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Major intersections in Delhi death traps for pedestrians

Major intersections in Delhi are turning into death traps for pedestrians. With the rising number of vehicles and a lack of infrastructure for at-grade (at the surface level) crossings, the number of deaths involving pedestrians continues its steep rise every year.

delhi Updated: Feb 25, 2019 00:29 IST
Soumya Pillai
Soumya Pillai
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Delhi,intersection,death trap
According to Delhi Police estimates, of the 1,604 people killed in road accidents last year, around 40% were pedestrians.(Picture for representation)

Major intersections in Delhi are turning into death traps for pedestrians. With the rising number of vehicles and a lack of infrastructure for at-grade (at the surface level) crossings, the number of deaths involving pedestrians continues its steep rise every year. According to Delhi Police estimates, of the 1,604 people killed in road accidents last year, around 40% were pedestrians.

The task of crossing at intersections

Crossing busy intersections is an uphill task most pedestrians face on a regular basis. The art of racing to the other side of the road in a fraction of a second before the signal turns red for one section, and green for the other, is something that Delhiites have mastered over the years.

An estimate by the Indian Road Congress (IRC) shows an average pedestrian in Delhi takes around seven to eight minutes to cross a busy intersection from end-to-end.

This is because the signal timings often ignore those who mean to reach their final destination. After crossing each carriageway, pedestrians have to make a pit-stop for at least two minutes on dividers before they get to cross again. With proper infrastructure, this time can be reduced to three minutes, road safety experts said.

They maintained that at intersections, signal timings should be adjusted with the average time taken by a pedestrian to cross the intersection from one end to the other kept in mind. Any breaks will only result in people jumping in front of vehicles off-turn and ending up risking their lives.

Sahil Kumar, a bank employee working in Rohini’s Sector 18, said that during the peak morning traffic, he often has to wave at vehicles to slow down so that he can cross the road.

“Most drivers end up hurling abuse at you for suddenly jumping on the road, waving your hand like a traffic police officer. But what option do we have? Waiting for these vehicles to stop will mean waiting for at least 15-20 minutes,” Kumar said. He added that the installation of pedestrian signals will give people like him some breather.

“We constantly have drives to educate and fine drivers who stop their vehicles beyond the stop line, eating up on the zebra crossing for pedestrians. Safe roads are everyone’s right,” said joint commissioner of police (traffic) Alok Kumar. He also said that regular meetings are conducted with the road-owning agencies to come up with newer ways to make safe walking spaces for pedestrians.

A study conducted by the IRC in 2016 proved that the presence of pedestrian signals on busy roads made people feel safer and decreased fatalities. It also showed pedestrians were willing to wait longer at such signals because of an assurance of safe passage when the lights go green.

Lack of pedestrian infrastructure

In a 2013 study by Geetam Tiwari from Indian Institute of Technology (Delhi), the pattern of road accidents across major cities in the country over a span of five years was analysed, and it was confirmed that in the national capital, pedestrian deaths comprised at least 47% of all fatalities — the second highest in India after Mumbai.

The reason for this alarming trend can be seen in the way the city’s roads are being designed. Despite studies proving pedestrian tendencies to cross the road at-grade, road-owning agencies are doing little to facilitate safe road crossing and walking facilities for them. The priority is on vehicles, which are the centre of the way the city’s roads are planned, experts said.

Tiwari said India has been upgrading its highways with dividers, four- and six-lane roads and expressways since 2000. Yet, deaths due to road accidents continue to rise by 9%-10% each year.

“The design completely ignores the requirements of walkers, bicyclists, two-wheeler users, even animal carts and other slow-moving traffic. We need to relook our car-centric road designs,” she said.

As cities expand, so does vehicular traffic, but all emphasis is on ensuring better movement for cars, and so “cities are becoming hostile to pedestrians,” she said.

Sample this. At the crossing outside the gates of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) on Sri Aurobindo Marg, despite the high pedestrian footfall of patients and their caretakers, there aren’t many avenues for people to cross over to the other side of the road safely, without having to wait endlessly.

At the pedestrian signal at the gate, the lack of police presence sucks out any deterrence for speeding vehicles to give way to those looking to cross the road, and the apathy of road-owning agencies can be seen in the barely visible zebra crossing. Experts said that for government agencies, on most roads the only road-crossing facility is a gap between the grilles, through which a person or two can squeeze in.

The solutions

Tiwari said public spaces will improve if road designs move beyond the car-centric approach. “We need to change the way we design our roads and ensure better enforcement of rules,” she said. Experts stress the need to streamline the road geometry, bring the stop-line closer and make the intersection compact. “This will reduce the distance pedestrians have to walk and give them a sense of direction. We often find wide intersections that pedestrians are unable to cross
in one go,” Amit Bhatt, director integrated transport, WRI India, maintained.

Table-top crossings at slip roads can bring down the speed of vehicles and provide a smooth crossing facility to pedestrians. “Pedestrians prefer to cross at-grade. A majority of intersections are not well-designed. It is important that we factor in their requirements while redesigning our intersections. There is a need to provide refuge islands wherever possible,” Bhatt said.

Also, government awareness programmes on road safety over the last 40 years have made little dent in improving road safety. The world over, research shows that individual behaviour cannot be changed without changing the physical environment in which traffic operates, and ensuring better enforcement of rules.

The disadvantaged section of senior citizens and differently abled must be catered to. In most developed countries, provisions of pelican signals are made for the benefit of senior citizens, school children and differently abled, who can turn the pedestrian lights green to cross roads safely

First Published: Feb 25, 2019 00:29 IST