Pavements not for pedestrians

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Where is my walking space? This is the first thought that arises in the minds of a pedestrian in the city as almost all footpaths are either usurped by shopkeepers or blocked by obstacles like poles, sign boards depriving the pedestrians of the much-needed space. As a result, they are forced to walk on the roads and end up hindering free movement of vehicular traffic and putting their lives at risk.

Chennai has always not been kind to pedestrians as it has kept them a few inches away from the footpaths as most overground utilities like streetlight poles, signages, hoardings, garbage containers, traffic signal poles and bus stops take up pavement space.

From roadside tea vendors to cycle and scooter mechanics, almost every shopkeeper eats up pedestrian space.

Encroachments prove to be the major impediments to the movement of pedestrians. On many arterial roads, they complain, finding the footpath has itself become tough these days. As the encroachments are rampant, pedestrians are forced to jaywalk on the ever-busy Chennai roads.

Several shops extend their authority and display their wares till the margin of the road assuming that they also own the space near the entrance of their shop and construct concrete structures on the pavements, while a few others go a step ahead and cordon off the space on the pavement and roads for parking their vehicles.

“Private firms, hotels in particular, earmark a few metres and cordon off a parking lot for their customers and visitors, refusing space for the pedestrians. For instance, a hotel opposite Perambur railway station has barricaded a particular portion of the pavement and road causing traffic jams in the narrow stretch,” complains Mr Gopal, and added that the police and civic authorities have turned a blind eye to the problem.

Urban planners point to the announcement of the government that `333.27 crore would be spent for developing roads and pavements. “The government and policy-makers are busy chalking out several multi-crore projects to overcome traffic congestion. Nevertheless, it doesn’t appear to transform into reality, as the basic requirement — pedestrian space — has not been addressed properly,” says a former urban development official.

“These improvements cannot be undertaken unless the city allocates adequate funds for maintenance, design, surveys, capacity building/training and public awareness campaigns,” avers an urban planner.

Walkers more vulnerable to accidents in city

Four of 10 road accident victims in the city in 2011 had been pedestrians hit by a motor vehicle for no fault of theirs.

Had there been adequate sidewalks, lives of many of these hapless walkers would have been saved. The growing vehicle population and shrinking footpaths have made pedestrians more vulnerable.

Despite increasing vehicle population, walking still constitutes an important mode of transport in the city.

The walking trips in the city have gone up from 21 per cent in 1970 to 32 per cent of all the trips in 2005. However, only less than three per cent of the road is allocated to this mode.

The Indian Road Congress (IRC) has set a norm that the width of the sidewalks should be minimum 1.5 m without any obstruction. Interestingly, only 25 km of sidewalks in the city are built as per norms of the IRC, according to a study done by an NGO, Transparent Chennai, in August last year.

As against the total road length of 2,500 km, pavements are there in nearly 830 km stretch of road with width varying from 0.2 m to 3.5 m, said urban planner Roshan Toshniwal of Transparent Chennai.

“The lack of quality pedestrian infrastructure forces pedestrians to walk on roads causing a threat to their life and slowing down traffic. Thus, road expansion at the cause of marginalising pedestrian facilities does not result in speeding up the traffic,” he said.

Busting the myth that hawkers are only to be blamed for encroaching pavements, the study also revealed that they occupy only 30 km of total pavements while transformers and boxes of Tamil Nadu Electricity Board and junction boxes of the telecom service providers, encroachment by shops and parking of vehicles occupy major portions of sidewalks.

Stressing the need for prioritising pedestrians over vehicles in drafting policies, Mr Toshniwal said that the footpaths should be improved in the areas where there are more footfalls.

A senior corporation official said that the problem in shifting TNEB boxes is that they have to be opened on either side and as such they have to be placed in a corner in the same position. “In most places, there is no alternative place to fix the transformers and junctions boxes.

Hence, we have decided to relocate the transformers wherever possible to ensure free movement of pedestrians,” the official said, adding that the civic body has plans to upgrade 11 roads to world class standard with pedestrian friendly facilities.

The state highways department has also engaged a Mumbai-based consultant S.N. Bhobe to prepare a detailed project report to improve arterial Anna Salai, Jawaharlal Nehru Salai and EVR Periyar Salai on par with worldclass standards.

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