The city's pedestrian perseveres through the challenges of broken pavements and a thousand obstacles

Pedestrians have learnt, out of sheer necessity, to navigate a ‘functional anarchy.’ They make essential trips on foot, stepping over small obstacles and keeping clear of larger ones, always looking over the shoulder for the wayward car, taxi, van, bus or two-wheeler.

Their self-acquired survival kit is essentially endorsed by those in authority. The Chennai City Traffic Police cautions the pedestrian that the most important ‘tip’ to reduce injuries and fatalities is to ‘pay attention.’

Other warnings posted on its website, including some that are very sensible, are not to read newspapers or be distracted by advertisement hoardings while walking. One is also advised ‘not to greet friends on the road.’

But most streets have no usable footpaths, and walkers are forced onto the carriageway. Yet, social greetings are exchanged carefully all the time. In an urban agglomeration of 86 lakh people, it is difficult to ignore people you know on the street merely because the government has not built good footpaths.

Attentiveness is not always an effective substitute for proper, and safe, walking spaces. Every year, during the monsoon in Chennai, a few people are electrocuted because live power lines are hidden under pools of rainwater and walkers are compelled to move away from the road margins onto the wet carriageway. They are just statistics to the authorities.

Last year, The Hindu reported that two men, aged 27 years and 40 years, died after coming into contact with live cables in pools of water on the road, while going about their normal work, in Tondiarpet and Ayanavaram. With another monsoon approaching, several pedestrians face the same danger.

A retired general manager of the Metropolitan Transport Corporation, who welcomed the Right to Walk campaign, said, “If you must walk to make an essential trip, people are convinced you have not done well in life. People who ride a bus are only a cut above that.”

The city thus has morning walkers arriving in many of the 260 parks maintained by the Corporation of Chennai, by car or two-wheeler. The ‘less successful’ people walk anyway.

There is another dichotomy. Two models of civil work protocols exist in Chennai. The Chennai Metro mostly provides a walking path along its construction sites, which is segregated from the churning traffic by a metal divider. By contrast, the Chennai Corporation and its contractors do the opposite: they appropriate large parts of the road for several weeks to build a simple storm drain, that too with prefabricated panels now, and leave no walking space. The drain work began this year on a massive scale only at the end of March. Dust swirls on many days, and the roads are almost unusable because the work is not complete even today.

Yet, through all the confusion, the Chennai pedestrian perseveres. If the beleaguered senior citizen struggles on the interior roads to take a short walk, shoppers form a throng, pushing along broken footpaths and skirting a thousand obstacles outside massive shops in T. Nagar, Mylapore, Triplicane and Purasawalkam.

Talk Back

We invite readers to participate in this campaign. You can email pictures of bad pavements (size not more than 1.5 MB) to

In the email, please give your name, contact information, location of the pavement, description of the issue and action required.

Your pictures will be posted on and will also be considered for publication in the newspaper.


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