Friday, February 27, 2009

Autos fight bikes for parking space

Parking space on Usman Road is a scarce commodity due to thousands of shoppers that throng its huge retail outlets. The area below the half-year old Usman Road flyover has provided succour to vehicle owners. This area is also used by auto-rickshaw drivers who woo customers at the entrances of shops. The quest for parking space is now a contest between non-commercial vehicles and auto-rickshaws.

The situation is manageable on weekdays but fights over parking space can get ugly on weekends. “Auto men refuse to let us take out our bikes from below the flyover. They claim the area opposite Saravana Stores as theirs, though it is for two-wheeler parking,” says Raja, an IT professional from Perambur.

On condition of anonymity, an auto- driver points to a line of autos occupying the entire parking space opposite Saravana Stores. “They are T- Nagar autos. They even chase us away.” This driver is from Egmore but comes to Theagaraya Nagar for business.

He says that autos aren’t allowed to park on Usman Road, though it’s good for business. They flee when the police raids or they are fined Rs. 100. This reporter witnessed a traffic head-constable on duty, not bothered about auto-rickshaws parked under the flyover.

Stands allotted for all major auto-rickshaw driver unions are almost empty, as all the autos stand on the road, to solicit customers. Two wheeler and car owners struggle to park or take out their vehicles, as many auto-rickshaw drivers leave their vehicles unattended and blocking movement.

According to G. Suresh, traffic sub- inspector at Mambalam police station, the area under the flyover is a no-parking zone. “As per a Supreme Court directive, no vehicle can be allowed to park there. It is a security risk. Anyone can leave a bomb in the vehicles and go.”

Usman Road is a sea of humanity during weekends and festivals and the flyover has a constant flow of traffic. Any explosion in this area would be devastating.

Suresh says that since the shop owners have not provided parking space, the police is forced to relax enforcement of the directive. “We regularly seize autos violating rules,” he says.

There are 45 traffic police personnel in Mambalam, an area which has a very high flow of traffic. Suresh says that despite paucity of staff, they try their best to keep traffic flowing in the worst of conditions, like peak hours, festivals, rallies and so on.

Many prominent retail outlets on Usman road are in violation of building norms. On 31 October 2006, the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority had cautioned seven establishments on this road for improper construction. These establishments had illegally added several storeys to their palace-like shops.

A fire that broke out in Saravana Stores on 1 September, last year, exposed the lack of safety measures taken by the owners.

Despite the government regularizing many such violations, shops have not even spared their basements for their customers’ vehicles. Apart from the fight for space between autos and others, this carelessness by the shops, increase the vulnerability of the city to terrorist attacks.

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