Enough preaching. Fix footpaths

About 40 per cent of those who die in road accidents are pedestrians. As another Road Safety Week comes to an end, the authorities talk about ‘increasing awareness’ instead of clearing footpath encroachments Anusha Chitturi Footpath encroachments pose a r

Footpath encroachments pose a risk to pedestrians by forcing them to walk on the road.

The 30th Road Safety Week is being observed across the country from February 4 till 10. The annual event aims at raising public awareness and reducing road-related accidents and fatalities.

The focus mostly remains on the consequences of rash driving and not following the rules. However, the absence of footpaths remains a grave and mostly neglected danger in Bengaluru.

About 40 per cent of those who died in road accidents in the city over the past four years were pedestrians—which translates to 1,200 in absolute numbers.

Data maintained by the Bengaluru traffic police reveals that while the number of casualties in road accidents has gradually come down, the percentage of pedestrian deaths has remained around 40-45 per cent throughout.

The reason for the reduction is also not a result of the flowers and pamphlets handed out by the traffic police during the Road Safety Weeks; it is more a result of the sustained reduction in average vehicular speed because of increased congestion on the roads.

Anusha Chitturi, co-founder of The Footpath Initiative, an urban project aimed at improving pedestrian safety in Indian cities, calls pedestrians the most vulnerable of all road users and believes improving pedestrian crossings and footpaths is the way to increased road safety in Bengaluru.

“When we did an analysis for 2017, we found that close to 60 per cent of the fatalities took place when pedestrians were crossing the road, and close to 30 per cent when they were walking on the side. So safe pedestrian crossings are more important than just building footpaths,” she says. Some data crunching proves this. Areas with better civic infrastructure have fewer accident casualties, while places like Yelahanka and KR Puram, with poor citizen amenities, fare badly in this regard.

The number of accidents can be reduced by managing the interactions of pedestrians with motorised traffic. “We have to provide mid-block crossings; you can’t expect people to walk for 500 metres or more to cross at an intersection,” she says.

She feels skywalks are not a solution because the usage is minimal. “There are some places, like the Outer Ring Road, where people use skywalks because they have no other choice. But the first option should be at-grade crossings (a junction or intersection where two or more transport axes cross at the same level). Footover bridges are a statement that pedestrians don’t belong to the road.”

Shameful record
Almost 80,000 people die in road accidents in India every year, accounting for 13 per cent of such fatalities worldwide. The number of accidents per lakh population has been witnessing a steady increase since 1970s, with Karnataka high up in the list of states with maximum road-related fatalities.

Footpath misuse rampant
The city’s pavements are for everyone except the pedestrians and neither the police nor the BBMP are doing anything about it.

Here are some groups who see pavements as rent-free business space. 

  • Encroachers: House owners are gradually encroaching on the footpaths, extending their gates and even developing extensive gardens. No one is stopping them. 
  • Vendors: They get more business on pavements than their counterparts in shops. In a tug-of-war, bigger establishments extend their shops onto the pavements so that vendors don’t get space there. 
  • Restaurants: From setting up open-air kitchens on pavements to encouraging their patrons to enjoy the outdoors as they eat, these establishments make full use of the city’s footpaths. Mobile eateries also look for a share of the pie.
  • Builders: Where you see a footpath, there they see land to dump their construction debris.
  • Vehicle owners: Pavements are the best place to park vehicles, they think. Earlier the menace was restricted to two-wheelers, now car owners park their vehicles half on the road, half on the pavement.
  • Vehicle repair shops: Complete transparency ensured in servicing and repair at these places; they do it on the footpath for all to see. 
  • In-house functions: It is commonly believed by Indians that any function in the house translates to automatic ownership of the roads and pavements in front. That’s how shamianas appear overnight.
  • Authorities: They do their bit for the city by dumping utility materials like wires, pipes or broken slabs on pavements after their work. A sudden bout of amnesia prevents them from clearing it up later.

1,200 
Pedestrians killed in Bengaluru over the past four years.

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Enough preaching. Fix footpaths

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