Footpaths are for walking, dear bikers

You cannot walk on a footpath in Bengaluru without the fear of getting hit by a two-wheeler or a car. Bike-riders always seem to be in a hurry and use footpaths like they use the road, and if it is not motorcycle riders, there are umpteen cars parked right on the path! Our footpaths are misused, encroached and damaged, and where they do exist, they are unevenly laid out, forcing Bengalureans to walk on the road.

Two-wheeler riding on footpaths has seen an alarming rise, despite the traffic police booking  offenders under section 184 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, and section 279 of the Indian Penal Code, which calls for imprisonment for upto six months or a fine of Rs 1,000. Violators simply don’t care and often drive on pavements to avoid traffic jams, especially during rush hours, taking full advantage of the traffic policeman’s laxity in catching and booking them.

Last year, the traffic police registered more than 18,900 cases of two-wheelers riding on the footpath, where as 28,400 cases were booked for parking on footpaths. Motorcycle riders and car owners have become so aggressive that they honk arrogantly at pedestrians for occupying their footpath space! 

An example of the BBMP’s negligent attitude towards pedestrian welfare is the encroachment of footpaths. At the beginning of 100 Feet Road in Indiranagar, a tender coconut shop has been set up on the pavement. Shops and offices use the footpath as parking space for their customers or to extend their enterprise — a pub has actually created a reception area on the footpath, violating both pedestrian rights and building norms! Elsewhere in Indiranagar, mobile eateries have occupied pavements and restaurants are using footpaths to wash vessels and as dumping ground for debris and garbage. Ironically, even the Bangalore Electricity Supply Company’s (Bescom) transformers are guilty of encroachment! 

In Kasturi Nagar, a restaurant has set up a cooking station on the footpath, complete with a gas cylinder and other paraphernalia. In Basavanagudi, fruit vendors have found permanent rent-free space on the pavement. The road near the MS Ramaiah Hospital signal has footpaths on both sides, encroached by car accessory, electrical and hardware shops, eateries and other commercial establishments. At other places, tyres are piled up all over the footpath while the garage services cars right on it. Street vendors are critically dependent on footpaths, where they merrily spread their wares and occupy at will. True, they have an inter-dependent relationship, with vendors needing pedestrians for business and pedestrians getting access to quality goods at low cost, but that does not give vendors and street hawkers a right to obstruct the movement of pedestrians.

Section 288 of the Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act, 1976, clearly allows the removal of encroachments, either temporary or permanent, on existing footpaths falling within BBMP’s jurisdictional limits. However, complaints to the jurisdictional executive engineers never yield results. The BBMP simply lacks the will to remove encroachments, a gross violation of the KMC Act.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that pedestrians are dying on Bengaluru roads every day. No one seems to realise that over 50% of trips in a day are either fully or partly on foot and that good pedestrian paths are a must for a healthy lifestyle. A glimmer of hope is offered by Project TenderSURE (Specifications for Urban Road Extension) roads.

Launched in 2011, the project addresses the quality of roads in Bengaluru, by ensuring priority to the comfort and safety of pedestrians and recognises the needs of street vendors and hawkers. Here also, politicians have attempted to reduce the width and size of footpaths despite all relevant project parameters being cleared by a high court-appointed Technical Advisory Committee.

What are the possible remedies for Bengalureans? One, on existing roads, efforts should be made to ensure motorists and-two wheelers can’t get onto the footpaths in the first place. Citizens can immediately install small obstacles, even bollards on existing footpaths to deter motorists from riding on them, thereby keeping them free for pedestrians. 

Two, the traffic police should book violators for riding on footpaths, just as they do for helmet- less riding and drunk driving. Its vast army of prowling tow trucks on contract, currently used for towing away wrongly parked cars, should also be used to tow away cars parked on footpaths. 

Three, BBMP should be forced to remove all types of encroachments from footpaths. Street vendors and hawkers should have clearly demarcated hawker zones to sell their wares and not be allowed to spread their goods on the footpaths wherever and however they please.

For all Bengaluru’s cheery tags like ‘Garden City’ and ‘Pensioner’s Paradise’ and the much-raved-about weather, the city can be liveable only if its infrastructure is up to the mark, and that includes evenly laid out pedestrian-friendly footpaths!

(The writer is a former director on the Board of BEML)

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Footpaths are for walking, dear bikers

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