Is there a way beyond pedestrian subways and foot overbridges?

These two facilities have their advantages and disadvantages, and the Chennai experience shows that both are greatly underutilised. Well-planned at-grade crossings are probably what will work the best for road-users on foot

May 25, 2019 04:59 pm | Updated 05:01 pm IST

CHENNAI, TAMIL NADU, 07/02/2017: Foot overbridge at Kottivakkam OMR near YMCA school. 
Photo: M. Karunakaran

CHENNAI, TAMIL NADU, 07/02/2017: Foot overbridge at Kottivakkam OMR near YMCA school. Photo: M. Karunakaran

Subways and foot overbridges may be in two different spaces, but they have a common meeting point. They are both invariably underutilised.

This may be happening for different reasons, but the results are always the same — loss of resources and a failure to meet objectives.

On Rajiv Gandhi Salai (also known as Old Mahabalipuram Road), there are foot overbridges that are grossly underutilised. There are cases of pedestrians walking across the road, ignoring a foot overbridge, even if it is well within the sharp range of a basic 18-55 mm camera lens. You get the idea, don’t you?

Now, the other question is: Are pedestrian subways an answer to such situations? There are any number of examples to show that pedestrian subways have not fared well either. Due to poor illumination and a variety of other reasons, there are pedestrian subways that are avoided like the plague. “Both subways and FOBs are not pedestrian-friendly, but vehicle-friendly infrastructure. Well-planned at-grade crossings are any day better than either pedestrian subways or foot overbridges. Pedestrian crossings should be direct, safe and convenient. Safe pedestrian crossings is a critical element in road design and good street-level crossings are the need of the hour," says Ashwathy Dilip of Institute of Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP).

According to her, subways and FOBs should be the last resort in the planning and development of urban infrastructure, because these facilities are not only costly and intrusive, they deny universal access to those who prefer to commute on foot. However, for at-grade crossings to be effective in serving pedestrians, a change in mindset is necessary.

"The volume of vehicles on city roads is increasing every day and many cities focus on increasing vehicle speeds and in the process, deny pedestrians the right of way. Barricades on busy stretches and intersections prevent pedestrians from crossing at-grade, they are instead forced to use FOBs and subways. Pedestrian trips constitute a major share of the city’s commuting system, but pedestrian infrastructure is still very poor,” she says.

Ashwathy points out the drawbacks to the grade-separated pedestrian crossings, which include pedestrian subways and foot overbridges, that discourage walkers from making use of them.

The difficulty quotient

“FOBs and pedestrian subways are not an accessible option for people with disabilities and serious health concerns, elderly citizens, those carrying luggage and even parents with baby strollers. It is a physically excruciating task for them to climb up and down a flight of stairs. Even if ramps are installed to accommodate people on wheelchairs, long crossing distances and steep slopes will cause them more inconvenience,” she says.

Naturally, pedestrians seek short and direct routes to reach their destinations, an option that these structures do not offer. They often lead to long and circuitous walking routes which increase the distance and travel time, which further discourages them from using subways and FOBs.

“It is not surprising that most people prefer to cross at the street level putting their lives at stake.”

The safety quotient

The walking environment in subways and FOBs are generally perceived to be unsafe, especially during late-evening hours. “Most subways are not adequately-lit, which increases the fear of assault or theft, especially among women. With these facilities removed from street-level activities and without proper security measures, they will continue to receive poor patronage,” she says.

IRC guidelines for at-grade crossings

Indian Road Congress 2012 has set down clear guidelines on how at-grade crossings should be designed.

1. Urban streets should have a pedestrian crossing every 80-150 metres in commercial areas; and every 80-250 metres in residential areas.

2. These crossings should be at street-level, and clearly marked with paint.

3. Wherever possible, crossings should be raised to the level of the adjoining footpaths on both sides so that pedestrians can cross the street without having to step up or down.

4.There should be pedestrian refuges at the median to enable pedestrians to cross the road safely.

5. Crossings where conflict is high should have exclusive signals that are long enough for pedestrians to safely cross the road.

Source: Indian Road Congress 2012

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