Creating infra to provide safe commute for children will improve road safety for allUpdated: Dec 03, 2019 23:54 IST
The road safety of children is a global issue, because every day, more than 500 children are killed in accidents. Also, tens of thousands are injured, often resulting in lifelong disabilities. The 2018 accident report by the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRT&H) reveals the problem is more acute in India; especially in Haryana, as every third person killed in a road accident in Haryana road is a child.
As per the MoRT&H report, last year, Haryana had 5,118 traffic fatalities, of which 1,843 were children under the age of 15 years. Thirty-eight per cent of the children were aged five years or below, 37% were between 5 and 10 years, while the remaining 25% belonged to the age group between 10 and 15 years.
The lack of data and misguided priorities are often reasons why road safety for children doesn’t improve in our country. However, all this can change if we take a closer look at an experiment in Rohtak. Rohtak Municipal Corporation and Rohtak police, with support from other partners, started the BOTNAR Safer Commute for School Children project in mid-2018. The project hopes to make Rohtak a city where children can travel safely on the road, either on foot, by cycle, or public transport, regardless of whether they are alone or accompanied by an adult. The project has some exciting teachings for Gurugram and other cities.
Understanding the problem
The first step towards finding a solution is understanding the problem. This is where the Rohtak project has scored big. The commute pattern of children is different from that of adults. Children don’t drive; motorised transport for them is only an option when they are passengers, be it a car, two-wheeler, or bus. Children mostly walk; they also cycle. However, the current road design doesn’t allow them to do either. Also, children travel in groups, whether it is going to school, to tuition, or to play. They like to take shortcuts; they also loiter. Therefore, a safe commute for children would mean adequate road width, slower speeds, and safe and vibrant spaces. It means that streets and junctions need to be redesigned, which is what the city has done.
Developing and testing solutions
Let’s face it, neither the city roads nor traffic junctions are ever designed. Their construction is directly executed on the ground. This is because city engineers often feel they know ‘the site’, and hence there is no need for any design. Rohtak moved forward with developing solutions. The HUDA Park—New Bus Stand Junction in Rohtak was selected for the trial design. The new intersection design reduced the junction area from 1,550 sqm to 150 sqm. That’s a 90% reduction in the area. Why? Traffic junctions that occupy large areas are dangerous for pedestrians to cross and even more so for children. This is because road users are exposed to traffic for a longer duration. Also, these intersections encourage motorists to speed, which is further detrimental to safety. Also, reducing the size of traffic junctions can provide public space that can be used for pedestrians and children. In Rohtak, 1,400 sqm of the freed space at this intersection was given to non-motorised transport users. There is always a reluctance to test new design ideas due to fear of failure. Rohtak overcame this with a trial design using temporary structures like cones and barricades.
Making permanent change
The one-month trial removed all the fear around the safe design in Rohtak. The city has redesigned four more junctions and is also about to redesign another five intersections along with 13km of the most crucial road in the town. However, the most significant progress is to move the changes from trial to permanent. Trial interventions are usually made to evaluate the effectiveness of the proposed design. They enabled authorities to take up plans for permanent implementation. The HUDA Park—New Bus Stand Junction has been tendered out for permanent change, while the tender of four more junctions for permanent construction is in the pipeline. This is where Rohtak has done well. In the coming months, four more high-risk intersections will have permanent safe infrastructure. The city is also collecting data to judge the effectiveness of these changes in road safety.
As per the global road safety for children report, 66% of parents in India believe that their child could get seriously hurt in a road traffic crash, and over 90% of parents think that there is a need to improve road safety for children. Their belief is backed by data, which shows that children are the most vulnerable groups when it comes to road safety.
Therefore, if we can create infrastructure that can provide safe commute for children, it will improve road safety for all road users.
(Amit Bhatt is director, integrated transport, at WRI-India)