A city safe for children is safe for everyone else
For a city often labelled as the car capital of India, Delhi has its fair share of pedestrians. As many as 34% of all daily trips in the national capital are ‘walk-only’, says the draft policy for ‘enhancing walkability in Delhi’, adding that 58% of all education trips are made on foot.
Students walk the most. But too many vehicles, encroachments and poor pedestrian infrastructure often make the walking routes to educational institutions, barring a few university campuses, unsafe. Our schoolgoing children are the most vulnerable on city streets. According to SaveLife Foundation, 29 children are killed in road crashes in India everyday.
In Delhi, while the bigger schools transport their students in their own or hired buses, others rely on vans, autos and e-rickshaws where many reckless drivers pack in too many children and drive rashly, often causing accidents. Many parents take time off their daily chores to do school-runs.
Some use vehicles while others just walk their children to schools and back. Two months ago, HT reported how in the absence of road-crossing facilities near schools, a bunch of parents, who are members of the School Management Committee of a government school, are taking turns to play traffic marshals.
Not so long ago, children could just walk or cycle to their schools, private tuition classes or sports practice.
In fact, school authorities preferred to admit students living within walkable distances so that they wouldn’t have to take the school bus or public transport.
As Delhi grew, its children encountered not only mad traffic, broken infrastructure but also violence, air-pollution and overcrowded living conditions.
To give mobility to children in cities, experts suggest a few basics.
Traffic calming measures, for instance, are working in New York City, where speed cameras placed in 160 schools zones in 2014 brought down traffic deaths in those neighbourhoods by more than half, and speeding was reduced by more than 60%.
The project has now been expanded nearly fivefold to cover every elementary, middle and high school in the city, reported the New York Times on March 19.
Back in the early 1970s, the Dutch decided to reclaim their streets for youngsters, when more than 400 children were killed in traffic accidents in a year, triggering a citizen protest called Stop de Kindermoord or ‘stop child murder’.
Protesters held bicycle demonstrations, occupied accident spots and organised special days during which streets were closed to allow children to play safely, reported The Guardian in an article on ‘How Amsterdam became the bicycle capital of the world’.
This eventually led to the building of woonerf or shared public streets for pedestrians, cyclists and children, where speed bumps and bends forced cars to drive at very slow speeds.
The London Walking Plan, launched by Transport for London last year, focuses on children and aims to solve the problems of road congestion, air-pollution around schools and childhood obesity.
To increase active travel, reduce road danger and air pollution around schools, the plan recommends barring traffic on certain ‘school streets’ during the opening and closing hours and reducing speed limits around other schools to 20 miles per hour.
According to the walking plan report, a pilot project on creating a school street in Camden in 2016 resulted in a 43% drop in driven trips to school and a 3.8% reduction in overall NO2 levels on working days.
For the rest of the British cities, the UK government last week announced an expansion of its Walk to School programme, which will include school route audits involving all stakeholders so streets could be made-barrier free for walking, the creation of walking zones, and incentives to children who walked to school.
Delhi’s draft walkability plan, too, has provisions for app-based audits and walk modules for neighbourhoods, particularly the ones that have hospitals and schools within the 500-metre radius, installation of pelican crossings and at-grade crossover facilities near schools.
The Delhi road safety policy notified last year asks for traffic calming measures within a half-km radius of schools and other places that see heavy pedestrian movement.
While doing all this, the authorities must also focus on fixing the basics such as building continuous pavements, freeing them from encroachments, rationalising their height and width, removing obstacles and covering open drains.
With their task cut out, our authorities must be clear why their focus must be on children.
Enrique Peñalosa, the mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, compared them to an indicator species, because ‘if we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people.’