Thursday, January 14, 2010

Good pavements: the key to stop sending pedestrians to the grave

Good pavements: the key to stop sending pedestrians to the grave

Pedestrians are not even considered when roads are planned in the city. DNA's Nirad Mudur and Jalaja Ramanunni look at what problems they face and what
can be done to improve the situation

Nirad Mudur and Jalaja Ramanunni

There is a call for people to walk, or use public transport, instead of using their own vehicles, to reduce road congestion and air pollution. But one can't see that happen unless people put themselves at risk.
Here's why. You decide one morning to ignore your vehicle and step out on the road. Where are you going to walk? Obviously, on the footpath. But where are the footpaths? Even roads which have been provided with footpaths either have debris dumped on them, or have been left dug open with granite slabs left one atop the other by some civic agency on the pretext of repairs, or have been encroached by vendors setting up their wooden stalls, or, if none of these obstruct your walk on the footpath, you are bound to find yourself walking on a viciously uneven surface that could force you to visit an orthopaedic specialist when it trips you without a warning.
Bangalore is replete with footpaths with any one, or several, of these obstructions (some even all of these) that pose the biggest hurdle to citizens positively reacting to the experts' call for not using vehicles, and walk.
There is a saying among civic experts, which goes: "Transport does not only mean 'take or carry from one place to another by means of vehicle, aircraft, or ship', but also by foot."
But our city is anti-pedestrians, and we have been forced to accept it.
With about 32 lakh vehicles playing on 5,922 km of city roads, each vehicle gets just as much as 33 square metres of area, that too in a city which has a population density as high as about 8,000 per sq km.
The pedestrian-vehicle conflict is there for all to see.
A study, put up on the website of Clear Air Initiative for Asian Cities, investigates the design-safety-economic and policy issues concerning existing pedestrian infrastructure in Bangalore.
The in-depth analysis, Pedestrians at Crossroads: A Case Study of Bangalore by Sudhir & Sameera Kumar of Secon Pvt Ltd, a GIS-based design consultancy, says of Bangalore: "Charles Darwin's 'Survival of the fittest' theory is very much applicable in transportation as pedestrians in Bangalore during the daily course of life have to compete with vehicles to gain accessibility and mobility, often losing the battle."
To a large degree, the problems faced by the pedestrians is induced even by the so-called educated, well-to-do, prominent citizens, who encroach upon the footpaths in front of their palatial houses by building gardens on them.
A visit to the posh Sadashivanagar locality would reveal how rampant the problem is, forcing pedestrians to step down on to the road, often right into the path of a speeding vehicle.
The Second study highlights the recommendation of the Indian code for pedestrian facilities under the Indian Road Congress (1988), which lays down guidelines for footpaths, saying that it should have a minimum width of 1.5 metres on both sides of the road, and that the footpath width should be increased in cases of bus stops and recreational areas.
The study uses the Hermann Knoflacher-Equiarea principle, which determines the area required for footpaths for pedestrians based on the population and vehicle density, and the percentage of population which does not own vehicles. Going by the principle, Bangalore would require footpaths that are 7.5 metres wide, as 38 per cent of the Bangalore's population does not own vehicles.
If members from the vehicle-less population, as well as those with vehicles encouraged to walk to reach nearby destinations, have to safely use footpaths then the authorities should provide much wider footpaths, preferably 7.5 metres.
But the footpaths available for pedestrians in Bangalore range from 0.5-2.5 metres, that too with obstructions, the study points out.
"In this width, pedestrians share their right of way (RoW) with roadside appurtenances such as utility (electric, water supply, telephone), street lights, transformers, sign boards, roadside vendors, and bus shelters, indicating worst possible level of service and gross discrimination against pedestrians," says the study.
Instead of footpath expansion, the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagar Palike (BBMP) is in the process of widening roads at the cost of the footpath space. The civic body has marked measurements on compound walls adjacent to certain roads (Infantry Road, for instance), indicating the number of metres the road would be widened on either sides. This means the share of footpaths would be further shrunk in time to come even as the number of people walking on the roads increases.
Experts have been shouting hoarse that widening the roads would not solve the problem of traffic congestion, especially when road widening would primarily look at providing more space to the vehicles rather than to the pedestrians.
Solutions are difficult to come by to address the problems of pedestrians in Bangalore, unless of course the civic authorities take drastic steps to provide more space for the pedestrians in the city.
MN Sreehari, chairman, Traffic Engineers and Safety Trainers (TEST), and advisor to state government on traffic issues, estimates that about 50 per cent of people killed on the roads are pedestrians.
"Authorities must realise that everyone, including you, me and the chief minister, are pedestrians at some point. Hence, footpaths must be given more importance than vehicles and traffic problems. Footpaths must be widened, and the condition of existing footpaths must be maintained," he says.
He says stringent action should be initiated against footpath encroachers, like vendors and garden builders, to ensure that footpaths are clear for the pedestrians to walk on safely.
The Second study also points out that guard rails for widened footpaths would play an important role in segregating pedestrians on the footpaths from the vehicles, and prevent jaywalking. This would enhance the safety of the pedestrians.
However, many roads where guard rails are provided are either discontinuous or in very poor state thus not serving the purpose.
It is time we put a safe system in place to ensure that we do not put a pedestrian to the graveyard merely because of the lack of safe facilities.
The solutions
Widen sidewalks
There are many solutions to this', says an ABIDE expert on traffic Ashwin Mahesh, who is also IIMB faculty. "Widening sidewalks is the best solution. It will raise a lot of opposition but it's a mindset problem. If the sidewalks are wide enough and usable, pedestrians will start using it instead of walking on the road. This will make life much easier for drivers and motorists. We are doing the reverse by widening roads. This is not a solution," he explains. 'Make it possible for pedestrians to go from one side of the road to another by creating underpasses. Skywalks is also an option, but might not be preferred by people,' he explains. "Parking policies should also be reconsidered. You can't let people park in public areas for a long time and not expect them to pay. Abroad, it costs a bomb to park outside. Parking on arterial roads should cost at least Rs25-50 hour especially on busy areas like MG road. People should feel the impact and think twice before using vehicles," he feels.
To whcih, adds MN Srihari, "Authorities must realise that everyone, including you, me and the chief minister, are pedestrians at some point. Hence, footpaths must be given more importance than vehicles and traffic problems. Footpaths must be widened, and the condition of existing footpaths must be maintained".


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