Safety goes down under

Safety goes down under

Delayed Smart City road upgrades have left the city in an inglorious mess of dust and debris

Such gross violations in safety precautions are common even outside the core city areas. This stretch of Hesaraghatta Road without protective barricades is a case in point. DH PHOTO / B H SHIVAKUMAR

Forget walkability, that contentious parameter notorious for consistently awarding low scores for most Bengaluru roads. But do the vehicle users at least feel safe on those motorist-focussed streets? Not at all, if the trenches left open dangerously on poorly lit roads across the city are any indication.

Under the Smart Cities Mission project, the city’s streets and footpaths are in upgrade mode. Drains are being remodelled, underground utilities shifted and roads resurfaced. But while doing so, should road safety, a global concern, be totally ignored, jeopardising lives of both motorists and pedestrians?

Consider this: On CMH Road linking Halasuru and Indiranagar, the narrow lanes on either side of the Namma Metro pillar are in an inglorious mess. Dug up trenches have been left unattended, gaping holes in the ground are covered with badly damaged traffic barricades. While motorists pass precariously close to these openings, pedestrians scramble for a safe foothold.

Smart promises

Struggling to negotiate such roads across the city, citizens wonder: Is this the promise of the Smart City to revitalise our streets? Thirty-six roads taken up for upgrade in 2019 were to be in ship shape by May 2020. But today, only 11 of the identified roads are refashioned to let motorists ride smooth.

Road safety standards mandate stringent precautions before and during the construction process. “Using reflective tapes, signages and other tools placed at about 400-500m before the site, road-users will have to be made aware of the safety hazards ahead,” informs Nikita Luke, a Senior Project Associate for Road Safety at the World Resources Institute (WRI) Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Safety precautions such as these are rarely seen in the city beyond the barricades linked to mega projects such as the Metro. “Construction safety in general has been pretty lax. It shows the authorities have been inconsiderate and insensitive,” agrees Nikita.

Project completion delays have been attributed to the pandemic and shortage of skilled manpower. But that does not explain the laxity in safety. The onset of monsoon, the poor state of drainage infrastructure and consequent flooding of the roads have only aggravated the risks involved.

Safety protocols

“Not even one life is worth losing during the construction stage. Where are the safety protocols? This shows the poor coordination between the civic agencies involved and the traffic police,” notes Srinivas Alavilli from Janaagraha. “To fix accountability, the name and contact number of the site engineer should be displayed at the site.”

Since footpaths are in a deep state of disrepair, pedestrians are often forced to walk on the road. No alternate, safe pathway is provided for them. On the busy Indiranagar 100Ft Road, for instance, debris are dumped on the motorway, shrinking the road width to 30ft or less each way.

Banished from the dug-up pavement on her first visit to the area, Dr Eshitha Perin had tried walking on what was left of the road. “Trapped in the middle, I wanted to save myself. There was no pedestrian crossing, signal or a ray of streetlight. The drivers were not even concerned about us struggling walkers,” she recalls.

Worker safety

Worker safety is equally critical. Nikita cites the globally acknowledged rules: “Create a buffer area to separate workers and equipment from oncoming traffic and provide clear demarcation for movement of vehicles. Set up legible traffic signs at points of hazard. Use a combination of both informatory signs and warning signs for road users.” It is also critical to identify all hazards at the construction site such as exposed power lines, excavations and earthwork with the help of appropriate signage and markings.

Illumination gaps

Lighting is key to road safety, and on this count too, many city streets score poorly. A Street Quality Index released by Janaagraha had shown that 51% of the city streets have lux (measure of lighting) levels below the safety benchmark of 10 lux, making them unsafe for pedestrians.

The rulebook mandates use of ample lighting, reflective material and other safety equipment such as rubber-based safety cones, ‘men at work’ reflective tapes, safety net fencing, delineators, and barricades in and around construction zones.

Clear markings identifying where the work zones begin and end are also critical. As Nikita points out, “This helps road users know where they need to be extra cautious and slow down. Also required are trained on-site safety personnel/flagmen responsible for public and workmen safety, and traffic management around the construction zone.”

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