Over decades, the government has paid little attention to improving pedestrian facilities, ignoring the growing population and rapid motorization in Indian cities. While programmes such as the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission attempt to improve pedestrian infrastructure, the number of fatalities remains high. In 2011, 946 pedestrians died in road accidents in Delhi alone, according to the Delhi Police.
To raise awareness of the deteriorating walkability, and with an aim of promoting better air quality and livable cities, the Clean Air Initiative (CAI)-Asia Center and partners conducted walkability surveys in six Indian cities. While the culture of walking has remained in a few cities most others are moving to motorized transport because of a lack of walking facilities, said Parthaa Bosu, India representative, CAI, in an interview. Edited excerpts:
Did the survey bring up any unexpected trends?
The study, which was done in six cities on a scale of 1 to 100, was divided in four zones—residential, commercial, educational and public transport interchange points. The entire country looks the same when we look at public transport interchange points because they are the worst in the country. These zones are very unique since they cater to all strata of society and so it is essential to provide signs that are easy to understand so people can move around freely. These were some of the weak points we found during the survey.
Increasing awareness: Bosu says people are used to sub-standard facilities and it has become a part of their culture. Photo by Priyanka Parashar/Mint.
We also spoke to people and asked about whether they were comfortable with the current situation. Most did not know they were entitled to better footpaths. People are used to sub-standard facilities, it has become a part of their culture. But is that the culture we want? What we need is a culture where if there is a connection within 3 kilometre (km) then people can walk.
Has the government failed to make space for pedestrians as urbanization happened?
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I would not say the government was not concerned but I think the government did not know and realized later that there was no space for walking. Even for small distances people need to take cars because the footpath does not exist or is broken or is unsafe. Urbanization took place late and in spurts and so there were more roads and flyovers. When we learn from the West, we only learn the things that are more visible, like an excellent network of flyovers.
What are some of the biggest deterrents to walking?
There are some major deterrents that make walking difficult in cities. Firstly, the extreme weather makes walking unpleasant so the government should take steps towards planting more trees, etc.
Connection and connectivity is another. When town planning is being done and the government is looking at constructing residential areas as well as markets, do they consider walking as a way of getting to the market? There is an unavailability of walking connections between the two.
A poor parking and hawker policy. The parking policies in the country are such that at any small market the entire footpath is being used as parking for as much as 3-5 km.
Instead of foot overbridges and underpasses the government needs to provide level- graded crossings. Foot overbridges are difficult to cross but underpasses are unsafe to use.