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The Mumbai Project: A walk on the wild side

Each year, Mumbai spends about Rs 50 cr to construct roads and footpaths. So why does 61-year-old Sheetal Deo find it so hard to use them? Uma Upadhyaya finds outTalk to us...Check out the special on The Mumbai Project

india Updated: Dec 15, 2007 17:29 IST
Uma Upadhyaya

A regular evening walker, 67-year-old retired merchant navy captain Kanu Kulkarni prefers to walk on the road instead of the new footpath built three months ago. HT took a walk with him to find out why. (Check out the special on The Mumbai Project)

Our “footpath journey” started from his residence, Rendezvous building on Bandra’s Perry Cross Road, to Otter’s Club — a 15-minute walk. Perry Road has one of the better-maintained footpaths in the western suburbs, but that’s not saying much: Exasperated, Kulkarni finally decided to walk on the road, much like every other pedestrian in the area. “Why can’t the civic body get it right?” he asked. Why indeed? This isn’t rocket science.

The city’s senior officials repeatedly promise world-class footpaths. Civic guidelines on footpaths are clear: gentle slopes where footpaths end, steel poles to keep cars out. So why are most new footpaths built without them?

Civic officials don’t have much to say by way of explanation. All D.L. Shinde, chief civic engineer (roads), can say is: “Footpaths are usually six to eight inches high as the culvert outlet is to be considered. We’ll see if they can be lowered. We’ll correct the problems and level all footpaths.”

Mumbai can take lessons from Singapore, which had no footpaths until the 1950s. Today, it’s a pedestrian paradise, but the island state isn’t stopping at that.

The Land Transport Authority plans to further improve accessibility of footpaths, bus stops, etc. As part of a massive project by Singapore’s Public Works Department, pavements and walkways in the central business district are being upgraded to remove barriers such as kerbs and steep ramps.

In Mumbai’s toniest suburb, Bandra, only one road, St Andrew’s, has a disabled-friendly walkway. Many pavements are being redone, but with the same disregard for the municipal corporation’s own guidelines. “We have requested the corporation to concretise at least the slopes so that it is easy for seniors and the disabled,” said Anil Joseph, member of H-West Citizens’ Trust.

HT came across a senior citizen on a wheelchair at Mahim. Thomas D’Souza (75) finds it difficult to navigate his way along the Reti Bunder footpath, which leads to St Michael’s Church, 100 mt away.

The old footpath is coming apart, which means D’Souza can never go to church unless accompanied by someone to steer his wheelchair. Mohammed Alam, who accompanies him to church thrice a week, said, “Though dangerous, it’s better on the road.”
Nayana Kathpalia, of the non-governmental organisation Citispace, believes the problem is the fancy paver blocks and shoddy construction.

“Why can’t there just be normal concrete pavements?” Kathpalia asked. “There is no supervision of the work carried out by contractors. The job is shoddy and even newly-made footpaths in many parts of south Mumbai have crumbled after the first rains.”

Five years ago, the municipal corporation had a brainwave: use cobblestone-like tiles on roads and pavements instead of concrete.
Called paver blocks, the tiles are tougher than asphalt, easy to replace and three times cheaper than concretising.

The plan has gone awfully wrong. You don’t need to ask an expert. Many stretches of roads and footpaths have sunk, and the blocks have broken or come loose in many areas.

In fact, an experts committee, in its report to the Bombay High Court on October 30, pointed to the poor quality of concrete used in pavements. Of the 11 samples of asphalt pavements, eight did not meet specifications. The committee also said that the works carried out were slipshod.

This is a serious health hazard. Dr. Harish Ratanpal, an orthopaedic surgeon who runs a hospital in Kandivli, gets at least 10 cases every month of people who stumble and hurt themselves on the uneven roads and footpaths. “There are no ramps and there is an abrupt climb to access footpaths,” Ratanpal said. “In other countries, roads are merged with footpaths to make accessibility easy.”
Ratanpal said senior citizens with arthritis can barely balance on such uneven surfaces. It’s even more difficult for the disabled.
“Paver blocks come off and steering a wheelchair over them is difficult,” said Dr. Ratanpal. “There are other obstructions, like bus-stops and encroachments.”

The civic body hopes to transform Mumbai’s footpaths in three years, making them pedestrian- and disabled-friendly. Every year, 275 pedestrians, forced to walk on the roads because of our crumbling footpaths, perish on the city’s roads. If footpaths are upgraded, that number will drop significantly.

The way ahead

Footpaths on all roads. Pedestrian subways to reduce traffic dangers. Flyovers must be complemented with sidewalks and subways.
The edges of new pavements must have slopes. You can protest to your local ward officer or your corporator, who will take up the issue.

Encroachments must be strictly monitored and removed. Only 131 roads in Mumbai are hawking zones, says the High Court.
Citizens must use footpaths. They tend to walk on the road even if there are good footpaths.

By 2010, a brand new walking experience

By Uma Upadhyaya

Within three years, all footpaths in Mumbai will be transformed, said city officials. Expect coloured paver blocks — cobblestone-like tiles — world-class finishing and sloping ends to drain water and help the old and infirm.

This is not as unreal as it sounds. Until the 1950s, there was another Asian city packed with squatter camps and no footpaths. Its name: Singapore.

“All roadworks will incorporate upgrades of their footpaths too,” said D.L. Shinde, chief civic engineer (roads and traffic). “We have already started work on footpaths in the island city, which will be further extended to the suburbs.” Around 240 km of new footpaths have already been reconstructed over the last year and the target for the next two years is 220 km.

Every year, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation spends Rs 50 crore for road and footpath improvement. Pavements across the city are still in shambles, which is why the corporation now incorporates footpaths in all road projects.

Some roads defy easy solutions, like Lokmanya Tilak Road near Borivli (west) station, a nightmare for pedestrians and motorists. Said Manish More, a banker who walks to the station every day, “A few years ago, it was not such a problem, but the population has increased manifold. Walking here is a horrendous experience.”

Generally, 10 per cent of a road’s width is kept for pavements on each side. If footpaths were to be built on Lokmanya Tilak Road, they would occupy 12 feet, severely squeezing traffic space on an already chaotic road.

Officials said pavements cannot be built for roads less than 60 feet in width: that would eat into road space. Don’t build the footpaths and you imperil pedestrians. “Widening of roads is yet to be taken up in many areas. Only when that happens will all roads have footpaths,” said Shinde.

The corporation has succeeded in converting crumbling footpaths in many areas into citizen-friendly walkways: Maharshi Karve Road at Churchgate, Madame Cama Road at Worli, Jagannath Bhosale Road near Mantralaya and Prakash Pethe Marg at Colaba now sport disabled-friendly footpaths with sloping edges and vertical steel poles at the ends to keep out vehicles.
It would be great if all new footpaths simply followed these quality guidelines — as HT found across Mumbai, they do not.

What needs to be done

Mumbai has a grand plan to transform its footpaths, home — according to a Tata Institute of Social Sciences study — to 5 lakh people: ragpickers, destitutes, workers, new migrants, even cottage industries. Named after the father of the nation, the city’s Mahatma Gandhi Pathkranti Yojana (Mahatma Gandhi Road Revolution Scheme) hopes to rehabilitate the people who live in 25,000 shanties, around 1.25 lakh people. That covers all slums built before 1995. The rest will be demolished. Builders will provide housing for the city’s footpath dwellers. Builder profit will come from the extra space they will get for commercial projects. Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh announced this project in May 2006. He said it would cost Rs 760 crore and would require 42 hectares. That’s twice the size of Nariman Point. Half the money would come from the centre’s National Urban Renewal Mission, the other half from the state. There’s been no further progress. It’s hard getting land.

The buck stops here

Jairaj Phatak, Municipal commissioner

Why can’t the civic body provide good footpaths?
We are trying to improve the condition of footpaths. In many places, they have been improved, especially in south Mumbai. In many areas, there are no footpaths at all, or they are encroached upon by hawkers. We take action against unauthorised hawkers and encroachers. The issue of hawking zones is still not finalised. We will shift hawkers from non-hawking areas to hawking zones soon.
As per the improvement contracts, all footpaths must have sloping ends with steel rods fixed to prevent entry of vehicles. But this is not happening. On many footpaths that are low, we have done that. Some footpaths are kept high so that people do not park their vehicles on them.

But footpaths then become difficult for senior citizens to access. Why can’t all footpaths have sloping ends?
There have been a few complaints from corporators about the height of footpaths constructed by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, which have been addressed. If there are more such complaints, we will provide for stairs at access points. This issue is local and if citizens or elected representatives feel that the footpaths in their areas are high, they can complain at the local ward office and the issue will be resolved.

For more details:

Check out the special on The Mumbai Project