Monday, June 14, 2010

Pedestrians, an endangered species

Pedestrians, an endangered species

K.C. Deepika
‘Inclusive planning is the only answer to the problem'
— Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.

Vendors have ‘encroached' upon a footpath near a bus stand in Bangalore.
Bangalore: “My short walk to the bank proved too costly for me as I fell down and injured myself as the surface was uneven,” says 74-year-old Unni Kannan, showing his injured leg. No doubt the city's pavements are sometimes referred to as death-traps, with broken concrete blocks and holes posing a threat to walkers.

When it comes to pedestrian infrastructure, there is little that the city can boast of.

The width of the pavements on most roads is a far cry from the specifications of the Indian Roads Congress (IRC).

The IRC's pedestrian facilities norms indicate that the minimum width of a footpath should be 1.5 metres, and those in shopping areas should have an extra metre to be treated as dead width.

But the footpaths lining popular shopping destinations such as Commercial Street tell a different story. Vehicles and pedestrians hazardously intermingle on the road.

Experts feel that the main culprit is faulty planning as pedestrian facilities get lost in the process of planning transport and roads.

“Overall in India, the state of pedestrian infrastructure is not up to the mark with reference to network, surface quality and space available,” says Ashish Verma, assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering in the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and Associate Faculty in the Centre for Infrastructure, Sustainable Transportation and Urban Planning (CiSTUP).

Frequently, construction material are dumped on pavements and the offenders not always are private parties. Government departments too use pavements as store rooms for all such material.

Footpaths also bear the burden of goods on sale as there is never enough room for some shopkeepers, such as on Central Street in Shivajinagar. This forces pedestrians to use the busy road which is also the path for all buses.

Prof. Verma says that the solution to the problem lies in inclusive planning. “If all these factors are included during planning, trees and electric poles may no longer be obstructions,” he says. The professor points out that the issue of hawkers too can be tackled using this method. “Middle-class road users find shopping from hawkers convenient. The hawkers too have no other option. Evicting them is not the answer,” he says.

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