We have established that the city urgently needs simple, innovative, low-cost schemes for pedestrians, rather than expensive, corruption-ridden projects.
But it is at this juncture that we must admit that a little initiative from citizens can also help improve street life.
The intervention by of the Oval-Cooperage Residents Association, for instance, has ensure that the footpaths here are more pedestrian-friendly in general and significantly more friendly to the disabled. A wheelchair can be pushed all along the footpath between Cooperage and Eros cinema.
In most of the rest of Mumbai, meanwhile, the footpaths designed by the civic body are usually not even suited to the most able-bodied citizen of the city, littered as they with obstructions, uneven patches and displaced paver tiles.
And yet almost every one of Mumbai’s 18 million citizens will, at some point, feel the need of a pavement.
The former British rulers did a much better job regarding street design and footpath. One can see the remnants in the very wide footpaths in several areas of the old city like Ballard Pier, Parel and Wadala. These were built even when the number of pedestrians was extremely small. After independence, despite the big increase in the number of pedestrians, footpath space has been deliberately and cynically cut down to make way for cars.
It is only in the last few years that the civic body has shown some awareness of the needs of pedestrians and this is entirely due to increased public consciousness and media reports.
Citizens’ initiatives have also helped create some excellent promenades as at Carter Road and Band Stand in Bandra. In a way, these have come up despite the BMC. It is always difficult to convince the government and the civic body to implement schemes that benefit people. However, these well developed footpaths cater mainly to recreational needs. It is far more important to provide proper footpaths that connect residential areas to railway stations. Unfortunately some good walking spaces are being neglected. Last week I was shocked to see that the whole open space in front of Rang Sharada auditorium has become squalid and the approach road to the Bandra Reclamation promenade is dirty and dark.
The Bandra Reclamation promenade itself has been wrecked in the name of beautification and the work is hampered for the last several months as the developer is facing serious charges of financial irregularities.
Providing benches for citizens on footpaths will greatly make streets friendlier and enable them to promote social mingling. Benches are central to street design. But our authorities ignore the basics A manual of street furniture was prepared for the BMC some ten years ago by the Surve sisters, both architects, but little follow up action is taken because the authorities are obsessed with motor car traffic, not people’s basic needs.
(Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of Traffic in the Era of Climate Change: Walking, Cycling, Public Transport Need Priority)