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:

Maheswari,
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.

7 comments:

varunkrish said...

Hey Ram,

They narrowed the pavement just to get the flyover up there and at the same time allow traffic under the flyover

I posted something similar after i got irritated driving on a bike

http://varunkrish.com/top-10-reasons-why-biking-is-dangerous-in-chennai.html

Sridhar said...

I spent the last weekend walking on the main roads of Adyar, Indira Nagar and the famous OMR. I noticed that people were working on a sidewalk that is about 6 inches wide opposite to IMPCOPS. OMR - also known as the IT Highway has a broad sidewalk that eventually will be removed when the traffic increases. The break-down lane is already in use by bikes and auto-rickshaws. There is already a talk of a few fly-overs on OMR.

It is easy to blame the government or civic officials. But what about the common man? How many people really walk? Every weekend I try to compare the number of pedestrians to the vehicles in Gandhi Nagar area - especially slightly crowded parts around the grocery stores, Grand sweets and the schools near my place. If I discount me and my family as part of observers, there is almost nobody who walks. If I see someone not on a motor-bike or a car, they would have just got off or about get on their vehicles.
When people are not inclined to walk and prefer to use a car weighing a ton encroaching public roads, you end up with disappearing sidewalks and frustrating traffic jams.
In India, with a vehicle, you quickly lose the sense of courtesy and civic sense. This is true for the rich and the poor alike. I have seen a well behaved gentleman stepping on the gas pedal on seeing a group of local people trying to cross the road. How can we expect a saner head in city administration care for pedestrians? After all, they are from the same society!

I get a sadistic pleasure when I navigate walking between stuck vehicles in a traffic jam. That's a sweet revenge for grabbing the side-walk.

Ramiah Ariya said...

Varun, nice article.
Sridhar, I disagree.
My photographs clearly show a number of people walking along those roads - if what you are saying is correct no one will be travelling by bus either, but we see buses overcrowded all the time.
I do not accept that the vehicle drivers themselves are to blame. I WILL blame the government - it was within the government's decision to allow an expanded sidewalk there and they consciously took a decision.
The reason pedestrians are staying off the road is because of the pollution and the bodily harm they face - it is not the other way round.
Further, the Indian state is notoriously lax in regulation - we see that from time to time in Kumbakonam fires and Sand quarrying; traffic is an aspect of the same problem. It is just that we do not see it as a regulatory issue.
For example, one of the key issues we have is that of issuing driving licenses - personal driving licenses are harder to get in Chennai than Commercial. That is against all sense - Commercial licensees should go through multiple checks; but that never happens. The reason is because Commercial licensees see a benefit to bribing the RTOs more - they directly get to deploy more drivers that way. This is the reason why you find completely crazy commercial drivers - I have seen 15 year kids driving commercial vehicles.
My point is simply that our traffic issues and pedestrian deaths can be directly and simply be traced to SYSTEMIC issues - and not behavioral issues such as "not following rules".

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.

Ramiah Ariya said...

Maheswari,
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.

TamilRajan said...

"The only reason it is not so in Chennai is because rich private car owners dominate the consciousness of the city and the government."

How bad is this problem? I mean, this is the same in American cities...the rich to influence the consciousness of the city, but I feel as though democracy prevails and though the poor in America still get screwed, the public infrastructure is still accessible for most. The interstate highway here is pretty good and can be accessed by a millionaire (he doesn't have seperate roads), by myself, and by someone much less fortunate financially.

Why is this not the case in India? What can I do? What can we do to change this? How do we put the power back in the hands of the people?

Please check out my new naive blog at tamilnri.blogspot.com

Ramiah Ariya said...

TamilRajan,
Thank you for posting your comments.
One first step to change the situation is just to be informed and aware. Activism comes much later. I read regularly a website called www.indiatogether.org. It helps me a lot to be informed of the liberal thinking and world view.