The State government recently gave clearance for pedestrian foot overbridges with escalators on seven busy roads across the city. While the project will provide some immediate relief to pedestrians using those roads, the larger issue of greater inclusiveness in urban transport planning remains unaddressed.

Nearly 42 per cent of all road accidents that occur in the city involve pedestrians. According to the Comprehensive Traffic and Transportation Study for the Chennai Metropolitan Area (CMA), footpaths are present in only 20 per cent of the roads.

The CTTS says that though walking and cycling account for 34 per cent of all daily trips being undertaken in the city, the facilities for such road users are completely inadequate.

In fact, the modal share of walking has steadily increased over the past three decades because cycling has become near impossible on the city's roads and many cannot afford any other mode of transport.

While the CMA accounts for nearly 1,200-odd km of road network, only about 20 km of roads have 1.5 m wide footpaths. Of the 217 major traffic junctions in the city, only 36 have signals to regulate pedestrian crossing.

“There is absolutely no policy attention to pedestrian facilities in most Indian cities,” says Anumita Roychowdhury, researcher at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). “Across Indian cities, between 40 to 45 per cent trips, are below five km. A focus on building car-centric infrastructure is destroying our walkable cities. Also, public transport patronage cannot be increased without providing walking spaces that will act as holding areas to accommodate pedestrians.”

Pedestrian flows in the city in certain locations such as Broadway and at the junction near T.Nagar bus stand is more than 10,000 persons per hour. That is comparable to the peak hour vehicular flow through junctions such as Madhya Kailash.

“Everybody must have equal access to public spaces,” says Shreya Gadepalli, director, Institute of Transportation Policy (Ahmedabad).

“Most Indian cities are going through a phase of addiction to the car, which requires the increase of average vehicle speeds at the expense of safety to other road users. It is similar to what western cities went through in the 1960s and 1970s. Planners must realise that equitability must be a grounding principle for building our cities. We must build our cities for people, not cars,” she adds.

New York recently converted Times Square into a pedestrian plaza. San Francisco has enforced a ‘Better Street Policy' to reduce traffic volumes on the road and to facilitate pedestrian movement. Making cities pedestrian-friendly also has important social dimensions, says Geetam Tiwari, chairperson of the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme at IIT-Delhi. “The percentage of people who walk to work for more than 30 minutes, often in dangerous circumstances, because they cannot afford any form of private transport, has increased,” she adds.

According to her, upcoming public transport projects must think about building integrated pedestrian support systems. Stressing that there is greater appreciation of pedestrian needs, K.Rajaraman, Managing Director, Chennai Metro Rail Ltd., said the rail network, expected to cater to 13 million people, will lay special emphasis on pedestrian access to the stations.

Since most of the stations will be along busy roads, he said dispersing commuters once they get out of the Metro will be a major challenge. “Almost all stations will have traffic integration areas with facilities for bicycle access. Most approach roads will also have properly designed 2 m-wide footpaths,” he added.

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