Pedestrian infra must dictate road design as more people walk to work
In Gurugram’s municipal corporation area, the largest mode of travel is walking at 27%, while car use is 10%. Yet we see every road is designed exclusively for motor vehicles.gurgaon Updated: Jan 09, 2019 15:09 IST
We all remember the iconic quote by the former American President Abraham Lincoln, “Democracy is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” However, when it comes to our cities, can we similarly say that our cities are also by the people and for the people? I guess not.
There are multiple reasons why our cites are not working for the people. The failure can be seen in various sectors of city planning, but is most evident in the case of transportation. Let me elaborate. As per the 2011 Census, for the non-agricultural workforce, one-fifths of the people in India walk to work, in comparison less than 3% of the people who are using cars. Yet we see every road is designed exclusively for motor vehicles. For example, in Gurugram’s municipal corporation area, the largest mode of travel is walking, at 27%, while car use is 10%, which is much less than those of the pedestrians.
The result of this mismatch is that around 50% of road traffic deaths in our cites are of pedestrians. In Gurugram alone, 168 pedestrians lost their lives last year due to road accidents. Therefore, if we need to make our cites and transport work for the people, we need to put people first in the conversation, rather than only thinking about vehicles.
Here are three ways by which we can put people first in out transport systems by focussing on pedestrians first:
Provide adequate space on roads
It’s wasteful to have roads that don’t have adequate and unobstructed footpaths. Unfortunately, a majority of the roads in our cities fall in this category. Either there is no space for people to walk on or the space it just symbolic. Gurugram’s Golf Course Road is a classic example where there are 16 lanes for cars but not even 16 inches for pedestrians. There are also cases when the space for pedestrians has been taken over by utilities such as transformers, electric poles, garbage dumps, etc, or the worst of the lot — name plates. An example of this can be seen on Sohna Road, near the ILD Mall, where name plates have taken the pedestrian’s space. This forces people to walk on the roads, exposing them to traffic risks. Therefore, agencies must provide and maintain at least two metres of clear and unobstructed footpaths in all major roads of the city.
Re-imagine crossings and intersections
In a majority of Indian cities, over 40% of road traffic deaths occur at traffic intersections. In a majority of the cases, intersections are not designed for safe movement at all. They are managed for faster movement of cars. In Gurugram, there is a growing trend of removing traffic lights from intersections and replacing them with a series of ever confusing U-turns. There is no data to show if they solve the movement of vehicles but it surely makes the intersection unsafe for pedestrians? The traffic intersection at the Huda City Centre Metro station has more pedestrians than motor vehicles. Yet, all the talk around improving the mobility at this location is around faster movement of vehicles. This mindset needs to change. All the major intersection in the city need to be audited for pedestrian safety. Any new intersection design or traffic circulation needs to address one fundamental question – how will people cross the road? Only then should it get an approval for further implementation from the authorities concerned.
Reduce traffic speed to safe limits
Speed is the biggest reason why India, unfortunately, ranks number one in the world for unsafe roads. However, people still don’t understand the impact of speed on safety. Let’s simplify this for better understanding. If a car hits a pedestrian at 30 kmph, the chances of survival are 90%. However, if the speed of the same vehicle is 50 kmph, the chances of survival reduce to 15%. The legal speed limit is 50 kmph, which is already very high and should not be increased further. In fact, in areas that have high pedestrian use, such as schools, markets, Metro stations, etc, the speed should be reduced to 30 kmph. The police should enforce the speed limits stringently. Every instance of speeding should be dealt on the lines of dealing with an armed criminal on the run, which is dangerous and should be dealt with accordingly.
Great cites around the world are walkable. This is because everyone is a pedestrian while using any mode of transport. Many western cities aspire to reach to the level of pedestrian usage like Indian cities. However, people walk in our cities not by choice but by compulsion, and this needs to change. We can bring this change by putting ‘pedestrians first’ in all our policies, planning and design.
(Amit Bhatt is the director of integrated transport, WRI India)
First Published: Jan 09, 2019 15:08 IST