Green patches, seats at regular intervals increase walkability quotient

While on the one hand, Delhi has some of the most beautiful and pedestrian-friendly roads such as Sardar Patel Marg or Kasturba Gandhi Marg, it also has stretches such as the one between ISBT Kashmere Gate and Majnu Ka Tilla, where pedestrians are forced to walk on the main roads and risk their lives due to the lack of walkable footpath.
Experts say greenery should be maintained round the year to make footpaths walkable.(Amal KS/HT Photo)
Experts say greenery should be maintained round the year to make footpaths walkable.(Amal KS/HT Photo)
Updated on Feb 07, 2019 01:26 PM IST
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Hindustan Times. New Delhi | ByJoydeep Thakur and Soumya Pillai

Mention the word ‘walkability’ and it immediately conjures up an image of a foreign city such as Paris and London — with people walking on wide footpaths adorned with lush green trees and hedges, seats at regular intervals and colourful shops and eateries along the way. But a careful glance at our city will tell you that Delhi doesn’t have to look beyond its territory to understand what the term entails.

While on the one hand, Delhi has some of the most beautiful and pedestrian-friendly roads such as Sardar Patel Marg or Kasturba Gandhi Marg with their canopy of trees, broad sideways with well-laid green patches, on the other hand, it also has stretches such as the one between ISBT Kashmere Gate and Majnu Ka Tilla, where pedestrians are forced to walk on the main roads and risk their lives due to the lack of walkable footpath.

Elaborating on the issue, architect and urban planner, AGK Menon, said, “A walkable road needs proper planning and integration of greenery, aesthetics, safety and public utility right from the planning stages. But unfortunately, most roads in the city sans the ones in Lutyens’ Delhi lack this. Sometimes, you see a bus stop right in the middle of the footpath, sometimes, there are no trees to provide pedestrians with shade, and at times, the footpaths are dug up.”

But then, one might ask, what does greenery have to do with walkability.

The connection

A study conducted by the Delhi Traffic Police in 2016 revealed that road accidents in the New Delhi area — which has massive green coverage and continuous walking facilities for pedestrians — was at least 40 per cent lower than the rest of the city. It also showed that pedestrian deaths in accidents in this area were almost 85 per cent lower.

The connection between green coverage and road accidents was first established by the government of Mexico City in 2015, which assessed some of the busiest and the most accident-prone stretches, for over a decade and increased the green coverage there. After the project was completed, it was seen that not only were accidents on the stretch controlled but also that incidents of road rage among drivers had gone down.

In a statement released to the local media, the Mexico City government had said the green cover “had acted as a stress buster for drivers” who were otherwise more aggressive on roads. This, they said, became a boon for pedestrians, who had also found the newly developed area more accessible.

“Greenery along sideways and footpaths not just provides shade and increases your convenience while walking, it also soothes your senses and keeps you happy and calm. The moment you start walking with your senses feeling the surrounding, it slows you down and acts as a recreation for you. The hedges along edges of footpaths keep you from getting down on the roads, thereby bringing down the chances of accidents,” said KT Ravindran, urban designer and former chairman of the Delhi Urban Art Commission.

Curbing pollution woes

There are umpteen studies that have revealed how greenery along roads and footpaths could help bring down pollution. A latest study by researchers from the University of Surrey has shown that hedges can bring down vehicular pollution by more than 60 per cent.

In 2009, the Indian Road Congress (IRC) had laid down certain guidelines and objectives that need to be followed while selecting plants.

“The objectives while selecting a plant species — as laid down in the IRC — are to reduce air and dust pollution, arrest soil erosion, mitigate extreme climatic conditions, reduce noise pollution, among others. But these are hardly followed in plantation drives,” RNS Tyagi, former horticulture director of the Central Public Works Department, said.

Experts said a mix-and-match of big canopy trees and hedges are ideal for footpaths. It, in fact, make roads more walkable.

“Just like we need woods and greenery, we also need open spaces. Both are important for us. And for this, we need a proper plan. We can’t just go on planting trees just for the sake of greenery,” author and conservationist, Pradip Krishen, said.

Moving ahead

So how exactly do we go ahead? Experts said that to integrate greenery with roads so that they could become more walkable should be the primary objective among planners right from the initial stages.

“A major criterion while making a city or its roads walkable is to see that the walkbale streets do not end abruptly. They should have some continuity and end in open spaces such as a park,” said Ravindran.

Planners also said the more interactive a footpath -- with lots of greenery instead of a mundane looking road with ‘dead’ walls — the more it will increase walkability.

“If the road has spaces with greenery, shops and eateries, which a pedestrian can see, walkabilty increases. A dull road with walls blocking your sight reduces the walkability quotient,” Ravindran maintained.

But just planting trees and hedges won’t help. Experts said that in an attempt to make roads and footpaths more walkable, greenery should be maintained round the year. Unless maintained, these green stretches could become shady dark places and become unsafe.

“Whenever we think of widening a road or coming up with an infrastructure project, the first thing we see is that trees are chopped off. Sometimes, when footpaths are retrofitted, the bases of trees are all concretised despite a National Green Tribunal (NGT) ruling against such practices. Residents should be involved so that greeneries could be maintained more efficiently,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher at Centre for Policy Research.

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