Foothpaths so pedestrian!

Foothpaths so pedestrian!

Foothpaths so pedestrian!

How often does a motorist stop to let a pedestrian pass? In a city that lets its bikes invade the footpath in reckless haste, such courtesies are obviously unheard of. For, the pedestrian’s right to walk with dignity is under attack, more than ever.

Beyond the Central Business District (CBD) where pedestrian-first TenderSURE roads have given walkability a mini-boost, the footpaths remain in tatters. They are encroached, dug up for civic works or just not there!

For decades, Bengaluru had a motorist-focused approach to road infrastructure. The now-shelved steel flyover project was part of that agenda. But vociferous public protests and critical design interventions such as TenderSURE have forced the government to finally acknowledge the walker’s place on a road.

Is the realisation too late? The footpath as an entity has virtually vanished from hundreds of roads. Undeterred by poorly enforced rules, commercial setups consider footpath extensions of their business an unfettered right. Schoolchildren, senior citizens and the disabled walk right on the motorists’ path, endangering everyone’s lives.

Low walkability scores
Alarm bells should have started ringing in 2012, when a survey by Walkability Asia had placed Bengaluru the last among seven Indian cities on pedestrian rights. The city had scored only 30 out of 100 in the motorist behaviour category, a key parameter to determine walkability.

Three years later, a much more comprehensive study of the city’s roads showed nothing much had changed beyond the CBD. The study by Janaagraha and the German Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, had exposed the quality of Bengaluru’s roads through a unique Street Quality Score 2015.

The results were, by all measures, alarming. Of the 662 kms of arterial roads surveyed, only 58% had footpaths and barely 9% had pedestrian crossings. Footpath lighting, a key safety requirement, was only 8 lux (benchmark prescribes a minimum of 10 lux).

Pedestrian fatalities
The shockingly low score on pedestrian crossing is what worries the traffic police most. Pedestrians account for 40% of the road fatalities in Bengaluru. Jay-walking is common as the skywalks are either poorly designed or their locations suit only the advertisers.

To ascertain the street quality, the survey had covered 3,256 intersections. Only 279 were found to have usable pedestrian crossings. This problem was extremely pronounced on the city’s outlying BBMP wards. 97% of the roads there had no crossings that walkers could actually use.

Usability is defined by zebra crossing with a working pedestrian signal alongside it, subways and footbridges equipped with lighting at the entrance, exit and throughout.

So, what really are the factors that make a footpath unwalkable? In a majority of cases, gaps and missing/broken slabs make pedestrians prefer the roads.

The 2015 survey put this at a considerable 42%. Walking on such footpaths gets dangerous if the street-lighting is not adequate. Flooding of roads aggravates the risks.

Transformers, electricity poles, plant overgrowth, illegal constructions, hoardings, parked vehicles, debris, garbage and temporary food stalls are among other identified blocks. In all, 23,343 locations were identified citywide where footpaths had to be either laid, repaired or the obstruction cleared.

Usage patterns
Most roads on the city's outskirts lack pavements. Is there a strategy to redesign them? Many of those streets have reached a point of no return. But, as Sathya Sankaran from Citizens for Sustainability (CiFoS) explains, a beginning can be made only if the usage patterns are understood through a locally researched walkability index.

Road infrastructure plans should be made based on such indices. Pavements anywhere in the city should adhere to the same standards that acknowledge the right of the pedestrian, whether the road is in the CBD or on the outskirts.

Beyond the Central Business District, footpaths remain encroached, ill-maintained and poorly lit. As walkers risk their lives, a pedestrian-first approach to roads is slow to take shape.


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