Pedestrians often come in harm's way on city roads

They blame motorists for not  giving them way even in places marked for them 

When Sohan Prasad, a bicycle mechanic hailing from Bihar, arrived in Delhi to seek a better life, the traffic signals held no meaning for him. 

“There are no traffic signals at my village or my local town,” he says. At busy crossroads, he would take cover behind small groups of pedestrians trying to cross the road and make his way along with them.

Four years in the city has taught him the meaning of traffic signals. But it has also trained him to cross the busy roads on his own. “Just keep walking with your eyes in the direction of the approaching traffic and no vehicle will run over you,” he reveals his little secret.

The city abounds with pedestrians like Prasad who display total disregard for traffic signals and look for the shortest distance between two points on either sides of a road. Broken fences on road dividers, people suddenly whizzing across the road as well as lazy strollers, are testimony to sheer disregard for traffic rules.

Towards the end of 2007, the Delhi Traffic Police moved beyond motorists and began fining jaywalkers. Suddenly, the jaywalkers found themselves coughing up Rs 20 for a violation and Rs 100 if caught again.

Whether this fine had a major impact on violators is debatable, but the rule was scrapped in 2011.

Anil Shukla, Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic), says the department does not have enough personnel to deal with such a large number of jaywalkers. “Also, we realised that the penalty was a paltry sum, not good enough to deter them,” he says. It is unlikely that the rule would be reimposed any time soon.

But in the meantime, several jaywalkers Deccan Herald spoke to chose to shift the blame on motorists. “It is safer to take things into our hands than to march onto the zebra crossing and put our lives in the hands of possible drunk drivers, those talking over mobile phones or with a baby on board,” says Ankur Rana, a businessman at Connaught Place. 

“Even otherwise, I have not come across one traffic signal in areas apart from India Gate circle when motorists are disciplined and wait for the green signal even without the presence of traffic policemen,” says Rana. 

Another disgruntled pedestrian Rashmi Tiwari says there are no crossings for walkers at most traffic signals. “Where they exist, we have to run. The lights don’t turn green long enough for us to cross,” she says. 

“The foot overbridges, if any in a particular area, are often a good walking distance due to which pedestrians find it easier to take the risk and dash across the road instead,” says a traffic policeman posted at ITO in central Delhi.

The pedestrians also highlight their own plight by pointing to bicycle tracks, mostly taken over by motorcyclists. “If cyclists are not spared, how do you expect motorists to respect us,” says Anuradha Sharma, a college student at west Delhi’s Janakpuri.

She narrates an incident where her classmate’s foot was crushed by a speeding car while she was walking along the road a year ago. “The sidewalks and pathways in less prominent areas are occupied by street vendors and cigarette kiosks. It was a similar case that day, which forced my friend to take the road,” she says.

Motorists on the other hand have a different tale to narrate. They say jaywalkers pose a threat to not only themselves, but also to motorists. “I was on my way to Saket when a woman suddenly surfaced on the road out of nowhere and my motorcycle skidded in a bid to avoid hitting her. She saw me yet continued walking unaffected,” says Devesh Chaturvedi, a resident of Uttam Nagar.

Somesh Narayan, who travels to work by car, rues that motorists are victims of mob fury even when it is the mistake of pedestrians. He says he fears jaywalkers more than other vehicles.

But Deepa Rani, a homemaker, narrates an interesting incident to show the constant fear pedestrians live in. “I was crossing a wide empty road on a Sunday some months ago when I noticed a car at a distance.

Just as it neared me, the driver turned the wheels towards me for a fraction of a second before taking control again. I almost had a heart attack. When I recovered, I saw two youths in the speeding away car looking out of the windows and laughing at me. They had done it intentionally,” she says.

She said she mentioned the incident to her friends later and claimed that the two of them said they had encountered similar incidents in the past.

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