The space for pedestrians on the footpaths is of prime importance, not the smoothness of the road. Can we see an end to encroachments and a beginning to cars halting at zebra crossings?

It is a little over a month ago, on October 9 to be precise, that the Delhi chief minister chaired a meeting on the condition of the city roads. According to newspaper reports, the CM set a three month target before all bodies responsible for the upkeep of roads and instructed them to improve street lights, signage, bus shelters, other street furniture, footpaths and roads. She was quoted as having said the “city’s roads must be smooth and without potholes”.

From the time that the link to the story was sent to me by Prof. Narayani Gupta, I have been thinking of the operative part of the instructions. Why is it that whenever our roads are discussed, there is almost a mandatory mention of the smoothness of the surface, this almost fetishising of the road top had made another CM, of another state, claim in an act of bravado, that if he was elected to power, the roads in his state will acquire a sheen that will be an improvement on the visage of a popular diva.

Why is it that whenever we discuss roads we do no more than scratch the surface? It would appear that issues like the state of our footpaths are hardly ever discussed, because if they were, the question of the rampant encroachments upon footpaths would certainly come up, but sadly one sees no sign of any of this.

Why is it that those agencies that encroach upon the footpath are not penalised or made to move. Most of the encroachers, aside from sundry places of worship and countless cars, that have no business to be on the footpath, are municipal, state or central government agencies that locate police check posts, milk booths, transformers, generators, rubbish dumps, public conveniences etc. on the narrow strips of land meant for those who still move from point A to point B on their own feet. All the footpaths have been taken over and you see the pedestrians pushed onto the roads, vulnerable to all and sundry. According to Delhi police there were 2066 fatalities in road accidents during 2011 and almost 50 per cent of those who died were pedestrians.

The population of Delhi now stands at more than 18 million. The majority of this population does not own cars or any other kind of motorised transport and yet all our emphasis is on smooth roads and there is little, if ever, any talk of footpaths. The pedestrian just does not figure in our scheme of things and we need to ask why? Why is it that a city that has the avowed policy of creating an efficient public transport system fights shy of confronting the reality that hundreds of thousands of Dilliwalahs, move from their homes to their place of work or study on foot and in public transport and thousands take DTC or metro feeder buses and three-wheelers to get to the metro stations.

All of these people have to walk, some more some less, and yet this city makes little provision for footpaths. There are hundreds of flyovers but very few places for people to cross from. There are hardly any zebra crossings and nobody stops for pedestrians wanting to cross the road.

We have become inured to the difficulties of pedestrians. If we, and that includes those who represent us in the halls of Parliament and the Assembly, were to open our eyes we will notice that a large number of pedestrians are school going children, teachers, college students, labourers, house wives and senior citizens and all of them have to negotiate the mad traffic of the city and its drivers who refuse to slow down for anyone. It is for the sake of all of them, for the majority of the city’s population that we need to re-calibrate our peripheral vision and learn to see beyond the edge of the shiny surface of the road and to begin to notice the footpath.

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