Bangalore: On summer mornings, Reenu Goel takes her two boys for a swim in the Springfields apartment complex’s pool in Bangalore’s booming suburb of Sarjapur Road. After lunch, she takes five-year-old Rishab and two-year-old Ayush to the children’s play area in the complex. They run and sweat, she makes friends.
Life is idyllic, self-contained—until they try to step outside their cocoon. Simply because there’s nowhere to step.
“Bangalore is not a place for walking,” says Goel. “Whenever we go walking to the nearby mall we have to carry Rishab and Ayush because there are no footpaths and I can’t even use a pram. And imagine carrying a five-year-old.”
Like many cities across India, Bangalore is seeing an unprecedented building boom, both inside the city and in farmlands converting to suburbs. There are glass buildings, new roads, gated communities—changing the way people live and work. But one thing largely remains the same—lack of footpaths.
Cities in the New India, according to exasperated urban planners and experts, are being planned for cars and two-wheelers. Even new roads being built are mostly flyovers and underpasses, which tend to overlook just how pedestrians can get from here to there.
No space: A footpath in Sealdah, Kolkata, encroached by fruit vendors. (Indranil Bhoumik / Mint)
“Footpaths are given the least attention in our cities. Rarely are our cities planned for the people. Roads are meant for cars and two wheelers, not for pedestrians and cyclists,” says Dinesh Mehta, professor emeritus at the School of Planning, Ahmedabad.
Mehta says the standards laid out by the Indian Roads Congress are followed only for major roads. “For other roads there are no footpaths, or if provided, they are not wide enough.” The Indian Roads Congress is a government-run body of professional engineers that sets standards for roads, bridges and footpaths across the country.
Developers say they are trying. “In many of our projects we have developed footpaths outside the colonies’ gates, apart from creating good pathways and walkways inside where residents can take a stroll,” said Neela Janakiraman, general manager for marketing at Sobha Developers Ltd, a Bangalore-based builder that has over three dozen residential complexes across the city.
Snehal Mantri, marketing director at Bangalore-based Mantri Developers with residential and commercial properties across Bangalore, Pune and Chennai, says her firm initiated a public-private partnership with Bangalore’s public works department to facelift the Bannergatta Road, a strip in southern Bangalore named after the eponymous national park, now dotted with offices of multinational companies, major hospitals and residential complexes.
But the Road remains difficult to navigate on foot with incomplete footpaths. The fault is two-pronged, says School of Planning’s Mehta: pedestrians not demanding their rightful space on roads and poor engineering design and supervision.?
“Footpaths should be designed as part of the road, but often to save funds, the footpaths are not built. The edges are left open which gathers dust.”
According to the Indian Roads Congress, all roads which have pedestrian traffic are supposed to have a footpath with a minimum width of 1.5m.
All flyovers and underpasses which have pedestrian traffic are supposed to provide subways. “But the Indian Road Congress has no enforcement powers to keep a check on road construction, and these norms are easily flouted,” said an official of the agency who requested anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the media.
Shaky ground: A footpath on Church street, Bangalore. Often footpaths are not constructed properly leaving gaps between slabs. (Hemant Mishra / Mint)
The space crunch in Indian cities has also meant that existing footpaths are being used for car and bike parking. “Parking on the footpath is a violation of traffic rules. But as you can see it is happening all over the city even though we frequently fine people for it,” says P.H. Rane, a deputy commissioner of police for traffic.
For the first four months of 2008, in Bangalore alone, some 69,770 cases were booked for wrong parking, which includes parking on the footpath, Rane said. Overall, cases of wrong parking have risen from 1,43,839 cases in 2004 to 2,56,956 cases in 2006.
Cars parking on the footpaths and on high-traffic roads had become such a menace that Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the municipal corporation of Bangalore, went on a drive recently to reinforce its rule that all residential and commercial complexes should provide 10% of their parking space to visitors.
“We found many residential and commercial complexes hanging boards on their gates saying ‘No Parking for Visitors’. After our enforcement drive most developers now compliant,” with the rule, says K.R. Srinivas, special commissioner of projects at the municipal corporation.
The situation is similar even in the country’s capital. Near New Delhi’s Connaught Place, the Diwan Chand Satya Pal Aggarwal Imaging Research Centre on the Kasturba Gandhi road uses both the footpath and the road in front to provide four lanes of parking to the laboratory’s patients.
Says Geeta Patel as she walks by the laboratory, “I’m used to walking on the road alongside passing cars.” Then she cautions her 11-year-old daughter to walk carefully.
Ajay Agarwal, consultant and administrator at the imaging centre, says the facility accommodates 60 cars inside its premises and the New Delhi Municipal Corporation has given an exemption for the additional parking. “We are a medical establishment and we can’t penalize our patients,” he said. “We are trying to solve this problem by purchasing parking space in the complex that is being constructed nearby.”
Even though footpaths in certain parts of central New Delhi are broad and tree-lined, they are not well maintained. Fifty four-year-old Patsy Daftari fell and broke her teeth earlier this month when the pavement suddenly caved in while she was on a morning walk.
The story is no different in Kolkata. The city’s residential areas in the north and south are flanked by narrow footpaths, if at all. Bratya Basu, a theatre personality, notes, “Most footpaths in Hatibagan, Manicktala, Kakurgachi, Khanna are encroached upon by hawkers. I haven’t seen any improvement in the conditions of footpaths over the years.”
Ongoing new construction spell doom for the pedestrians. Construction sites dump material such as gravel, large stones, sand and metal on the footpath, thereby giving the pedestrian little choice but to walk on the road. Says an employee of A.K. Aerotek Software, a Bangalore-based software development company, as she walks along Indiranagar’s 100ft Road, “It is so difficult to walk on 100ft Road. There is construction material piled up on the footpath making it very dangerous to walk here.”
BBMP’s Srinivas says builders are supposed to seek permission, “but very often they do so without notifying us.”
And then there are the motorcycles; in Bangalore city, police already have booked 5,259 bikes for riding on the footpath in 2008. If caught, the fine is just Rs100; most bikers are more than willing to pay that.
Last year, Ayesha Matthan, a reporter for The Hindu newspaper, made headlines herself when she refused to get off the footpath—and a biker assaulted her.
Bangalore’s municipal corporation acknowledges it has a duty towards pedestrians and not just vehicular traffic, planning several expensive skywalks with escalators across Bangalore.
A Reserve Bank of India study on municipal finance found cities spend just about one-fifth of their budgets on road maintenance. “If adequately spent on roads and footpaths, this should be enough. It is not a matter of money,” said Mehta. “It’s about the attitude to footpaths.”
Santanu Chakraborty in Kolkata contributed to this story.