Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Deepavali and Dogs

I live in a lively neighborhood with lots of dogs, cats, goats and hens around. My wife thinks cats are evil (or more accurately that they can "manage" life without outside help). But, according to her, dogs are innocent angels that just need to be protected.
Since I had been attacked by a dog when I was myself innocent and angelic, I had much less sympathy for dogs - and thus promoted cat welfare.
We saw some evidence for the cat tendency to "evil" the other day - near a grocery shop we found two kitten playing around. One of them was trying to attack a brinjal. The other kitty was picked up by a kid. The kid held the kitty in his hands and started petting it. The cat closed his eyes and seemed to be enjoying the whole episode.
After a couple of minutes, the kid let the cat go.
The cat sauntered off out of sight and then, started licking and cleaning wherever the kid touched. He thoroughly cleaned himself and then seemed curse the dirty human and walked away.
So, that is where cats stand with humans.
Now, Deepavali came around. The night of Deepavali I was returning back from work in an auto. Firecrackers were exploding all around.
The neighborhood dogs were getting scared as hell. I think the dogs have a short memory - they had forgotten last year's Deepavali. They thought the humans had gone crazy and started destroying the world with Lakshmi vedi. So as I entered our area, I saw that the dogs were barking their heads off. They obviously thought this would dissuade the humans from destroying the world. But none of the humans seemed to be listening.
A particulaly nasty firecracker went off - and a dog started fleeing the scene. He ran like he thought the end of the world was near - ears flattened, tail between legs.
After running for some time, he noticed that nobody else was running. The humans were just shopping as usual.
The dog seemed to realize that he was the only coward fleeing the scene. Or he began to think the crackers were exploding in his head. So he began to act brave. He slowed down. Took a casual look around - and tried to convince everyone that he was just running for the daily exercise.
Then a Oosi vedi went off next to him and then he started the crazy run again.
I reached home and the dog near my home had the same look - he was not running but he was resigned to his fate. I could see him praying for the end to be painless.
Now that Deepavali is over, the dogs are celebrating - I can hear them all night.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sidewalks and Pedestrian rights

(Updated below)
I am posting here a few pictures of the "sidewalk" between Ramco Systems in Sardar Patel Road and the Adyar Cancer Institute in Chennai. Someone higher up made the decision that in the interests of road users, pedestrians need to suffer. Take a look at the impossible to navigate sidewalk - it has lamp posts in the middle;the government uses the sidewalk to put junk material. Vehicles speed up on the wide road horns blaring and threatening anyone who steps out of this ridiculous sidewalk.
My question is this - who made the decision that this space is enough for pedestrians and thus consigned them to this position? Who decided that the roads are "owned" by private car owners?

Pedestrians navigating past each other

Meanwhile here is a busstop sharing the space for the walkers

This is the width of the sidewalk - one person can stand

The corporation also helpfully adds useless junk

There are lampposts that are part of the sidewalk

Update I
I thought Maheswari's comment below and my answer significant - so promoted here:
Maheswari said:

Guys you are right that pavement is narrow but is there any other better alternative than this???. Being commuting the chennai traffic for past 15 years i am really frustrated and tired. Candidly,after these flyovers i feel commuting better then before even as a pedestrain also.

My answer:

Let me explain the problem here:
When roads are being laid, it is a part of city planning. Now, there is a certain width of the road available. Of which you partition for traffic and pedestrians.
When you partition for traffic, you should remember that there are private vehicles as well as public transports. There is a measure called road space taken per person. That measure determines how much priority you allocate to vehicles and also how much space the road has to take.
The road space per person taken by a public bus is small - thus public buses, by carrying more citizens are performing an essential service.
On the other hand, a single person who takes a Scorpio or Bolero consumes LOTS of roadspace per person. There are estimates that they take 10 times the road space of a public bus.
So, when you lay a road, that does not discriminate between public buses and private vehicles, you end up penalizing pedestrians over PRIVATE VEHICLE owners. Because, your road's width is anticipated to accomodate all vehicles.
This is a major issue and ties up with the concept of PUBLIC COMMONS. The road is a public common and people who take up inordinate space in it have to be penalized. This is why in the USA, some cities have a separate carpool lane - because carpooling reduces the roadspace per person.
Now, imagine that Chennai has separate bus lanes. Then the question really is a tradeoff between multiple lanes for private car owners OR pedestrian safety. And the government SHOULD consider this.
What I have shown in the photographs is that the government has not even considered this.
Cities such as Shanghai which are similar to Chennai in terms of evolution, have very wide pedetrian space and considered safe for them. That is because pedestrian safety should be the concern of any city planner. The only reason it is not so in Chennai is because rich private car owners dominate the consciousness of the city and the government.