Our subways, so pedestrian!

Our subways, so pedestrian!

Subways could work if designed well, with entry and exit points accessible by ramps, illuminated and well secured

 An underpass with no lights near Nehru Circle, Bengaluru. Credit: DH File Photo

Pushed to the brink, terrorised by rampaging motorists, pedestrians of Bengaluru should get an award for stepping out. But as the cars and motorcyclists - pampered with signal-free corridors - speed past them, don’t the walkers deserve at least a safe crossing? Not the skywalks, but subways that are not dark, dingy and patently unsafe.

Subways could work if designed well, with entry and exit points accessible by ramps, illuminated and well secured. But one look at the city’s existing structures, and you know their varying degrees of decay beckon only the darkness. Dens of anti-social elements, many of these have been locked up by the Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP).

Built mostly to get maximum visibility for billboards, the skywalks are clearly not the preferred choice for pedestrians. But in a city that wants motorists to breeze through without waiting for walkers to cross at grade, structurally sound and practically safe subways could be a way out.

Boosting footfalls

To boost safety in such enclosed spaces, boosting footfalls can be a solution. “Higher the footfall, safer the place,” points out Nikita Luke, Senior Project Associate for Health and Road Safety at the World Resources Institute (WRI). “People need to be welcomed to the place.”

Besides enhanced lighting and surveillance, this means making the subway a happening place. “Make it interesting and lively by getting artistes play music, murals and installations within. Let the place become vibrant and appealing and not dark and dingy. This should bring the crowds,” Nikita explains.

Structural changes demand that the design and layout of subway avoid dark and isolated corners that can hide criminals and serve as nooks for the homeless to occupy. “Strategically placed CCTV cameras should also help keep an eye.”

Internal visibility

Internal visibility is another key area of a subway design. Inside an underpass, visibility can be affected if the geometry of the entry and exit have pronounced curves or grade differences. “Designing straight pathways entering and exiting the underpass increases visibility and enhances user safety,” notes a guideline released last year by the Australian State of Queensland (Department of Transport and Main Roads).

In such cases, mirrors could be a way out. “Convex mirrors can further enhance sightlines from within underpasses, allowing users greater visibility. For locations where a straight approach may not be possible, the placement of a convex mirror on the outside of the curve can enable users to view the approach and inside of the underpass.”

The point is clear: With a few modifications in design and a safety boost, pedestrian subways can be a viable alternative to the skywalks. Environmentalist and Domlur resident Dattatreya T Devare has seen how the skywalks on Old Airport Road, soon to be declared a signal-free corridor, are lying unused.

Unused skywalks

“There is a skywalk built near Shantisagar restaurant. I have been to the spot many times. On most occasions, the lift does not work, and climbing the skywalk is very tiring for a senior citizen like me. I find that nobody uses it. There is absolutely no use of that, apart from the advertisement. Public are not benefitted at all,” notes Dattatreya.

Poor lighting is not an issue with pedestrian subways alone. Underpasses, particularly on the outskirts, are often left without lights. This has reportedly become a serious issue at the railway underpass near Hoodi Railway Station, where miscreants wait in the dark to target lonely motorcyclists.

Poor location

Poor location can be an issue with pedestrian subways too, reminds Rajkumar Dugar from Citizens for Citizens. “The subway near Basava Samithi close to Chalukya has never been used for a decade. It has been under lock and key. Even if it is spruced up, there are not many pedestrians in that area,” he notes.

Skywalks have often been criticised for occupying footpath space. This can be an issue with pedestrian subways as well. “The one near Chalukya has its entry and exits occupying about 70% of the footpath width,” Rajkumar points out.

The solution could be a smart design that integrates sound lighting, accessibility, space maximisation, uncompromised safety and a creative way to beckon
pedestrians with art and music. Plus, a drainage system that ensures that no matter how heavy a downpour, the flooding risk is zero.

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