Instead of painting rosy images of London or Singapore, our leaders should make the city less hostile to people

The Chennai Metro is certainly emerging as a great engineering feat, one that is poised to put the city on the world map of modern urban rail systems. Yet, for every step forward, the planners and administrators are taking two steps back.

At least, that would be the reasonable interpretation to make, based on the shrinking footpaths in many areas. That includes Anna Salai.

As the picture taken on Tuesday evening on Anna Salai shows, the pedestrian has been truly marginalised in the scheme of things, at the location where the Chennai Metro is to build an underground station. If this is the final shape of the infrastructure for walkers here, scores of people will be walking on a ribbon of a footpath, while madly honking vehicles will be racing by.

In the short term, that is certainly bound to be the case, because at least during the construction phase, this is the facility offered to pedestrians. This evening, it was clear that the footpath is so dysfunctional and unergonomic, that most people preferred to walk on the carriageway.

Elsewhere in Chennai, the virus of road widening is spreading quickly. Footpaths are being slashed, and this rump of space is relaid at great public expense. No one will use the newly created footpath.

One prominent politician said many years ago, that the Chennai Corporation was not giving importance to footpaths because hardly anyone used them. Thus, when new flyovers were built, there was no provision for walkers on the roads below.

This is far from human-oriented transport development. Contrary to the observation made by a visiting transport executive from Transport for London, Ben Plowden, that Chennai looks like London did a dozen years ago, there are major differences. This blogger spent many days in the British city during 1998, and found the footpaths on Oxford Street, Victoria or St. James' Park in the central area, intact. No one was pulling out the footpaths and making it easier for vehicles to take over the newly created space. The population of the two cities were comparable, however. Moreover, parking in London has never been cheap, and Ken Livingstone as Mayor ensured that car owners paid for the privilege of occupying road space, with a congestion tax. None of that is happening in Chennai.

So when the Metro comes, it will release a couple of hundred passengers at the Government Estate station, where the picture was taken, every time a train rolls in. Another couple of hundred will potentially enter the station to board one. The story will be the same at other stations.

Is it not logical to ask, whether there are plans to provide adequate walking space? Or will the footpath be rebuilt to accommodate pedestrians, leading into the underground station? Or should everyone arrive after paying through their nose for an autorickshaw ride, to avoid walking? We need a clarification, preferably a station alignment map showing pedestrian facilities, from the Chennai Metro Rail.