This is the story of 100% Kerala cities (and 99% of Indian cities). You are walking to work, or to school, or to the market or you are going back home. The road is too congested even to walk, and a bus is heading towards you at full speed. There is barely enough space to move aside. It speeds past splashing dust and dirt all over you.
Auto rikshaws everywhere like schools of fish swimming in fresh water. Cars parked everywhere haphazardly. Pushcarts. Drainage pipes like death traps. Shops that project beyond their boundaries and into the roads. Total anarchy- chaotic and unsafe. This is the city, for a pedestrian.
Interestingly, more than 90% of the city traffic consists of pedestrians. Pedestrians undertake a lion’s share of the goods transport as well. However, our cities appear as if they exist for vehicular traffic only, and they pay no heed to the pedestrians at all. How contradictory!
This negligence towards pedestrians is obvious in all spheres. Take a look at the urban development master plan. There is no mention of conveniences of pedestrians. In the city planning regulations as well, there would be hundreds of definitions and detailed descriptions of land use, transportation and communication, building rules, parking etc. Everything but pedestrian facilities.
When traffic surveys are conducted, buses, lorries and at the most cycles are included, but we do not see pedestrians being considered. In municipal budgets, what importance is given for these conveniences? And even if there is an odd regulation providing a pedestrian facility, no one obeys it.
Now let’s say there indeed is a sidewalk. It is more like a no man’s land. Electric and Telephone posts, stay wires, underground cables, water supply lines and sewage lines, advertisement hoardings, transformers, milk booths, drain lines- all these cramp up in that little footpath.
It is necessary for the majority of the city dwellers to end this situation. Having proper pedestrian comforts is the basic right of the taxpaying city dwellers - for the children walking to school, adults going to office and the elderly taking evening walks,. It is the duty of the social servants to evoke the awareness of this right in people and to pressurize the authorities in this regard.
The renowned urban designer Le Corbusier once compared the transportation systems with the blood circulation system. He called the main roads arteries. As a next step, we can consider pedestrian paths as capillaries. Both are equally important-whether in the human body or in the city. And if we consider the real need of the huge majority of the common people, pedestrian paths should actually get priority.
Issue of vehicles
The massive increase in the motor vehicle population and their speed cause more physical, mental and environmental stresses and insecurity in pedestrians. At the sometime, an increase in pedestrian population interrupts the free flow of motor vehicles. Therefore, in public roads, both these categories must not be allowed to move in a mixed fashion.
Most of the roads in our cities are not equipped to protect the contrasting interests of both pedestrians and vehicles. No urban planner would dream that he can potentially solve the issue by increasing the road widths or by giving better parking facilities. There is a sort of consensus that such development is impossible. So, while dealing with contrasting interests such as these, priority has to be given to pedestrians. Even a person travelling in a car becomes a pedestrian at the very moment he gets out of the car.
Thus it becomes a need to control motor traffic to some extent. Giving one-way traffic, giving no parking zones and banning motor vehicles during particular hours etc. are methods to ensure this. (Such control measure help rein the cancerous growth of some cities).
A system of pedestrian paths
All these points towards the necessity of two separate parallel movement systems for pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Already there are systems like this for motor vehicles in our cities. However, pedestrian needs are always neglected. Hence, the provision for developing a system for pedestrian pathways in cities should be given immediate priority in all development plans.
This model would be comparatively inexpensive, and useful for both kinds of traffic. The following aspects have to be taken care of while implementing this scheme-
- It should be possible for pedestrians to reach all the important places and facilities in the city.
- Footpaths should be developed on both sides of the main city road, wherever possible, they should be provided separately.
- Safe provision for crossing vehicular traffic should be provided.
- Facilities for drinking water, snack counters, toilets, street lights, shade trees, small parks, small-scale commercial shopping facilities to be given along with a pedestrian pathway.
- There should be no obstacles on the pathways. The surface should be raised from the ground.
- Hygiene and aesthetics should be maintained.
Implementing this is not a very difficult task. In our towns, there are lanes, shortcuts & country paths, known by various names such as ‘idavazhi’, ‘kurukkuvazhi’, ‘thondu’, ‘mudukk’ etc. in the local tongue. In villages and smaller towns, these are the only traffic provisions. These should be developed. At the same time, vehicular traffic should be controlled and parking restricted in the city centres to create pedestrian paths. Also in a high traffic congested area, a pedestrian facility can be given by partially or completely banning vehicular traffic during particular time slots.
In order to achieve a bright future for our cities, we must move forward along this route. Otherwise ultimately what we create would be modern slums.
A Dream come true
Owning a car may be the dream of each individual. Having a vehicular route to every house may be a policy. However, a huge price would have to be paid if this dream had to come true- including roads that occupy more than half the area of the city, traffic blocks that extend long hours, accidents, air and sound pollution etc. (In N.Y., the average speed of motor vehicles is less than 10km/hour. Many of our cities also are nearing that situation)
Having learned their lesson from this, many Western countries have stopped increasing the road widths. Instead, to encourage more pedestrians, they have started to build beautiful sidewalks & ancillary facilities. Must our cities too travel all those mistaken roads, just to travel back all the way?