Opinion: Pedestrian infrastructure cannot be euphemism to help car traffic

As per a report by The Footpath Initiative, 602 pedestrians lost their lives on the roads of Hyderabad between 2017 and 2019. More than half of them (52.4%) were hit by vehicles while crossing the road.

By Dr Narasimha Reddy Donthi  Published on  10 Oct 2021 8:43 AM GMT
Opinion: Pedestrian infrastructure cannot be euphemism to help car traffic

Hyderabad: Pedestrians deaths are increasing in Hyderabad due to various accidents, poor infrastructure, and lack of safe pavements. As per a report by The Footpath Initiative, 602 pedestrians lost their lives on the roads of Hyderabad between 2017 and 2019. More than half of them (52.4%) were hit by vehicles while crossing the road. A few others were victims of road crashes as they went about their morning walk, or while waiting for a bus or other modes of transport by the side of the road. And at least 14 children, all under 10 years of age, got hit by vehicles while playing by the roadside during this period. At least one pedestrian life in Hyderabad was lost every other day in 2019. This situation of pedestrians in Hyderabad and other cities of Telangana is no different from the national conditions.

As per the 2011 Census, one-third of all work trips are by foot with data showing that women tend to walk more than men. According to the National Statistical Organization (NSO), 60% of children walk to school. Despite this, walking infrastructure is inadequate and even non-existent in most of the cities which have seen steady growth in pedestrian fatalities. According to the report "Road Accident Data in India" published by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highway, 17% of the total road crash fatalities are pedestrians with 25,858 killed in 2019. Data shows that this number has increased by 85% in five years.

A large number of open manholes and damaged slabs on roadside drains have become death traps for pedestrians in Hyderabad. GHMC has been building toilets on footpaths. Electricity poles and transformers on footpaths also endanger pedestrians. Railings on footpaths and medians constrain pedestrians. People will not resort to jumping medians if we provide adequate crossings where they need them.

Road crossing has become a dangerous pursuit. With Hyderabad Metro Rail raising an almost two feet wall in the road median, pedestrians are finding it difficult to cross the roads. In general, pavements are either narrow, damaged, or occupied, forcing pedestrians to walk on the roads, making them vulnerable to accidents. Road widening has never helped in expanding pavement widths. Parallel and hazardous parking is further forcing pedestrians to walk on the road.

Pedestrian-friendly places don't need elaborate infrastructure. The so-called "pedestrian" infrastructure is created because of the presence and primacy of cars. Its purpose is primarily to benefit cars and speeding car travel. If any pedestrian walks outside a pavement, or against light, the law routinely exempts vehicle drivers from any penalties from hitting or killing them. Elaborate and expensive pedestrian bridges are at best a remedial effort to minimize the danger this environment poses to anyone who isn't in a car. They don't really make the area any more desirable for walking. The real problem is not the infrastructure, or lack thereof, but a built environment that's inhospitable to walking and cycling.

In 2018, it was reported that the government of Telangana has given permission for the construction of 52 foot-over-bridges (FOB) and eight skywalks in the Greater Hyderabad limits. Hyderabad Metro Rail (HMR), in 2014, promised that as many as 200 skywalks (elevated walk space) below the metro rail viaduct under the project. Almost all of these plans are on paper, not yet realized. A few foot-over-bridges constructed here and there remain unutilized or under-utilized. The government should undertake a serious study on why these FOBs are not being used. Pedestrian infrastructure should be planned for them. It cannot be a euphemism to help car traffic.

A national coalition of NGOs (including Hyderabad-based Citizens for a Better Public Transport) has launched a nationwide campaign to demand that the government of India declared 11 January as National Pedestrians' Day. The campaign highlights the need for safe, convenient, and pleasant walking infrastructure in the country and to develop a culture where pedestrians are respected.

National campaign coordinator SurajJaipurkar said, "We have launched this campaign to highlight the alarming rise in pedestrian fatalities. Streets and walking neighbourhoods should be strengthened and made safe and inclusive in such a way that it accommodates all types of road users - from children to senior citizens to differently-abled people."

RanjitGadgil from Parisar added, "National days serve as occasions to raise awareness about an issue, mobilize grassroots support through actions, garner media attention, and thus create political will to address it."

As part of the campaign, SUM Net partners will meet decision-makers in order to solicit their support for the declaration of a National Pedestrians' Day and to push for policies that will make walking attractive and safe. They also plan to organize activities like rallies, walkathons, and seminars to highlight the importance of walkability. They have called upon other organizations to join the campaign and a draft resolution for Pedestrians' Day will also be submitted to the government.

On 9 October 2021, in a letter to Arvind Kumar, the special chief secretary of the government of Telangana, Citizens for a Better Public Transporturged him to declare a Pedestrian Week in the GHMC area and celebrates Pedestrian Day in Telangana cities. Dr. Narasimha Reddy Donthi, in this letter, suggested the development of a Telangana Pedestrian First policy (through consultations), development of guidelines to integrate this policy in urban master plans, and road network development. Dr. C. Ramachandraiah added, "Walkability needs a huge mindset change among the government officers and consultants who are creating project reports."

The letter, further, requested GHMC to declare selected roads only for pedestrians and prevent vehicles from playing for a declared period of time, just like in Tank Bund.

Incidentally, Pune has become the first city in the country to declare a city-level pedestrian day. The Pune Municipal Corporation recently announced that it will observe Pedestrians' day on 11 December.

Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMTA) constituted for Hyderabad in 2008, has to prioritize the needs of pedestrians.

Our suggestions:

  1. Declaration of a Telangana Pedestrian Day
  2. Telangana government should write a letter to the Union government urging a declaration of 11Januaryevery year as National Pedestrians' Day.
  3. Hyderabad, and other major cities in Telangana, have to focus their attention on pedestrians.
  4. Retrofitting existing roads with pedestrian-friendly pavements should be part of this activity celebrating walking, walkers, and pedestrians.
  5. Eventually, selected road stretches can be declared for a certain period of the day, in a week, as vehicle-free. A similar approach can be adopted in other cities of Telangana.
  6. The pedestrianization of streets should be part of GHMC and MAUD plans.

We have to be more ambitious and set targets to achieve zero pedestrian deaths in our cities and urban areas. We need deliberate strategies to boost the safety, feasibility, and allure of walking.

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