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Smooth passage this Puja

October 21, 2004; 11.30 pm: It's Mahashtami and Dhakuria bridge is clogged with cars. There are hordes of pedestrians jostling for space with the cars on Gariahat Road (South) and all along the way to the Jodhpur Park puja pandal. It takes the cars close to an hour to travel the distance from the bridge to Prince Anwar Shah Road.

October 11, 2005; 11.30 pm: The occasion and place are the same, but the ground reality is dramatically different. The cars are moving and barricades along the pavements are preventing pedestrians from getting in the way of the cars.

So, how did this happen' There is no single answer to this. A combination of factors ' from better police management of the traffic to lower pedestrian count at night, with higher numbers opting for pandal-hopping during the day ' led to a smoother passage for Puja revellers.

'What worked for us was the fact that we had done our homework well, identified the major traffic problem spots and worked out solutions for them,' said Jawed Shamim, deputy commissioner (traffic).

Shamim said the police had introduced new traffic regulations ' one-way routes and no-alighting zones ' on several key roads to make matters easier for the motorist.

Erecting barricades along the pavement near all major Puja pandals put a stop to jaywalking.

'We ensured that movement of cars was not obstructed by people walking on the roads,' Shamim said. 'Also, senior officers paid special attention to the cross-over points on the arterial roads.'

Other than this, police said that increased road space in the city and completion of flyovers in the past year had made traffic-management easier during Puja 2005. This ensured critical crossroads like Park Circus had more traffic options and less snarls.

Unlike other years, this Puja witnessed a new phenomenon: the city stepping out by day, and not just at night. The early afternoon rush meant that the car count and footfall frenzy was far more manageable through the night.

'We had more people in the afternoons than other years because of the fear of the rains,' said Subrata Mukherjee, president of the Ekdalia Evergreen puja committee. 'Whenever people found the skies were clear, they stepped out, instead of waiting for the night.'

This was corroborated by Subhashis Maity of car rental agency Friends' Travels. 'Though, overall, the demand for hired cars was less than in other years, we had more people booking vehicles during the day,' he said.

Also, with the recent hike in taxi fares, more pandal-hoppers opted for the underground. Metro Railway officials said 70,000 more people travelled during the Puja days than last year.

'We had more taxis on the roads than last year, but fewer takers because of the fare hike,' rued Balwinder Singh, joint secretary of the Bengal Taxi Association.

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