The editor in chief of India Today, Mr Aroon Purie, provides us with an excellent example of illogic that would delight anyone with a keen sense of the absurd. Here’s what he writes at the start of his editorial of Aug 27th:
If your city has 7.5 lakh cars and their average length is five metres, what road length would you need to park them? Answer: 3,750 km. What if your city has just 2,045 km of roads? Gridlock of course. That’s Mumbai, and every time I visit our financial capital, I wonder how India became the economic envy of the world.
It comes as news to me that India is “the economic envy of the world” — whatever “economic envy” means. Be that as it may, let’s see what’s wrong with what he writes.
First, the average length of Indian cars is not five meters. Indeed, I doubt that Indian cars on average are longer than American cars — which are only 4 meters long on average. So a reasonable estimate for the average length of Indian cars would be 3 meters. Itty-bitty marutis and padminis and hyundais don’t grow all that big. So if you were to park all the Mumbai cars bumper to bumper in a single-file, they would stretch only 2,250 kms, not 3,750 as estimated by Mr Purie.
Second, roads are not single lane. They are at least double lanes. So you are unlikely to run out of Mumbai road surface to park all the cars Mumbai. Leading a story on traffic congestion by comparing the total length of roads to the total length of cars is meaningless at best. But that is neither here not there.
People don’t just park cars on the roads. They drive cars. Congestion has something to do with the traffic handling capacity of road, not how many kms of roads will be required to park cars in a single file.
Traffic handling capacity has to do with road condition (pot holed roads, roads dug up for this or that reason), traffic control (appropriately timed lights, for instance), traffic type (people, cattle, bicycles, autos, two-wheelers), other uses of the road (vegetable vendors, families living on the streets, kids playing, kids begging), etc.
Too many cars can of course lead to congestion. But anyone familiar with any city in India should know that it is not just the number of cars that is the problem. The problem is incompetency and corruption.
Incompetent traffic engineers make roads that make no sense. I have written about that in the past. (I highly recommend this post, Triple-point of the world at Zero Degrees Humanity, even if I say so myself.) Then there are dug up roads and pot-holed roads. That’s where corruption comes in.
You may say that I am making a mountain of a mole hill. Actually it is not a trivial issue. We are not experts. We depend on people to reason things out and tell us what’s wrong and what needs to be done to fix the problems. The editor of a major news magazine, if he takes on the task of helping us comprehend the world, has the responsibility to make sure that he himself understands it properly.
All too often people just uncritically accept what is being reported. It is important to point out silliness when you see it. It will reduce the quantity of silliness going around.
Anyway, it is a confederacy of dunces — the planners don’t really understand their job and the reporters don’t understand the problem.