Have a safe walk!

In urban spaces where pedestrians are considered a nuisance by drivers with speeding vehicles, a little empathy and a few changes would go a long way in making walking safe for all

By Author  |  Professor Prasad Pathak  |  Published: 23rd Feb 2020  12:45 amUpdated: 22nd Feb 2020  8:34 pm

Walking used to be the first choice of me going for shopping, doing grocery, bringing newspaper or going for tuitions. Later, as the distance towards my destinations increased from 1 km to 5 km, I started using bicycle. In college days, however, there was transition to bike. Nevertheless, I like walking for local chores, but I prefer to use bike. The very reason being a fear of being run over by a speeding bike or a supersize car. Yes, you heard it right! I am afraid of walking on the road within my apartment complex and the main road immediately outside. Selected portions of it have walkways but most of the road length is devoid of it. The existing walkway segments witness encroachment by people parking their two wheelers or street vendors. So, people are forced to walk along with vehicles. Pedestrians are looked at as a nuisance by drivers on roads where high-speed vehicle movement occurs. Most of the urban India faces similar conditions for walking. That is why if you are thinking of walking, have a safe walk!

What are the possible reasons behind this conflict between pedestrians and vehicles?
One major reason could be sheer rise in the number of vehicles on roads. As illustrated in the figure below, in 2016, the total number of vehicles was approaching 250 million. It was well below 100 million in 2005. Increase of more than 100 million vehicles on the roads causes problems like traffic congestion, who will think about pedestrians!

The other reason could be the planning approach in urban areas. Many of the cities which have implemented zoning, i.e., segregation land use encourages vehicle use. Cities like Chandigarh, Greater Noida, or new towns near metros (Dwarka outside Delhi) are typical examples of this approach. To gain more control on land use, the planners ignore the fact that if offices or commercial areas are not going to be in walkable distance from residences, vehicles are the obvious choice.

Unavailability of public transport within walkable distance could also give rise to more vehicle trips. For example, if the bus stops are not close by, then even for short trips (e.g., 3 km distance) people tend to use bike or car.

This scenario needs to change. We should encourage walking. One advantage of walking as a transportation mode is that it will reduce number of vehicle miles travelled/trips and help reduce air pollution. Hence, it’s a great contribution towards climate change efforts.

On another front, India is developing 100 smart cities. If we review most of the projects, more emphasis is given on technology-based solutions to facilitate daily functions such as paying taxes online or communicating with local government authorities. Metro rail is also a synonym for smartness in the cities. Not much importance is given for active transportation. There are some local scale projects like “Smart Street” in Aundh area of Pune. These projects are aiming at developing an ideal scenario/model which could be replicated in the entire city if there are more funds available. Therefore, these projects are good but do not solve the problem for entire city. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Government of India, has been suggested to implement a Complete Street framework which suggests that there should be dedicated space for walking at least on the roads which are considered as arterial roads or the roads which are multilane roads. These roads and the walkways along them should be supplemented by ample number of graded crosswalks and pedestrian lights.

The reality in the cities is different. I, along with a few Duke University scholars, studied walkability aspects in a planned city of Greater Noida. The following map shows how major roads in Sector 31 had significant conflict between vehicles and pedestrians. At the same time, the major roads also did not have crosswalks available for pedestrians to cross the multiple lanes.

  • Residential Road
  • Primary Road
  • Secondary Road
    Pune Municipal Corporation has shared data on their open data portal about fatalities. The following chart highlights that pedestrian injuries and/or fatalities are significant in the past three years.

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