Pedestrians are marginalised in planning, although India pursues a ‘people-centric’ urban transport policy
Callous urban planning and the motor car culture juggernaut have come together to make life hell for the pedestrian in a city where pavements and sidewalks account for over 95 per cent of footfalls.
Traffic authorities say an average 350 pedestrians have been killed in Mumbai each year since 2008, while crossing roads or just walking.
In most cases, the victims (including cyclists) are from the poorer classes, falling victim to indifferent motorists from the rich, upwardly mobile and political classes, usually in the 15-29 age group, say officials.
“As car technology advances, a fundamental paradox is operating here as motorists feel safe and think they have the right to ride roughshod over the pedestrian. The pedestrian and the pavement dweller's angst is aggravated when municipal authorities sacrifice a footpath to increase space for cars of the well-heeled classes,” says journalist Vidyadhar Date, author of Traffic in the Era of Climate Change, a passionate espousal of the rights of the pedestrian.
“In the post-Nehruvian era and the Licence Raj, the villain in the public consciousness was usually the truck driver. But now it is a rich kid or a politico’s son who mows down pedestrians and cyclists,” he says.
This cruel inequality is further accentuated when the law blames an accident on the ‘careless pedestrian.’
Maharashtra Transport Commissioner V.N. More attributes it to the paradigm shift in lifestyle, notably the rapid advent of pub culture and inability of affluent youth to cope with it.
“Basic speeding laws are in place, and people should responsibly adhere to them. People with power and money usually crackdown on the average traffic cop trying to perform his duty,” says Mr. More.