Paved, pedestrian deathtraps

Pedestrian walks along  an under construction footpath in Jayanagar, Bengaluru. DH photo by  S K Dinesh.

Take a footpath stroll, get knocked down by a biker in full blast. Step on a broken slab, fall deep down a nasty drain. On the mean streets of Bengaluru, where motorists reign, walking is a nightmare. No surprises here, as the city planners have accorded the last priority to pedestrians, the city’s most vulnerable lot.

Encroached, ill-maintained and narrow, the pavements had long lost their purpose. As motorists are sold dreams of signal-free stretches and elevated roads, walkers toil hard to take the next step. Senior citizens struggle to cross roads at grade, as monster skywalks have invaded footpaths, staring them down.

Accident statistics show the real picture of a severely compromised system of walker safety. On an average, four pedestrians fall victim to road accidents every day, and a disturbing 125 every month. The traffic police blame it on jaywalking, and speeding motorists failing to notice them. But is there a safe place to cross at grade, when reckless signal-jumping is the norm?

Malleswaram protest

Early this month, senior citizen Indira Reddy followed all rules, stuck to the footpath, and still tripped over an uneven footpath slab negotiating a poorly lit stretch. She suffered injuries on both her legs. Was it her fault to walk or was it the Palike’s negligence? The incident, which recurs every day, across the city, happened right inside Malleswaram, one of Bengaluru’s oldest residential areas.

Frustrated by the civic apathy, Malleswaram residents staged an ‘Elders Walk’ in the area, holding aloft the banner of a widening #FootpathBeku campaign. The citizens collective used the walk to symbolically highlight a city-wide issue. The local corporator admitted there was a problem, suggesting a model footpath on one road to be replicated.

Forgotten models

But years ago, the local MLA had done exactly that. But the upgrade of a stretch of the 9th Cross as a model road with walkable footpaths was never scaled up. The model road too is now in tatters, its poorly maintained sidewalks an apology for a footpath.

So, why is the haste seen in erecting skywalks and elevated corridors conspicuously absent in upgrading footpaths? “Obviously, there is not much money to be made. So nothing gets done beyond lip sympathy by both the bureaucracy and the elected representatives,” notes urbanist V Ravichander.

Mindset change

The mindset among policy-makers is this: Why do pedestrians need so much space? “The question should be, why can't the pedestrian be put at the centre of the entire mobility ecosystem. An estimated 700-720 people die on the roads every years. One in every two pedestrians is vulnerable.”

The Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) did make a start with TenderSURE roads with a pedestrian-first approach to mobility. Indeed, pedestrians have had a feel of how a well-designed and demarcated footpath system can enhance walking. Clearly, these upgrades have made a difference to streets such as St Mark's Road, Residency Road and Vittal Mallya Road.

But these upgrades are restricted to a few roads in the Central Business District (CBD) area. Hundreds of kilometres of roads in each of the BBMP's outlying wards have no footpath space at all. As Ravichander reminds, “At the highest level of governance, there is no mindspace for the pedestrian.”

BBMP project

However, the Palike officials have a different take. The BBMP Chief Engineer, Road infrastructure, Somashekhar S informs, “The civic body has undertaken upgradation of the existing footpaths on major roads and arterial roads in the city. The work includes replacing the existing, old or damaged concrete blocks with new ones.”

The work, he adds, is currently underway. “Recently, we have invited tenders for this work. It is divided into various roads. Work has already begun in some parts,” he says. The project cost is Rs 200 crore, and the money was released during the previous financial term.

DULT proposal

The Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) had conducted a preliminary study to upgrade footpaths along 220 kms of roads in the city. It had also proposed a similar upgrade in the industrial areas of Kudlu, Peenya and Goraguntepalya.

“In Kudlu, there is no footpath at all. Wherever the Right of Way (RoW) is wide enough, well designed footpaths have been proposed as per the Indian Road Congress (IRC) guidelines,” informs DULT Special Officer, N Muralikrishna.

But footpath upgrade alone does not guarantee improved walkability, he points out. “It is not just about construction. The Palike should have some sort of monitoring mechanism to ensure that these walking spaces are not encroached upon, or turned into garbage dumping spots.”

Protests in vain

The glaring gaps in declarations of intent and the ground reality had spurred the Citizens for Bengaluru (CfB) into action mode early this year. Several affected senior citizens in and around the Richmond Circle had lined up to protest, call attention to their plight.

Recalls Tara Krishnaswamy from CfB: “It is impossible to walk even today. The senior citizens had complained that they were virtually under house arrest. Their families wouldn't allow them to step out after dark on the dangerous footpaths, fearing for their safety. It is absolutely impossible to cross the roads today.”

The Association of Peoples with Disability (APD) had actively partnered with the citizen's initiative in that campaign. Its objective was clear: To make the city's pavements so safe and accessible that even the most vulnerable sections, the disabled, could walk freely. Today, that idea remains trapped in detailed project reports.

 

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