They are increasingly getting left behind in the development overdrive

Kalamma Nanjundappa (50) rarely steps out of her home these days. This resident of Pipe Line Road, in Palace Guttahalli, was till recently a domestic worker in nearby homes in Vyalikaval. With her painful knees, she simply cannot negotiate the shattered footpaths that would force her to step down on the road and then up the footpath again.

Her case is just one example of the travails faced by pedestrians in a city that privileges motorists over walkers. Broken and pitted footpaths, if indeed there are any; severe shortage of zebra crossings and traffic crossings, unfriendly underpasses and skywalks... who is not familiar with these hazards in “world class” Bangalore?

The Union Ministry of Urban Development’s National Urban Transport Policy 2006 points to the declining role of non-motorised modes of transport as cities increase in size and density. Thus, access to livelihoods, particularly for the poor, is becoming far more difficult, simply because city travel has become risky. The impact is felt by the poor who figure more frequently among those killed or injured in hit-and-runs involving cyclists, pedestrians and pavement dwellers.

Vinay Sreenivasa from Hasiru Usiru, who conducted road-crossing experiments to highlight pedestrian problems, said: “The Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) widens roads to accommodate more vehicles. To widen the roads, it chops the tree cover and reduces the width of footpaths. How can people walk on narrow footpaths without the shade of trees? These ‘development activities’ discourage pedestrians and encourage motorists.”

He then cited the examples of Seshadri Road and 15th Cross, Malleswaram, where trees were felled to widen these roads. Utter insensitivity to pedestrians has also made the former thoroughfare very difficult to cross.

Hawkers and women

Mr. Sreenivasa accused the BBMP of harassing street vendors, who, it claims, encroach upon footpaths and obstruct pedestrian movement. “In fact, pedestrians feel safe with street vendors around. This was observed even by the Justice Verma Committee. The committee has, in its report, suggested that the government encourage street vending to make streets safer for women,” he said.

In a study published in December 2010 by the Centre for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (C-STEP), Bangalore, pedestrians and cyclists considered inadequate street lighting, absence of cycle parking, poor roads, bad hygiene, ongoing road repairs, unwalkable footpaths, unsegregated traffic and unsafe crossings to be matters that deserve urgent attention.

Sujaya Rathi from C-STEP said that instead of concentrating on improving facilities for pedestrians, the government and BBMP were investing in flyovers, signal-free corridors, grade separators for the “time-sensitive population”, i.e., motorists.

“There seems to be apathy towards pedestrians. The Bangalore Mobility Indicator survey showed that [overall] 10 per cent of the city’s population comprise pedestrians. However, pedestrians comprise more than 35 per cent of the slum population,” she said.

Though the BBMP creates facilities for the pedestrians, they remain largely under-utilised. For reasons varying from lack of adequate lighting, safety and the poor response of pedestrians to climbing stairs, pedestrian underpasses and skywalks are used only by a minuscule minority.

Pedestrian behaviour

Ms. Rathi said that the BBMP needs to first understand pedestrian behaviour before investing in these facilities. Citing an example of pedestrians petitioning against an underpass in Stuttgart, Germany, she said that after three years of consultation, the local authorities were forced to put in place a road-level crossing. “What the pedestrians want is different from what the BBMP thinks they want. There is clearly a disconnect,” she added.

A senior BBMP official in the engineering department conceded that the 15,000 km footpath network in the city has been ignored, as the BBMP has not earmarked any “maintenance fund” over the past several years to repair roads and footpaths.

While claiming that the BBMP was sensitive to pedestrians’ needs, the official said: “Under the new road development projects, we will be following the standards set by the Indian Road Congress for footpaths.”

Meanwhile, despite pedestrians shunning skywalks and underpasses, the BBMP proposes to construct 98 more skywalks across the city.

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