City scored just 47/100 on ‘walkability' index as part of a study conducted by NGO
For pedestrians like 32-year-old Rajkumar Radhakrishnan, who frequently weaves through the city's speeding traffic, the annual Road Safety Week celebrations must come as a cruel joke.
A resident of Velachery, Mr.Radhakrishnan used to be a big fan of cycling. Since 2004, he has completely relied on his cycle to cover the 3-4 kilometres that separate his home and office. He gave up cycling a few months ago. “It was getting too dangerous. So I took to walking,” he says.
But walking is no better. An estimated 400 to 500 persons die on Chennai's roads each year doing just that. Mr.Radhakrishnan complains about the lack of footpaths and safe pedestrian crossing points.
Though a third of all road accident victims have been pedestrians each year, and this has been the trend for nearly a decade, the concerns which are expressed during each Road Safety Week have hardly translated into any action. The Chennai Metropolitan Area (CMA) has only about 36 signalised pedestrian crossing points. London, which is an urban area similar in size to CMA, has over 3,000 of them.
A June 2011 study undertaken in Chennai and five other Indian cities by the Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities (CAI-Asia), an NGO, shows how dangerous a preference for walking can be. Chennai scored just 47/100 on a ‘walkability' index. In a survey, over 60 per cent of respondents said Chennai's roads are “bad” or “worst” for walking.
Parthaa Bosu of CAI-Asia says that even small towns such as Surat and Rajkot fared better in the study. “The attitude of motorists in those towns was much better. A city's temperament is revealed by whether its traffic halts to let pedestrians cross safely. Being a metropolis, Chennai has a lot to learn.” A similar study was undertaken in 21 Asian cities. In contrast, Hong Kong scored 70/100 on the same ‘walkability' index.
He says that the “remarkable lack of walking space” even in the vicinity of major railway stations and bus terminuses in Chennai is worrying. “The city's administration must realise that vehicles will move smoothly only if pedestrians are not forced on to the road,” Mr.Bosu adds.
Though facilities remain inadequate, pedestrian volumes are quite high in a number of locations. Southern Railway Divisional Railway Manager S.Anantharaman says that over a lakh people use the subway opposite the Central station each day, and the facility has become “saturated”.
A Rs.36 crore skywalk is proposed nearby, which would link up with the underground Metro station that is slated to be built. “There is no other alternative. If they walk on the road, they will get killed,” Mr.Anantharaman says.
But experts maintain that ground-level solutions are the best and pedestrians need to be given adequate space on either side of the road. Former Chennai Police Commissioner R.Nataraj recommends declaring shopping areas such as T.Nagar as ‘pedestrian zones'. Such a proposal was mooted as far back as the early 1990s as part of the Madras Vision 2000 Project.
“We keep on widening roads without providing space for a footpath. Pedestrian issues have to be addressed with some seriousness,” Mr.Nataraj adds.