Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Miles to go before we walk the talk

Miles to go before we walk the talk

Deepa Kurup
Pedestrians do not figure at all in recent road plans drawn up for the city
— PHOTO: K. GOPINATHAN

LEAP OF FAITH?: With crumbling footpaths that are increasingly squeezed, Bangalore’s walkability factor rates poorly.
BANGALORE: What does it mean to be a pedestrian in Bangalore? If you are among the 4,38,570 people who visit K.R. Market or use it as a transit point every day, it means having to weave your way through a moving wall of buses, vehicles, cyclists, vendors and fellow pedestrians, hoping to emerge unscathed in body and soul.

While one pedestrian subway has been under construction for over two years now, the older one is reeking, unhygienic and largely unusable.

According to the Mobility Indicator 2008 report, prepared by the Department of Urban Land Transport (DULT), during peak hours an average of 48,000 people use this central area as a transit point, and a sizeable portion of them are non-motorists.

Forgotten pedestrians
In this city of great inequalities, travelling on foot is actually a great leveller, whether you are from D.J. Halli or Palace Orchards. For instance, at K.R. Circle and the Windsor Sheraton roundabouts, pedestrians wait endlessly for motorists to “Yield”, as the green signage decrees.

Near the Cantonment Railway Station, an array of three underpasses separates you from northern Bangalore, and you jostle for space with high-speed motorists in these precariously narrow spaces. These are but a few examples of apathy towards pedestrians in a city that has over 40,000 junctions, 192 one-ways and, most dangerous of all, signal-free roads.

Ask National Cadet Corps traffic volunteer Prashant Puttaiah who helps Christ University students cross Hosur Road to board the bus home. “Without our help, it will take them at least 15-20 minutes to cross this road. Speeding vehicles descending the flyover and choked roads make it truly dangerous,” he says.

And as for the much-celebrated idea of doing away with traffic intersections, software engineer Joseph P., employed at one of the large IT offices located on the six-lane Intermediate Ring Road (Koramangala-Indiranagar), says the signal-free road leaves him with two options: he can either walk about 3 km to the next signal, or sprint across the street as vehicles zip past at record speeds.

Sample this. Police records reveal that in 2008, 486 pedestrians died on Bangalore’s roads — accounting for 60 per cent of road deaths — and 1,367 were injured. A NIMHANS study (2008) says that on an average 550 pedestrians are killed, more than 10,000 injured and about 50,000 suffer minor injuries every year.

But pedestrians do not figure in recent road plans drawn up by the authorities. Be it magic boxes, flyovers or grade separators, urban planning is motorist-centric, laments Vinay Sreenivasa, researcher and member of Hasiru Usiru, an umbrella network for environmentalists.

“It is common knowledge that skywalks and pedestrian underpasses are seldom used. Then why do planners harp on these very solutions?” he asks. Moreover, these schemes are exclusionary, as they do not take into account persons with disability, senior citizens and even children.

The DULT draft pedestrian policy (2008) observes that neither the Bangalore Development Authority revised master plan nor interim plans consider non-motorists.

The Rs. 46,944-crore investments in Comprehensive Traffic and Transportation Study (CTTS), over 15 years, focus solely on building roads. Nearly 70 per cent of the outlay is for public transport; the pedestrian has to settle for just 0.6 per cent of this pie.

Even here, footpaths, key to improving walkability, receive little attention. Newly widened roads have narrow footpaths, ranging from 0.3 m to 0.6 m, as against 1.5 m mandated by Indian Road Congress.

Further, tree-lined avenues have morphed into concrete jungles, failing to motivate people to walk even short distances.

DuLT Managing Director Mohammed Mohsin concedes that pedestrians have indeed been ignored. “We will frame new guidelines for pedestrians to undo this damage. It is also important to get people to use existing skywalks and subways, particularly in ‘signal-free’ corridors,” he says.

Heated debate
The validity of a “signal-free” road has stirred heated debate. For, in its first month, the signal-free road to Bengaluru International Airport recorded 17 deaths and 34 casualties. But it would appear that this has not changed the mindset of planners.

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