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Wednesday 20 September 2017
News updated at 8:59 AM IST

Skywalks of inaccessibility

Rasheed Kappan, Bengaluru, Apr 9, 2017, DHNS: 1:46 IST
Occupying the entire footpath, this skywalk coming up near VIT Museum is anything but pedestrian-friendly. Over 100 such structures are planned across the city. DH

Occupying the entire footpath, this skywalk coming up near VIT Museum is anything but pedestrian-friendly. Over 100 such structures are planned across the city. DH

Hardly anyone uses the existing skywalks. Yet, a hundred more are being built across the city, their landings encroaching upon footpaths. Should pedestrians be forced this way to help ease vehicular movement?

An obsession with motorists has left most city roads deeply offensive to pedestrians. One look at those monstrous skywalks with their legs encroaching deep on the footpaths should convince everyone of a priority gone horribly wrong.A vehicular overload has left most roads too tough to cross for pedestrians young and old, able and disabled.

Zebra crossings, once the favoured mode to get to the other side, have disappeared. Instead, walkers are told to climb up heights of 20 feet or more, negotiate unlit skywalks and risk their safety.

Hardly anyone takes the existing skywalks. Either they are too high, located nowhere near where people want to cross or simply just unnecessary. Shouldn’t this have convinced the state of the futility of the entire exercise?

Undeterred, the authorities are putting up more skywalks in the city. Clearly, the intention is to attract the advertisers and not the pedestrians. No effort is in sight to reactivate those zebra crossings.

Pedestrians at signals

Caught up in managing the explosive vehicular growth, do the traffic police realise the time available for pedestrians to cross a signalled junction has dropped dramatically? Risking their lives, the walkers are forced to scurry across in seconds as motorists in their haste run them down. Since the skywalks have failed, many pedestrians run across busy roads at random.

Speeding on poorly lit streets, the motorists often fail to spot the crossing walkers. Indicating the clear danger in this growing practice, statistics show a deeply disturbing spike in pedestrian deaths over the years.

Skywalks now being built across Old Airport Road in Domlur and across Kasturba Road near VIT Museum are clear reminders of a misplaced priority. These structures can be accessed only by steps that are placed right on the footpath. Walkers moving ahead have no option, but to get onto the busy road.

Skywalks ignored

In KR Puram, pedestrians prefer to walk right on the Old Madras Road, ignoring the skywalk towering above them a few metres away from the cable-stayed bridge. Enquiries with walkers showed why: The structure is way too inaccessible, particularly so for senior citizens.

Four years ago, a study by NGO Hasiru-Usiru had established that only about 20% of the pedestrians use skywalks. Eighty per cent preferred to just walk across. But they had to wait a long time or risk getting knocked down. At Mehkri Circle, for instance, the waiting time was 20 minutes.

Surveying 17 junctions across the city, the study found that the pelican light at signals would turn green for pedestrians for barely 20 seconds. Four years later, it has dropped to less than 10 seconds.

Walkers wonder how fast they should be to cross a 100-ft road in that period. Inevitably they get stuck at the median as vehicles speed past. Mounting cases of signal-jumping vehicles have only made it worse.

The skywalk near Sophia’s School is often cited as a structure in disuse. It caters to only two of the four roads that meet at the junction. Besides its steep height, parents find the gaps in the railings too risky for children.

Mindset change

So what is the solution? Mobility experts emphasise the need to inculcate a mindset of caring for the pedestrians among motorists. This would mean slowing down and halting for walkers at defined crossings. Signal-jumping would be a strict no-no.

However, the government’s priority remains building more skywalks. In February, Bengaluru Development Minister, K J George had announced plans to construct 100 more pedestrian skywalks. Tenders are already floated for such structures at strategic locations in the city. Skywalks should be avoided across inner city roads at all costs, contends urban mobility expert Sathya Sankaran.

“As much as possible, the continuity in walking should be maintained. When you put up a skywalk, you are forcing people out of grade to climb up and down making it easy only for the motorist,” he explains.

Against global trend

Globally, skywalks are being pulled down. “In cities like Singapore, pedestrian crossings are the preferred mode. You need to put up massive, visible zebra crossings with signals that allow about 20-25 seconds to walk across,” Sankaran says.

The Indian Road Congress (IRC) has set clear guidelines for zebra crossings at regular intervals. But these are not adhered to. Instead, the so-called safe zones on the footpath are often encroached by speeding motorcyclists, throwing every norm to the wind.

Sankaran puts it in perspective when he terms skywalks as a means to avoid a problem. Pedestrian crossings would actually fix the problem. In a nutshell, this is what it means: “Skywalks are an escapist, commercially driven option that only benefits advertisers. It shows the mental bankruptcy of the planners.”

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