Nearly three decades ago, we moved to Madras. It was a bicycle-friendly city back then, with its flat terrain and wide roads, and footpaths to walk on.
I first bought a bicycle to go to work at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences from my home in Srinagar Colony, and my wife bought one too, soon after. The passage to work was very pleasant. Sardar Patel Road was lined with huge trees and one could bicycle or walk to work even during the summer.
My institute was in an almost pastoral setting, with a narrow approach road, lined with trees and bushes. This is the same OMR or IT Corridor, as it is now known. After a few years, we moved to the IIT-Madras campus and I still took the same pleasant route to work in summer or winter.
But changes began taking place, thick and fast. A flyover to nowhere appeared in front of IIT-M and the pavements almost disappeared along with the bicycles, even though the road in front of IIT had become much wider. In order to satisfy the appetite of motorised humans, the trees also disappeared. I also got used to travelling by a two-wheeler.
But some time ago, with all the talk of climate change and carbon footprint making news, I decided, as a good citizen, to reduce my carbon footprint by walking to work – a good 4 km from my home. I was excited about the bonus of a free fitness workout. It was very pleasant until I reached the gate of IIT-M. Once I entered the world outside the campus, walking along Sardar Patel Road was not easy. I wended my way along for a short distance. The trees had disappeared, almost unnoticed. The pavement was less than a metre wide where it existed, with many eateries and shops along the way. Two shops used even this little space as their parking lot. All these establishments are in the narrowest part of Sardar Patel Road. There is even a no-parking sign near these establishments for decoration.
It is not so bad if you are a pedestrian. You just have to do a little bit of random walking around parked vehicles and accept the slight risk of getting run over. I decided to avoid taking this risk and turned right on a small road in Sriram Nagar which leads to my workplace. You are fine if there is no water lorry trying to go to the Metrowater station on this road, and if there is no sewage leaking from the drains, especially in the mornings.
Once I cross the vast CPT playground I am close to my destination. After skirting the ground and crossing more puddles of sewage near the CPT hostels, I finally reach my workplace.
After a few months of enduring this daily circus, I decided to try another route, through IIT-M’s southern gate. This is a little longer, but was worth a try. But it was not a happy story. Once again, it was nightmarish, immediately after leaving IIT-M.
The narrow road leading to the Taramani bus stand is used by cars and two-wheelers whose appetite for space and chaos is increasing exponentially. There is not even an apology of a footpath for pedestrians until one reaches the SERC compound. A few years ago, the road was widened and a small pond was created for rain water harvesting. But the widened road has now narrowed again due to the expansion of a temple.
I know now that my efforts at reducing my carbon footprint are to no avail. I am back to using my two-wheeler. If you can’t beat them join them, pedestrians be damned.
M.V.N. Murthy is a professor at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences
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Keywords: Chennai Corporation, civic issues, Institute of Mathematical Sciences, M.V.N. Murthy, bicycle-friendly city, The Hindu's campaign, My Chennai My Right, Right to Walk, pedestrians, Chennai pavements, pavements in Chennai, pedestrian safety in Chennai, footpaths in Chennai