Walking on the roads to reach workplaces, shopping centres, educational institutions and others is supposed to be the safest way available for the public. Every road is supposed to have footpaths of certain width on one or both sides depending on the density of vehicular traffic and width of the roads as per the Indian Road Congress's 'Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities'. In reality, walking on the roads has become an agonising exercise as only a few roads in the urban areas of the State have footpaths which are either not encroached upon by entities ranging from street vendors to star hotels and even government departments or are in a usable condition. Lack of footpaths has become a common issue and urban local bodies take pride whenever a small stretch of road is provided with footpaths and a pedestrian-friendly environment.
While inconvenience caused due to lack of footpaths and other infrastructure has been a cause of concern for ages, the rising number of pedestrian deaths once again highlights the need to focus on giving priority to pedestrians and public transport rather than private two-wheeler and four-wheeler vehicles as suggested by the Indian Road Congress.
As many as 1,346 pedestrians walking on roadside or trying to cross a road were killed in Andhra Pradesh in 2021, as per the Accident Deaths and Suicides in India report by the National Crime Records Bureau. It is 16.4% of the total 8,186 deaths due to road accidents reported across the State. Of the total road accident deaths, 3,602 were on the national highways, 1,904 on State highways and 7,931 were killed on other roads in 21,556 accident cases reported. A majority of these deaths, 6,389, occurred in rural areas and 1,797 in urban areas and 131 were killed at pedestrian crossings in urban areas.
Vijayawada (police commissionerate limits), one of the most populated cities in the country, stood in the first place in the south Indian cities with more than 104 pedestrian deaths in 2021. Visakhapatnam reported 94 pedestrian deaths.
Meanwhile, the number of pedestrian deaths as well as the share of pedestrian deaths among total road accident deaths are on the rise. In 2020, 18% (1,272) of the total road accident deaths (7,039) were of pedestrians while in 2019 it was only 760 pedestrian deaths out of total 7,984 road accident deaths.
Encroachment of footpaths, road margins and even roads has been a major concern for the pedestrians who are forced to walk alongside or amidst vehicular traffic on the majority of the roads in urban areas. M.G. Road, the arterial road of the city, is everything but safe for pedestrians. It is one of the few roads in the city with long footpaths but they are either occupied by commercial establishments or obstructed by various installations such as electrical transformers, walls and others. The same is the situation with the other roads in the State. Authorities turned a blind eye to these encroachments.
Crossing M.G. Road is a nightmare for many pedestrians as most of the zebra crossings end at the medians instead of providing continuity to another half of the road. People who cannot cross the medians have to walk through the 'U turns' meant for vehicles.
As per the Indian Road Congress, the height of a footpath should be not more or less than 150 mm (15 centimetres) but not many existing footpaths comply with the rule. Similarly, the width of a footpath should be not less than four metres for any road in any area.
Most pedestrian deaths occur while crossing the roads. Many pedestrians prefer crossing the road over the median even though there are foot over-bridges. At Kanuru, Penamaluru and Edupugallu near Vijayawada, the foot over-bridges built over the Vijayawada-Machilipatnam highway are rarely used by pedestrians to cross the road.
The Transit Oriented Development (TOD) policy issued by the Department of Municipal Administration and Urban Development could address the issues being faced by pedestrians to an extent when implemented. TOD is a form of compact, pedestrian and non-motorised vehicle (NMV) friendly development that promotes mixed land use along the mass transit corridors in urban areas.