If Corporation has its way, then pedestrians can post online details about encroachments on pavements

Now, you can find an astrologer, cobbler and a young man with a pile of clothes all at one place. All you need to do is head to the redesigned footpaths running on either side of Pantheon Road to meet these hawkers and labourers, who have converted the pavement into a convenient selling and resting space.

The wide, disabled-friendly footpaths re-designed as part of the Chennai Corporation’s attempt to promote an inclusive environment in the city might have received a thumbs-up from NGOs, but a majority of pedestrians seem to be unhappy.

The footpaths were introduced in several major roads including Pantheon Road, Police Commissioner Road, Gandhi Irwin Road, Shanti Colony from Inner Ring Road, Tank Bund Road near Loyola College, Sterling Road, Halls Road, South Usman Road and Besant Nagar 2nd Avenue.

Some of the footpaths, such as the one on 2nd Avenue in Besant Nagar, have been appreciated by disability rights activists , calling it a great effort to ‘bridge a gap’. “We must recognise that pedestrian pathways are essential. These footpaths benefit many people who were earlier forced onto the thoroughfare,” says Raj Cherubal, director, Chennai City Connect, one of the several NGOs that have been working with the Corporation on the project.

Cherubal agreed that encroachment is a challenge and that methods must be devised to monitor it.

“The Corporation is planning to introduce a system where citizens can upload pictures of encroachments on a website. Maintaining anything is a continuous process. The alternative is that people walk on the roads at the mercy of vehicular traffic.”

The footpaths have come in for criticism from certain quarters.

“The width of the footpath width was increased by nearly 4 feet. This was unnecessary and causes traffic jams during peak hours,” said Velu, a cobbler at Pantheon Road.

Murugan, a resident of Besant Nagar, who frequents 2nd Avenue, lamented the loss of parking spaces on both sides of the road. “The new footpath here is too high and wide. Finding a place to park in the area is much more difficult now.”

NGOs, however, say this is pioneering work.

“We are too used to prioritising vehicles over pedestrians,” says Satyarupa Shekhar of Transparent Chennai, another NGO involved in the project. “The project has faced criticism but a lot of these footpaths are not yet complete.

It is a good start in the right direction that promotes non-motorised traffic.”

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