Vikas Jain

VIKAS Traffic Flow Design & Innovation

An approach to minimize city traffic congestion

Author - Vikas Jain

Traffic jams have been the pain points of the majority of the cities. I live in Delhi (India) and do see traffic jams and congestion on daily basis.

Let’s apply a Design and Innovation framework to understand if this problem can be solved or at least the situation is improved to some extent. And with me analyzing the traffic patterns for many years, there is an Innovation which if applied can REDUCE traffic congestion within 5 Days at minimal/no Cost and the solution lies in “Traffic Flow Design & Innovation”. But to understand this situation better, let’s take the help of the Design & Innovation framework to go step by step.

This article is another social innovation in my series of “PROBLEM BY DESIGN”. Even if you are not concenred about traffic problem, but still I would suggest you to read the article to understand the concept of “PROBLEM BY DESIGN” as you can apply this concept in solving problems in your business and career.

Problem by Design - Concept & Term coined by Vikas Jain

As a software engineer early in my career, I understood the importance of a good design in building a system. But with my experience of working in various teams i.e. from Design, development, testing and even customer support, I realized that problems which are by DESIGN, can not be solved through customer support. 

And in other words, if we are start looking the “DESIGN” of the problem, we may figure out that the problem has root in something else. And to fix that problem, we need to understand the “Design of the System” and how things are working. Specially innovators apply that perspective and question the “Design” so that they can improve the design itself.

1. Is this Problem worth solving?

Definitely, traffic jams are required to be solved. Below mentioned are a few of the impacts of traffic congestion in major cities

1. Fuel Wasteage – If we just apply the maths to fuel wastage, it would immediately come out as the huge number of fuel wastage due to traffic congestions that otherwise could have been saved. Delhi wastes 40,000 litres of fuel per day in traffic jams

2. Productivity Hours Wasteage – The majority of the people who are travelling are going to their work location. With lesser jam that could use these hours for some other productive usage

3. Life Saving/Threating Situations – There are instances when you see life-critical vehicles like Ambulance, Fire tenders struck in those jams and you feel bad about the situation

4. CO2 emissions and other Environmental concerns – These traffic congestions are definitely leading to extra CO2 emissions which could have been saved.

2. Still, why we are not trying to solve it and why do people have acceptance for it?

I have talked to many people about their thought about the problem and what leads to inaction.

1. When I talked to people it seems mostly people have accepted that traffic jam is due to a higher volume of traffic and unless we have bigger highways, the problem is going to remain. But I will question this assumption later because “Innovation” is out-of-the-box thinking which requires revising and challening our assumptions

2. The second thought that people usually share is that the solution would require the involvement of Government departments and we really don’t know whom to approach those govt. deparatment etc. For example in my case, even after having some idea for the past couple of years, I don’t know whom to approach to share this insight 

3. This problem is part of many other “SHARED NATIONAL LOSS” problems where we don’t see any solution and hence we have the acceptance for it

3. Why the current solution of having Bigger Highways may not work

Another common perception is that traffic jam can only be reduced by broader highways. Definitely, highways, flyovers, and broader roads help in better traffic movement and reduce congestion. Having said that

1. It’s not possible to build these highways in every area that may have limited space

2. Highways without Flow Design & Innovation can still lead to jams. One such example is NH8 connecting Gurugram with Delhi which is an 8-lane highway but still, there is congestion during office hours on daily basis. Hence we need to adopt “Traffic Flow Design & Innovation” even for highways so that they don’t have congestion during peak hours

3. Also managing side effects of construction of these infrastructures. For any developing city, there are proposed flyovers in some of the cities all the time. Now because these new construction agencies are not taking care of “Flow Design & Innovation” they cause traffic congestion for 2-3 years of their development years. And as a developing city by the time one flyover is completed, there is another one which is under construction hence effectively for commuters the point of congestion would keep changing but effectively during travel people would face some congestion. And we can observe this in any city as this is the story of most cities. So what’s the solution? And the solution requires understanding the “Flow Design & Innovation”

4. Understand "Flow Design & Innovation"

Innovation requires challenging our assumptions and to understand the traffic congestion root cause we need to understand the Space Design & Innovation pattern and Flow Design & Innovation Pattern.

I have been observing and analyzing this problem for many years, and as an Innovator, I try to observe what is the cause of the traffic congestion during peak hours when on the same road, we can travel easily during non-peak hours. And I observed that there are broadly 5 factors that impact the “Flow Design & Innovation”. Also when I visited Singapore, my analysis got reinforcement because Singapore also may not have multiple-lane roads but still the traffic flow is better. Also within Delhi, when I drive across India Gate, even with the same volume of traffic, the traffic flow is better. Hence there is an INNOVATION that is worth exploring and that innovation is “Flow Design & Innovation”.

Difference between Space Design vs Flow Design

Currently, it seems, roads are designed as per Space Design & Innovation where the maximum focus is acquiring the most space for the road which is in line with building broader roads. With less than 50% of the traffic volume, this design works well and does not have any issues. For example, buses are designed to accommodate most space for people which is space design & innovation.

Flow Design & Innovation, is like studying aerodynamics where the design is thought from an “AT SPEED” perspective. For example, the way rockets, aeroplanes and racing cars are designed, where instead of “space”, our priority is to study what would happen “AT SPEED”.

And my insight is that with lower TRAFFIC volume, Space Design & Innovation seems to work but this can actually become a reason for Congestion when the volume of TRAFFIC rises. Hence the points of “CONGESTIONS” should be designed with “Flow Design & Innovation” to accommodate traffic runs.

What is Flow Design?

Moving traffic is like flowing water. Hence there it should keep flowing without any obstacles. Mission to make traffic move without applying the break. Hence even if there is a single lane, and if we can make the traffic FLOW then the purpose is achieved.

When I analyzed the traffic congestion in the last 5 years, I found that first, we need to identify the “Primary Zone”. It’s the core area that is impacting the FLOW Design and start causing the traffic to slow which on a high volume traffic start causing “Congestion and leads to traffic jams”

5 Reasons Impacting Flow Design at "Primary Zone of Concern"

And on this “Primary Zone of Concern”, there are primarily 5 reasons impacting Traffic Flow. And these are

1. Having Uneven Roads & Pothole

Once we start understanding the “Flow Design” we will get to understand that a feet pothole or uneven road surface, is good enough to cause congestion on a 4-lane highway. And fixing them would not even require a day and will cost negligible because we are not talking about full roads but a “Primary Zone of Concern” which could be a few feet to a few hundred feets only.

2. Improper merging of traffic

On NH8 road connecting Delhi to Gurgaon, it’s an 8-lane highway which is a straight road. And the only reason for traffic congestion is that on “Primary Zone of Concern” i.e when side lane traffic merging and diverting, is not designed properly. There are points where a side lane is merging into the main highway abruptly. For a fine day with under 50% usage, as I shared earlier, “FLOW DESIGN FLAW” are not visible. But as traffic increases to 80%, this impact becomes severe causing traffic congestion. And the solution is to use various methods to limit the impact of converging and diverging traffic with various dividers and better road design options. Putting a temporary divider can be done again within 1 day

3. Special road design where "Primary Zone" is narrower

There are certain points of straight road where due to something the road gets narrower. But in those scenarios again, we need to use the “Flow Design” so that 3-4 lanes are not abruptly merging into 2 lanes. We need to keep reminding ourselves that ” fast-flowing traffic on 2 lanes is better than slow-moving traffic on 4 lanes”

At Dhaula Kuan, after the recent broadening of merging road, this has become an issue where there are certain narrow points but connecting road is made broader. So now the broadening of roads has started causing congestion because “Flow Design” is not followed properly at merging point.

4. "Primary Zone should be No Tolerance Zone"

It’s observed that on roads where 4 lanes are merging into 3 lanes because say there is a nearby market. Now already 4 lanes are merging into 3. Now there would be some street hawkers who will use 1 more lane as there are more people crossing this “Primary Zone”. On top, if it cars would stop there to by things from street hawkers. So 4 lanes are merging into 1-2 lanes. These places should be declared “No Tolerance Zone” with strict monitoring with cameras. There could be a colour marking saying stopping now allowed and a meagre challan of 100 Rs. through a camera can also stop people to encroach that zone. “Guidelines for Buses and Autos”, It’s observed that again on the Primary Zone of concern, the buses flow, bus stop is not proper. As the bus stop is already encroached upon by hawkers, autos, and buses might stop to pick/dropping off people in the middle of the road. I understand this might require more stringent rules but still we need to have a regular intervention to achieve flow design if we really want to build world-class cities.

5. "World-Class Alternative Road for Under construction Site"

Any developing city would keep on having various infrastructure projects running. And many times it’s observed that alternative roads are not designed properly. Which leads to traffic congestion. Hence there should be one of the checklist criteria for the quality of infrastructure projects is that the “alternative road” should be of equally good quality as per “Flow Design”. 20 years ago Delhi Metro already achieved this hence it’s only about intention and compliance. Even mega projects like Dwarka Expressway, the road connecting Dwarka Metro Station 21 and NH8 is such poorly maintained. If NGT can make sure that to avoid dust, water is sprinkled then an “alternate” road design should also be in strict compliance


There could be more reasons, but in most cases, it’s observed that taking care of the first 2-3 points may not take even 1 day if done strategically. But ignorance on who will do it, keeps the problem intact for years. 

Traffic Flow Design Issues if done properly many of these could be achieved even in one week. 

Let’s hope that this post reaches to the right people at the position. 

Though our social innovation group part of VIKAS 1% Network, we are looking to run open innovation challenges to solve unsolved social problems through innovation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *