cooperate.

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