The lacunae in constructing footpaths have put pedestrians on the road to danger.
While instances of pedestrians getting trapped in broken slabs or tripping have become commonplace, there have also been occasions when a walk on the road turned fatal.
The two hoots paid to pedestrian safety was evident from last week’s accident near Valanjambalam Junction where a woman and her daughter who were walking along the road were mowed down by a recklessly-driven car. The accident could have been averted had there been a proper footpath for them to walk.
Very often, road shoulders are tar topped and added to the road’s width. In many roads, footpaths are chopped and the area added to the road’s width. While the width of footpaths is reduced following road-widening works, encroachers and vendors choke footpaths from the other side. The widened carriageway is then used as parking area by vehicles, further defeating the cause of pedestrian rights.
All these are taking place at a time when globally efforts are on to ensure safe and convenient footpaths. Steps are also being taken to make roads and allied infrastructure pedestrian-friendly, in most other countries and even in other Indian cities.
An example of pedestrian rights being trampled upon was the project to widen and resurface the busy Edapally-High Court Road. The work undertaken by Kochi Corporation saw the width of the footpath being considerably reduced. Instead of evicting encroachers and vendors, the agency’s officials chopped off the footpath’s width in many places to add a few feet to the road.
The footpath built recently by the PWD on the way to the Vytilla Mobility Hub too is narrow, so much so that it is tough for two people to cross without brushing one another. The Park Avenue Road in front of Subhash Park is another PWD-maintained stretch that has shabby footpaths, despite huge number of pedestrians using it every day.
As for Kochi Corporation, it has not cleared encroachers from the footpaths over SA Road and Banerjee Road. The footpaths of Subhash Bose Road and Gandhinagar are unusable since they are infested with weeds.
The chairperson of the civic agency’s Works Standing Committee, Soumini Jain, said that each corporation ward was given Rs. 15 lakh this year to restore and build drains. “The paucity of space often results in drains being covered and used as footpaths. Steps must be taken to make optimal use of the space available for pedestrians.” She denied that the agency was in charge of the upkeep of all footpaths and drains in the city. “The agency which owns the road must ensure that footpaths on either side are in good condition.”
But the civic agency does not have squads to monitor the condition of drains, footpaths and roads. “We act on the basis of complaints from residents’ associations and NGOs. They can walk into our office and air their grievances.”
On the problems posed by vendors, Ms. Jain said the trade unions oppose any move to evict them from footpaths and other public spaces.
But the allegation is rife that vendors thrive under the patronage of ward councillors. The corporation and the PWD could take a cue for Thrissur Corporation which commissioned a study on the problems faced by pedestrians in their city, under the Livable Cities India Programme.
Reacting to complaints of the shabby condition of footpaths in Palarivattom, Hashim P.A., executive engineer of the PWD said the agency had mooted a plan about four years ago to cover the footpaths on either side with tiles. “But a few shop owners opposed the move saying that people would not be able to drive into the parking lots in front of their shops.”
He said that the KSEB had promised to reduce the number of transformers in the stretch that hamper the movement of road users, from seven to two. “Transformers must not block the movement of pedestrians and motorists, but they are posing problems accross the city,” Mr. Hashim said.
He added that members of the public must inform the PWD assistant engineer concerned about the bad plight of footpaths and roads.