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Remove barriers, promote culture of walking in Delhi

The government, in general, and road-owning agencies, in particular, have to play a major role to transform all roads and streets into walkable ones, by removing all constraints and also actively promote the culture of walking, which is the need of the hour for most people.

delhi Updated: Mar 15, 2019 10:47 IST
Ashok Bhattacharjee
Ashok Bhattacharjee
walkability,delhi,UTTIPEC
Walkability on streets is to be ensured by providing a continuous, levelled and barrier-free path for walking along and across the streets.(HT Photo )

Walking conditions in the city were never in favour of pedestrians due to segregated land use, low population density and vehicle-centric primary street network development, which increased the distance of travel, encouraged high speed motorised vehicles and incentivised heavy ownership of private vehicles.

In the absence of a comprehensive mobility plan, the road-owning agencies continued to construct flyovers, elevated roads, etc, for decongesting roads and subways/foot overbridges for safe pedestrian crossings — all as stand-alone construction projects, which failed to solve both traffic congestion and pedestrian safety problems.

With this background, a sincere effort was made by the Central government to create a notified body — Unified Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure (Planning and Engineering) Centre — in 2008 to oversee planning and development of all transportation infrastructure in the city, by coordinating with all agencies, monitoring mobility planning proposals for integration and approving projects after due deliberations with all stakeholders. To provide guidance for inclusive and environment-friendly mobility system planning UTTIPEC came out with various guidelines that were deliberated and approved for the adoption and implementation of mobility-related infrastructure development for the city. The most relevant was the Pedestrian Design Guidelines of 2009, which was later modified to a more comprehensive plan as the Street Design Guidelines. This was the first document approved and adopted by the city in 2010 for designing all city roads and residential neighbourhood streets with specific provisions for pedestrians and non-motorised vehicles (NMV), with universal accessibility features and other street components that encourage walking and public transport use.

As the director and member-secretary of UTTIPEC, I was associated with a process that we genuinely believed was possible to transform Delhi as a ‘pedestrian and public transport friendly’ city. UTTIPEC had become an important platform where all sorts of ideas, concepts, policies and strategies pertaining to critical mobility issues in general and walking, cycling and public transport issues, in particular, were deliberated. Participation of expert groups, community groups and NGOs were encouraged for developing a sustainable mobility system.

Every effort was made to change the focus of road-owning agencies from ‘construction based approach’ to ‘comprehensive planning based approach’ and from ‘engineering /construction feasibility’ to ‘planning/ functional feasibility’ to make the city more humane and inclusive. In spite of such efforts, the city continued to pursue high-cost infrastructure development without systematic street audits, designs or development addressing the need of pedestrians in general and the elderly, children, women and persons with disability, in particular. Ever-increasing number of accidents on major roads involving pedestrians and cyclists, the high levels of noise and air pollution on residential streets, occupation of almost 50% of carriageways and 80-90% of footpath by parked cars on all residential streets are clear indicators of the complete absence of any rational planning, development and enforcement of law for both streets and traffic.

The root cause for such misplaced priority and neglect for the most important road user, i.e., pedestrians is the mindset to not accept any positive change in approach/ process and sheer neglect to appreciate that the city is not about bricks and mortars, but about people and quality of life. The government, in general, and road-owning agencies, in particular, have to play a major role to transform all roads and streets into walkable ones, by removing all constraints and also actively promote the culture of walking, which is the need of the hour for most people, in general, and children, in particular, as passive mobility has been considered the major cause for the growth of non-communicable diseases. Walkability on streets is to be ensured by providing a continuous, levelled and barrier-free path for walking along and across the streets. For this, government agencies need to take immediate action by initiating a campaign with media and community groups, systematic planning and design of streets, implementation with strict enforcement of traffic and street rules and regulations.

(Ashok Bhattacharjee, former director Unified Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure (Planning and Engineering) Centre and former director planning at Delhi Development Authority )

First Published: Mar 15, 2019 10:46 IST