mannerisms (3)

The Green eye

Who invented the traffic light, was it William L Potts, JP Knight or Garret Morgan? Commonly it is claimed that the first patent for the invention of the traffic light was given to Garret Morgan. A device to control traffic was needed and on Nov 20th 1923 he was granted a patent for the world’s first traffic signal which was manually operated. General Electric, realizing the huge money making potential in traffic signals, bought Morgan’s patent for $40000. They switched to coloured lights. Red for stop and green for go. Eventually, over the years lights became automated.
While we agree a red light can be a nuisance when we are in a hurry. Imagine how life on the roads would have been today without Morgan’s invention. Several people took it forward with several new inventions – for instance, Henry Barnes, who was a traffic engineer and commissioner and served in many American cities was responsible for many other traffic innovations such as bus lanes, one way streets, pedestrian-operated traffic lights and also the green wave (see graphic). Green wave was the coordination of the signals according to data of currently existing traffic flows done statically, by the use of timers. Green wave was used only for the roads with heaviest loads as interweaving with several traffic junctions increased its complexity and reduced usability.


Barnes pedestrian-operated traffic lights invention was not very successful, much like our very own bus lanes in Delhi (BRT in Delhi). Traffic lights, if not programmed in a proper way can create extreme chaos on the roads. Ideally traffic lights should be timed between 30-45 seconds. Keeping it to 30-45 seconds per light consistently keeps a smooth flow of traffic. Instead, the Delhi traffic cops manage traffic lights manually. During peak hours this is the single most frustrating reason that results in long halts. Here are some I have experienced -
6min 37sec at Moti Bagh crossing on 23rd March at 4:42pm
5min 12sec at Moti Bagh crossing on 5th Nov at 6:46pm
4min 27 sec at Bhikaji crossing on 28th October at 8:05pm
3 min 48 sec at Bhikaji crossing on 29th August at 6:35pm
Going by the long halts, I would recommend carrying some books in the glove compartment to keep you busy while at the waiting line. And if you somehow escape these signals then they may come handy while awaiting the chief minister’s motorcade to pass or if you are luckier then in the long jam after a heavy downpour, waiting for the rainwater to recede.
Jokes aside, 30-45 second lights can be adjusted to 60 sec or even 90 seconds but not for over 3min. I wonder what in the world could justify over 3min halts that eventually lead to a pile of traffic. When a small snarl in the middle of the road piles up so much traffic (phantom traffic jams form) we can only imagine what a 3-6 min halt can do -- bumper to bumper until you reach your destination.
It is understandable that to operate manually and to keep a tab on exactly 30 seconds or 45 seconds while standing in the middle of the road amid managing heavy traffic can be challenging but in that case, there are several simple ways to deal with this. Here’s one from me: carry a small gadget which buzzes/vibrates after every 30 seconds.

Hope someone is listening!

Manoj Madhavan

Read more…

The Rare View

We often see vehicles on roads with their rear-view mirrors shut. Why? I can only think of the following reasons:

  1. Ctrl Z (character who doesn’t follow rules) thinks that with vehicles moving in such close quarters, there is a good chance of mirrors getting hit and broken.
  2. Ctrl Z trusts his peripheral vision more than looking at a rear view mirror.
  3. Rear view mirrors have been stolen/broken and Ctrl Z never bothered to get them repaired.

As a child most things that are inculcated in you, remain with you. Similarly, with driving what you learn in the beginning remains with you forever, since we are all averse to change. Ctrl Z may argue that he is a safe driver even with his rear-view mirrors shut. He broadly operates within the domain of karma where you do your best, and leave the results to your insurance company.

The worst use of rear-view mirrors in Delhi is represented by the auto-rickshaws. Autos provide a convenient and viable mode of transport in Delhi. According to a recent report in Times of India, there are 2 lakh more auto-rickshaws to be added to the current fleet of 1 lakh auto-rickshaws in Delhi. Add that to several other three wheelers like delivery vans, water tankers, DTKs, and pickup standards, etc., which ply on Delhi roads. I want to highlight one thing which has been ignored or not noticed so far and if corrected can solve if not most but some areas of traffic concerns.


Rear-view mirrors in three-wheelers pointing inwards

Because rear-view mirrors point inwards in more than 80% of auto-rickshaws in Delhi, they tend to notice traffic from behind a bit late. With a triangular body shape, three-wheelers should have their rear-view mirrors pointing outwards so that they can spot the vehicle from the back at the right time. Auto-rickshaws with rear-view mirrors pointing inwards tend to:

  • Surprise you by turning suddenly (most of them don’t do it on purpose, just that they spot you late).
  • Rely on their peripheral vision.
  • Step on brakes suddenly not realizing there is a vehicle at the back.

It’s about time this area of concern was addressed, which will only benefit people in the long run.

Manoj Madhavan (@manojvirtual)

Read more…


Flyovers, road widening, improved public transport – these are large scale, big budget solutions to traffic issues. But there are also several ‘small scale’ problems which, if effectively addressed, can actually result in substantial improvements to daily traffic flow. One such problem is “Drive in your lane”. It is such a simple rule, but governed by laws and rules of etiquette. The rule exists to keep the flow of traffic at a steady pace; instead, the rule is ignored because of selfishness, idiocy and most times, unawareness of Mr.CtrlZ – the guy who doesn’t follow rules.

So, do we drive on the left, right or middle of the road? Well… just ascertain the direction, trust your instincts and keep going, because Mr.Ctrl Z believes that adherence to road rules would lead to misery; he doesn’t drive, instead just works his vehicle in a particular direction at his own pace and leisure.


A couple of years ago, in one of the London tubes, I noticed people looking at me when I was nicely perched on an escalator to get to the next tube. It was later, after a couple of such trips, that I realized I was not following the escalator norms. I was standing on the left side of the escalator. So what, right? Well…To give a little background to those who are unaware of escalator etiquettes- you must stand on the right side of the escalator in order to allow others to move by swiftly. I realized this only after looking at a hoarding which suggested so.

b log_road

Similarly, unaware of the fact that the extreme right lane is meant for overtaking, Mr Ctrl Z finds it a safe lane for driving at a slow speed, resulting in unwanted cluster of vehicles behind him (see graphic). In such a situation the driver is left with no option but to take his vehicle to “wherever the gap is”. For instance, if he is on the right of the road, unless that is occupied, he goes to the middle, unless that is also occupied, he occupies the next available gap, as in a car racing video game.

Overtaking Mr.Ctrl Zs would mean a huge risk. Mr Ctrl Zs, despite several honks and instruction signs, insist on driving in the right lane. It is not confusion; it is feeble-mindedness. Ctrl Zs are not citing traffic laws or actual evidence but their own personal sense of what is right. They may also defend themselves by telling drivers not to be impatient or worse, to take the middle or the left lane to move ahead of them. But by doing so, they are asking drivers to break the law and put two wheelers or slow moving vehicles at risk.

I believe that out of 1 million drivers in Delhi if only 5 percent would understand what I am trying to say we would save enough time, energy and petrol in our country/city.

Please share your comments below.

Manoj Madhavan (@manojvirtual)

Read more…