Old habits die hard. Despite modern pedestrian amenities, Delhites continue to cross roads weaving through the maze of heavy traffic instead of using these access paths. But, with the Delhi Government introducing fancy foot overbridges and walkways in an effort to gear up for the Commonwealth Games in 2010, things may yet change.
Government bodies like the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), Public Works Department (PWD) and Delhi Development Authority (DDA) have made attempts to ensure the safety of pedestrians but there seems a general reluctance among people to use subways. The general unpopularity of subways could be attributed to unhygienic conditions, lack of security and poor lighting. Many of them resemble medieval dungeons rather than modern pedestrian facilities.
More often than not a flight of broken stairs leads into the subways, most of which are not properly lit. Far from being clean, these dungeons are a health hazard and many are used as dumping grounds, public urinals and serve as a refuge for beggars at night. “I do not feel safe using the subways after sunset as they are poorly lit and rogues rules the roost in these areas,” says Trisha Kaul, research scholar, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Eve teasing and chain snatching are common. The subway at Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg stinks of overflowing sewer water.
Another deterrent is ill positioning. Most subways are located away from marketplaces and bus stops. The subway at Dhaula Kuan is far from the bus stop, forcing pedestrians to take a death-defying route and jump the railings. Subways in the city also lack provisions for the aged and the handicapped. “How is a person on a wheel chair supposed to climb down a flight of stairs?” asks Ravinder Kumar, a pedestrian.
According to Jose Kurien, Chief Engineer, Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation (DTTDC), it is wrong to bunch all subways under one head for those in Connaught Place, AIIMS and South Extension are actually very successful. “Factors that go against some subways are location, hygiene and security but the DTTDC is trying to have round-the-clock security at these subways and keep them clean. It costs money but funds can be generated through advertisements and to this end we have already approached the government,”he says.
It should be noted that the ‘half subway’ at Kasturba Gandhi Marg is a model one and has more takers because there are no gaps on the divider at the central median. The subway also has fewer stairs to climb as the level of the road has been raised.
One way to make subways popular is to open shops or kiosks inside them. According to Shruti Jindal of the Centre for Civil Society that conducted a study entitled ‘Pedestrianism - Market Dynamics of the subways in Delhi’, to make the subway model successful, steps have to be taken to allocate shops according to the needs of the area. The subway connecting AIIMS and Safdarjung has 16 kiosks comprising chemist shops, pathology labs, STD and photostat shops, general stores and confectionaries that do flourishing business as they cater to the needs of patients and visitors to the hospitals. Four shops in the subway on Bhagwan Dass Road, connecting the Supreme Court to the Indian Law Institute, sell law related books and stationary.
However, no generalisation can be drawn from the above two cases. Sometimes setting up shops in subways is not profitable business. The subway at Rafi Marg has 12 shops and eight telephone booths that hardly receive customers. To overcome people’s aversion towards using subways and to avoid death-defying stunts on the Capital’s roads, the government has come out with a hi-tech solution: escalators at the foot overbridges. This year’s budget has allocated funds for the construction of five new foot overbridges with the provision of escalators and ramps at Kashmere Gate, Moti Bagh, ITO, Maharani Bagh and in front of the Venkateswara College, work on which is going to start shortly. “The estimated cost is Rs 755 lakh for the construction of foot overbridge near Venkateswara College and Nanak Pura,” says a PWD official.
The construction of the foot overbridge at Aurobindo Marg and near Safdarjung has been completed. “Seven others at Dilli Haat, Africa Avenue, near Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, Mandir Marg, Baba Kharak Singh Marg, Shahjahan Road and Mother Teresa Marg have been enlisted by the NDMC,” reveals an NDMC official.
And that is not all. Underpasses and walkways are the new kids on the block. The DTTDC approached architect Saurabh Gupta to help design underpasses at Prem Bari Pul and Moolchand. “The Moolchand underpass is flanked on either side by circular steel walkways and ends with subways. The entrance to the underpass has a curved shape. This is an attempt on my part to design a facility imaginatively,” says Gupta.
According to Kurien, “We wanted a new design, a fresh look that broke away from the old pattern. Design definitely helps to make a pedestrian facility look attractive and inviting. We have constructed Delhi’s first walkway and subway at Moolchand and both have been done up creatively. Issues such as location, a sense of security, hygiene etc have all been taken care of.”
Kurien points out that the Moolchand underpass has been constructed after a lot of thinking if not research. The DTTDC has taken into account the general unpopularity of subways and even conducted a three-day survey in the area before deciding on the exact location of the facility. “We are satisfied with the response so far.”