With Metro network growing, it’s time Delhiites took a hike
Those willing to walk to and from Metro stations can save money spent on the last-mile commute and, at the same time, ease congestion and air pollution.Updated: Aug 13, 2018, 12:15 IST
Once the phase 3 of Delhi Metro is completed early next year, the city will have 206 stations. The average distance between two Metro stations will be 1.4 km. Since one uses the nearest station, cut that distance by half and it will be eminently walkable.
That is a welcome scenario. Those willing to walk to and from Metro stations can save money spent on the last-mile commute. That will ease congestion and air pollution. Walking is also the best physical exercise one can get without hitting a gym. But to realise these benefits, we need better access. We need a city that is walkable.
If it is about numbers, pedestrians should be a government’s priority. According to the 2011 census, 22% of Delhi residents were walking to work. But our administration has continued to build road space to facilitate faster movement of private vehicles. Not surprisingly, Delhi in 2017 reported 1,408 road fatalities. Of these, 786 were of pedestrians.
It is true that jaywalking is a hazard. But we can grudge pedestrians for being unmindful of traffic rules or approaching vehicles only when we have provided them with enough space to walk safely.
Delhi has multiple problems with its walking spaces. Many parts of the city don’t have continuous footpaths. Where they exist, much of the pavement space is devoured by encroachers or illegally parked cars, forcing pedestrians to walk on traffic-filled roads.
Also, as a 2012 study by the Centre for Science and Environment found, the best pavements are in places where they are used the least. At the upscale neighbourhood of Aurangzeb Road (now APJ Kalam Road), the wide pavements were used by only three people in 10 minutes. In Govindpuri, a working-class neighbourhood, footpaths were non-existent and 100 people walked past rather dangerously in just five minutes. Not much has changed here in six years since the study.
At high-speed corridors, cross-over facilities for pedestrians are few and far between. The overhead bridges often remain under-utilised.
A study conducted by IIT-Delhi two years ago found that a majority of pedestrians preferred zebra crossings because they were easy to use. The elderly found it difficult to climb overhead bridges, while the women respondents showed reluctance to use the underpasses for reasons of safety.
Building a pedestrian-friendly city does not take much. Some basic masonry solutions include building sidewalks that are of the right height and width and ensuring that they are not dug up or broken. Delhi also needs proper housekeeping of its pavements. The garbage-littered, paan-stained, urine stench-filled walkways are some the filthiest of our public places.
Beyond the basics, it is about giving pedestrians their rightful share of road space. New York City, for example, went on a ‘road diet’ when it redesigned the Queens Boulevard, notoriously called the “Boulevard of Death” in 2015 by removing two lanes of traffic from the 12-lane roadway. This allowed the medians to be widened, giving pedestrians more space and cutting the distance they had to cross.
Further, the speed limit was reduced and crosswalks were installed. Traffic signals were also tweaked, giving pedestrians more time to cross. The changes, as CBC News reported last week, brought down the number of deaths along the redesigned stretch to zero.
In 2010, Shanghai redesigned its old bund waterfront by removing seven lanes from the street and cutting traffic by 70%. An elevated section of the highway was also torn down and replaced with crosswalks, increasing overall pedestrian connectivity, The CityFix reported.
It is not that Delhi doesn’t know any better.
A government committee, constituted after HT’s ‘Unclog Delhi’ series four years ago, recommended doing away with signal-free corridors and providing pedestrian crossings at every 250 metres. It also asked authorities to open up gated communities for providing shortcuts to pedestrians. As Delhi awaits implementation of these proposals, 2,819 pedestrians have been killed since 2014.
The road safety policy – a first for Delhi – targets to reduce road collisions and fatalities by 30% by 2020 and by 80% by 2025. One of the key suggestions is to provide infrastructure for vulnerable groups, such as pedestrians.
While optimum utilisation of Delhi’s Metro network demands adequate pedestrian infrastructure around it, walking is not just about daily commutes.
As Danish urbanist Jan Gehl puts it, walking is about “direct contact between people and the surrounding community, fresh air, time outdoors, the free pleasures of life, experiences and information”.
There is no other way to know better and bond deeper with your city.