City's 'pedestrian' footpaths

City's 'pedestrian' footpaths

Crossing the streets is a walkers’ nightmare, as dangerous as risking a stroll on the chaotic, encroached, uneven pavements.

Zebra crossings there were none. Seventy-year-old Keshav Rao had no option but to climb that towering skywalk. Out of breath and struggling, he slowly descended on the other side. Two metres away, unseen by him on that dark, ill-lit pavement lay a gaping hole. Blinded by the beam of an oncoming bike, he inched closer…

Danger lurks at every turn for lakhs of Bangaloreans risking a walk on the streets. For the civic agencies focused on hi-speed, signal-free roads, the uneven, potholed, thoroughly encroached and narrow footpaths aren’t a cause for concern. They are a No-Man’s zone, an area worthy of shocking neglect, an immensely dispensable piece of land sacrificed for every road-widening project.

So it is no surprise when global urban mobility expert, Gil Penelosa finds that pedestrian-related casualties in Bangalore are over three times the world average! If globally, only 14 per cent of road-accident victims are pedestrians, it is between 30 and 40 per cent here.

The accident picture of Bangalore over the last three years is shocking enough. Of the 647 accident casualties in Bangalore last year till December, 330 (40 pc) were pedestrians. In 2012, as many as 358 of the 755 people who died on the roads were just walking! A year before that, 367 pedestrians died and a whopping 1,750 were injured.

If these startling figures don’t goad civic agencies such as BBMP and BDA into action, what will? Fancy road projects rarely talk about ways for the pedestrians to cross the roads. There are no alternatives proposed to the widely underused skywalks and underpasses.

Walkers as victims

Most accident victims, as the traffic police confirm, are women and the elderly hit by vehicles while crossing the road or walking on the periphery. Since pavement width reduces every time a road widens, pedestrians are forced to walk on the road, severely jeopardising their safety.

Architects and urban planners point out that Bangalore roads are rarely in sync with the rules for pedestrian facilities specified by the Indian Road Congress (IRC). For instance, IRC is clear that the minimum width of a footpath should be 1.5 metres, and if the number of pedestrians per hour on a particular road is high, the sidewalk should be four metres wide. In shopping areas, this width should be increased by another one metre (considered as dead width). When the footpath is adjacent to buildings or fences, the dead width should be 0.5 metres.

Pedestrians’ concerns had pushed the city traffic police to launch the “Sugama Safewalk” programme in November last year. The objective was clear: To focus on pedestrian safety through better designed roads and junctions, and by raising awareness among drivers and pedestrians. The city’s Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic), B Dayananda had acknowledged the acute vulnerability of the pedestrians in Bangalore.

Footpath riding

Poorly designed traffic junctions have meant extreme chaos at these intersections. To get around the long line of vehicles, motorcyclists often get onto the footpaths, triggering problems galore for the pedestrians. The traffic police are finding it very tough to arrest this rising trend.

Peak-hour traffic completely stumps the walkers on the road. This couldn’t be more apparent than at Marathahalli, where there are no signs of any zebra crossing for over a kilometre on Old Airport road, flanked by busy commercial zones. After 4.30 pm every day, the road is packed with vehicles between the city and Whitefield, ruling out any possibility of crossing. As Chandan Sharma, a consultant, observes, not a single traffic constable could be seen to assist pedestrian-crossing.

People are forced to wait for long periods before attempting to rush across the road. Struggling to negotiate the uneven footpath with a walking stick, 72-year-old Venkata Kotaiah knew he would need enormous luck to get a brief respite from the traffic to cross. “I think I will wait for a traffic jam, and make my way between the vehicles,” he finally decides with a sigh.

Rakesh Roshan is much younger than Kotaiah. But he too wished there was a cop to halt the passing vehicles before the elders could get to the other side. If crossing at the Marathahalli bridge is next to impossible, the alternative is to walk a kilometre on either side for a junction. “The cars parked on the road in no-parking zones also contribute to the pedestrians’ problems. Often these vehicles block the view for crossing pedestrians, leading to accidents,” notes Roshan.

For Harsh Srivastav, who works at an IT firm near Doddanekkundi, the drivers’ lack of any concern for the pedestrians is most problematic. They need to be cautious and lower speeds, especially when passing through busy areas. But poorly lit streets mean drivers too find it tough to spot people crossing the road. As for the motorcyclists riding on footpaths, Srivastsav suggests use of CCTV cameras to spot them and penalise them heavily.

High-risk spots

Hundreds of roads in the city are way below acceptable levels of safety for the pedestrians. The city traffic police, taking into account parameters such as narrow, uneven or damaged roads, one-ways and visibility, had identified seven spots as high-risk for the pedestrians: Trinity Circle, Siddapura Junction to 10th Cross, Madiwala police station junction to Aiyyappa temple junction, Lalbagh West Gate junction, Havanoor junction, Yeshwantpur junction and the area around Esteem Mall close to Yelahanka.

A panel comprising the zonal traffic assistant commissioner of police, architects, traffic experts, representatives of residents’ welfare associations and NGOs was formed to address issues of pedestrian safety in each of these areas.

If walking on the city’s roads is tough for the able-bodied, it is scary for the physically challenged. Bangalore’s disability infrastructure was rated the lowest (24 out of 100) in nine parameters set by the global NGO, Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities.

Here’s the unenvious implication: Absence of ramps, lifts and tactile pavements, coupled with uneven surfaces make the city roads extremely unfriendly for the disabled, including the visually challenged and the wheelchair-bound.

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