“Cyclists and pedestrians account for more than half of all road fatalities in the country, but they draw public disdain and policy hostility,” a study by the University of Michigan and the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, has observed.
The study also indicates that the number of people killed in road accidents in India have increased at eight per cent annually in the past decade — nearly the rate at which car sales have grown.
“If any other cause was responsible for so many deaths and injuries as we see on our roads it would have been a state of emergency. But policy neglect in our cities is unsettling,” said Anumita Roychowdhury of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
She added that CSE head Sunita Narain was seriously injured in an accident while cycling on Sunday. Dr. Narain is now stable, according to the doctors at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) on Monday. She was hit at the foot of the clover leaf of the flyover near AIIMS.
“This flyover promises the dream of speed and unbridled smooth run to motor vehicles through a signal-free corridor. Delhi is still desperate for more flyovers and misses the point already understood by other nations. When cities adopt grade separated intersections and signal-free corridors, it increases speed of all motorised vehicles — and accident risk. This is evident in the stark numbers from the recent analysis of the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme at IIT-Delhi. This shows the probability of a pedestrian fatality in collision with different vehicle groups in such areas can increase between 67 per cent and 200 per cent,” noted Ms. Roychowdhury.
She added it is ironical that the other road — Aurobindo Marg — that cuts across this flyover on Ring Road (where the accident took place), was recently reconverted at the instance of the Traffic Police from a signal-free corridor to a signalised corridor to calm traffic and reduce accidents.
“As a signal-free corridor, it had become one of the 20 deadliest roads in Delhi until 2011. But after it was signalised, it became one of the safest. The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority, of which Dr. Narain is a member, had supported this move.”
The CSE also noted that cycling has been made difficult by design in this city despite more households owning bicycles than cars or two-wheelers.
“Delhi has the highest number of cyclists. But most people cycle not out of choice, but because they cannot afford anything else. And those who could have cycled as a preferred mode of travel are afraid and shun the idea.”
Noting that it was the “car priority” urban design and traffic management that surrenders public spaces and walkways to cars and parking, and cuts off direct access of walkers and cyclists, increases their detours, and takes away playgrounds from children, Ms. Roychowdhury said “this locks up enormous ill health in our society”.
The CSE and other environmentalists have demanded that cities be designed for safety and access and actively discourage car-centric infrastructure.
“Please do not be polite about your right to walk and cycle,” she said.