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Of Pedestrians & Pensioners

Received a forward of this Ammu Joseph article on email. When senior artist V. Balu passed away in mid-September, after being knocked down by a two-wheeler, he joined the growing number of pedestrians killed in road accidents in Bangalore. In 2006 there were 463 pedestrian casualties, up from 390 in 2004. The first four months of this year saw 177 pedestrians losing their lives; at that rate the death toll for 2007 is likely to be 531. It is estimated that pedestrians make up 35 to 38 per cent of the fatalities caused by vehicular accidents in the city every year. The problem is periodically highlighted in the media and there is widespread agreement about the many contributory factors: inadequate facilities (useable footpaths, zebra crossings, subways and over-bridges); poor street lighting; rash and/or drunken driving; violation of traffic rules, including one-way signs; uneven surfaces, digging, encroachments, debris and garbage on sidewalks that force walkers onto roads; two-wheeler riders using footpaths to bypass traffic jams; and insufficient policing, especially at night. Announcements are made from time to time about steps being taken to mitigate the problems faced by hapless pedestrians. In 2005, for example, pedestrian-controlled traffic signals were inaugurated at eight city junctions. In 2004 the traffic police claimed to have requested the BMP to construct 43 overbridges, and the Corporation in turn soon announced that the required structures would be built in two phases. But even today pedestrians are largely left to fend for themselves, routinely risking life and limb. Dr. Govindappa Rangaiah, founder of the Bangalore Association of Pedestrians United, admits that the group’s efforts have not yet yielded tangible results. They did send specific suggestions to police stations in each ward, as advised by the then police commissioner, but received only a few responses and saw little evidence of implementation. Of course, citizens have much to answer for, too. Both pedestrians and drivers of motorised vehicles (including government employees such as BMTC bus drivers) contribute to the deadly mayhem on the roads -- in a manner recalling the chicken and egg conundrum: The paucity of pedestrian facilities, including well-marked, conveniently located zebra crossings, and the ineffectuality of such crossings where they exist – with drivers scarcely acknowledging their existence, let alone purpose – leads to frustrated walkers crossing roads whenever and wherever possible. The high prevalence of jay-walking results in irritated drivers disregarding legitimate pedestrian crossings. With no efforts made to educate the public (including children) on this issue, people apparently prefer endangering their lives to using the few over-bridges and under-passes that do exist. And, of course, little attention is paid to the special needs and limitations of senior citizens and persons with disabilities. One way to spot a fellow Indian abroad is to see who hesitates fearfully before crossing roads even at traffic junctions with zebra crossings as well as lights for pedestrians. The minute a person steps onto a pedestrian crossing in most cities in the “developed world,” cars slow down and, if necessary, stop: the person on foot has right of way. In Germany blocking pedestrian or cycle paths at cross-roads is a serious offence. In Malaysia people use the over-bridges and pedestrian crossings found at frequent intervals on city streets. In Hong Kong the climb up to over-bridges is gradual, and long, elevated walkways along and across major roads facilitate pedestrian movement. In contrast, the minor augmentation of the road infrastructure evident here now, in the form of flyovers and ring roads, reveals little consideration for the needs of those who use their legs to get from place to place. This is despite the fact that persecuted pedestrians are undoubtedly the silent majority in Indian cities. In Mumbai, for example, studies have found that 60 per cent of residents walk or cycle to work. Blessed with comparatively good public transport (including widely used commuter trains), only 8 per cent of Mumbaikars use motorised private transport. Yet urban infrastructure is invariably planned to benefit the powerful minority, creating further congestion and pollution for all in the process. No wonder Bangalore has become the paradise lost of not only pensioners but also pedestrians. Author: Ammu Joseph, Koramangala comment guidelines

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