Streets a mess, no one cares for walkers

NEW DELHI: Over 50 per cent of the victims of road accidents are pedestrians.

• Twenty-nine pedestrians have already died this year. The figure was 817 last year and 925 in 2001.

• We have no road traffic Act in place. Pedestrians only form a section of the Motor Vehicles Act.

• Last year, Delhi traffic police prosecuted about 150,000 motor vehicle drivers for either showing lack of concern for pedestrians or for not giving pedestrians the right of way.

This story of neglect is old, but things just refuse to change. Pedestrians, who form a majority of road users in Delhi, have very little going for them. From badly-laid, dug-up, foot-high pavements to none at all, from unused dirty subways to poorly-lit streets, from motorists who don't care about zebra crossings to unmanned traffic signals, pedestrians have to hurdles that can completely discourage them from taking the pleasure and convenience of walking.

Take the case of Nagal Raya near Delhi Cantonment. There are two flyovers — Janak Setu and Lajwanti crossing — separated by just 100 metres with no pedestrian facilities. "This is a death trap for us," said I K Gupta, secretary of the Nagal Raya Residents Welfare Association. "Hundreds of people, including women, children and old people have to cross this stretch daily. This is a market-cum-residential area with schools on either side. Even the bus queue shelter is at the foot of one of the flyovers," Gupta said.

"Not a single subway is wheelchair-friendly," said Sanjeev Sachdev, a wheelchair user who runs a voluntary group for the disabled. "And with footpaths dropping sharply at every cut, they are useless for us," he said. "Ideally, we need kerb cuts with a 1:10 gradient and the walkways should be at least 1,500 mm in width, the space required for two wheelchairs to cross each other," he said.

According to the traffic police, their focus for 2002 was pedestrian management. "Pedestrians are a non-entity," said joint commissioner of police (traffic) Maxwell Pereira. "The walking facilities in the city are not user-friendly at all. Hence the idea to focus on pedestrians," he said.

Of course, these are only embellishments considering that the walkways themselves are unusable. "Pedestrians use muscle power, while vehicles use horse power. Why can't we keep footpaths at the same level at cuts and make vehicles do a little bit of climbing. That will make reduce the effort we have to make to walk now," Pereira said.

Central Road Research Institute's traffic and transportation head T S Reddy concurs: "Ideally, footpaths should not be more than six inches high. Four inches make for comfortable mounting. The footpaths we have now are anything between one-two feet high." Also, several footpaths at junctions have given way for widening roads, Reddy said.

Now with Metro rail set to change the face of surface transport, the government has finally woken up to the need of pedestrians.

‘Pedestrains have so far been given the lowest priority and we hope to take it up in a major way," said Shailaja Chandra, Delhi chief secretary. "Encroachments have eaten into pedestrian space and lots of pavements are constantly dug up. Encouraging cycling and walking will be our priority," she said.

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