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Graduate in Maths, Postgraduate in English literature. Worked as a medical transcriptionist, also as a teacher.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

An Indian pedestrian






In Copenhagen, there's a long-term commitment to creating a well-functioning pedestrian city where all forms of movement - pedestrian, bicycles, cars, public transportation - are accommodated with equal priority.
Hello friends,
                            Yes, this time I want to write about the travails that a pedestrian faces when he chooses to walk on Indian roads. When is the last time that you walked to a nearby kirana shop and and purchased some miscellaneous items and walked back? Did you walk to school or college which is nearby to your house on a footpath or a pavement? Sounds old fashioned and impossible right? Am I talking about something that is a generation old? Walk and go to a shop or school? Who does that these days? Who goes to that shop walking these days? We go to a supermarket and buy groceries in a bulk or place the orders online to be delivered at our doorstep. Children either go by school bus or are chauffeured in a car or bike by their parents. About two generations back, when there were only kirana or pop & mom shops and the schools were either close by or miles away, the vehicles were few and our ancestors (mainly parents or grand parents) had no option but to walk all along or go in bullock carts. But the roads all over the country were free of vehicles except for some buses,scooters or few ambassadors. For previous generations, number of schools or offices were less and far off and added to that, parents of those days did not have cars to chauffeur them to schools. So they were forced to walk back and forth which made them habituated to walking.
                                                               Cut down to the present day scenario. Can we imagine our children walking to the school or a nearby shop? Never. In the metropolitan cities in our country, where the pavements or footpaths are becoming extinct by giving way to the increasing vehicular traffic. What used to be pedestrian's paradise before, our country, has become a pedestrian's worst enemy.
                                                Bangalore which was a garden city, pensioner's paradise or a pedestrian's paradise all rolled into one has become an absolute concrete jungle and also traffic or carbon monoxide's paradise. As it became the most sought after IT hub, people from all over the country migrated to Bangalore, making it one of the most populated city in the recent times. To accommodate the ever increasing cars and other vehicles, all the roads are either widened or made one way by cutting down the trees and narrowing or nullifying the pavements.  The city planners are at a loss to plan the roads to accommodate everyone including pedestrians and importance is given only to the cars and bikes. The so called community of pedestrians comes last (or do not) in their dictionary. Even though the foot paths exist at many places, during the rush hour  the bikes, auto rickshaws and even the small cars climb the footpaths to overtake the jammed traffic. It is a pedestrian's risk or peril if he/she chooses to walk during that time. Whatever footpaths are there are available for everybody except the pedestrian. 
                                      Maybe about 25 years back, before the IT explosion, Bangalore used to be a pensioner's dream because of its pleasant weather all the year round and also the roads were neatly laid with pavements adorned with trees on both sides and with very less vehicles plying around. So taking a stroll on the roads used to be a pleasant and breezy experience. Slowly, the onslaught of the software companies started and the immigrant population increased over a period of time. The economic liberalization was a big boon for the car industry and the IT jobs increased the purchasing power of the young tech savvy generation.  A software engineer became synonymous with a car and if the young entrants who entered the industry when it was new bought a car with a sense of pride, they did not think that in future the roads will be filled with cars of all sizes. Down the lane, we see today that majority of the roads are occupied with private cars giving way to traffic jams during peak hours. To accommodate these vehicles, short term solutions like widening of roads at the cost of reducing the footpath lengths and cutting trees were found. Many of the roads were changed to one-way traffic. Pedestrians are sidelined and not given any right of way. Might of the vehicles became the right of the way and Bangalore has a dubious distinction of sending 1 pedestrian each day to the grave. This is according to the official data. Being a pedestrian and choosing to walk on the 'pavement'less roads is like a handicap and it is at your own risk.
                                                   Whatever footpaths are out there are owned by roadside vendors, parking for bikes, endless number of electric poles and of course a free space for the men to 'relieve' whenever they want making them stinkier. The foot-over constructed for the pedestrians to go to the other side of the road are rarely used as many steps are needed to be climbed up and down.  The subways have become a haven for the antisocial elements and unsafe for women and of course another 'relieving' place and so they always stink. In many developed nations, pedestrians are given the right of way and the designated pavements follow all the rules and regulations required for the length and width while constructing the footpath and they are free of roadside vendors and vehicles. Every vehicle stops if a pedestrian wants to cross to the other side of the road ( of course on the zebra crossings). When I was abroad, it was always a pleasure to walk on those neat pavements and I felt more safe there. Here in Bangalore, I do not walk on the roads outside our complex as the footpaths do not exist here. It is tough for the older generations who stay with their working children in the metropolitan cities like Bangalore from their hometowns and not used to driving, they will be forced to confine in the apartments.
           
                                                  

     It goes without saying that a developed nation is a place which gives priority to children, disabled people, elderly citizens & of course pedestrians. Developed country is a place where people use public transport more. If our footpaths need to be saved, the public transport network should improve considerably. If people go for carpooling to the workplace, the number of cars can be reduced saving the fuel and the road space. If 60 people travel in a bus, that many cars can be reduced. So here we get an idea of how efficient the public transportation system should be. Singapore is a place where public transport system is managed effectively all round the year and so citizens are able to depend on them with ease and comfort. Government levies heavy tax rate on private vehicles thus discouraging people from buying their own cars.
                                          It will take a long time for the metro rail to become at least 90% efficient in our country. Meanwhile, if the existing footpaths need to be saved, the encroachments have to be prevented, railings need to be put so that the vehicles are not parked there. As far as possible, the minimum length and width should be followed and not sacrificed for the traffic. Wherever there are drainage covers or slabs that are open, the authorities should be notified so that they do not pose a danger to the pedestrians. Let us look forward for a day when a pedestrian feels that walking on the Indian roads is a pleasant experience.

Deepa.

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