Friday, March 6, 2009

This report consolidates the findings of the Reinventing Cochin team, as regards the pedestrian audits conducted in the city. It examines two main areas: South Eranakulam and M. G Road.


SOUTH ERANAKULAM

An area dominated by residential houses, shops, a High School and a railway station, it’s undoubtedly a busy vicinity. The bustops and the railway station contribute towards the bulk of the pedestrians who walk to and fro from the stations, use the public transport systems, flag autos and frequent the many shops around it. Thus, being an ideal place to audit, the stretch between Girls High School, Eranakulam and the South Bridge was chosen.

Beginning at the curb near the School, a clear disparity can be seen in the width of the footpath used by the pedestrians. Beginning with a comfortable width of 8.5 ft, it shrinks, mainly because of the presence of a transformer, to a mere 3.25 ft as per the rest of the area. Not only is the area very busy with heavy pedestrian flow, but the footpath before the school has been converted into a makeshift bustop inspite of an actual one existing mere meters away. Therefore, the pavements (or whatever is left of them) are agog with people waiting for the evening bus and venders soliciting them with delectables leaving little place for actual walking.

The actual bustops ahead are put to minimal use, with potential passengers crowding in other areas and thus lie unused and dirty. Mayhap because they take up considerable space, the Corporation has omitted to build pavements in these areas. As one goes forward, one sees, particularly near areas like the Kalyan Chambers, there exist no actual pavements, but mere wobbly concrete slabs over gutters, intercept with gaping holes in the place of the same. The same measure upto a mere 34.5 inches, when the IRA Standards prescribe a minimum of 1.5 meters.

Even more interesting is the second transformer comfortably roosting smack dab in the middle of the pavement near the Madakkapillil lane entrance. The area therefore lacks a pavement, is dirty and forces a pedestrian to take a detour, prompting a hasty motorist to collide with him or her.

Moving forward, past the opposite side of Sadhanam Working Women’s Hostel, down till Valanjambalam Temple, there are no actual pavements, but mere concrete slabs as mentioned before, this time measuring somewhere between 31 to 31.5 inches. A walk down few more meters leads us before Jose Electricals, where the slabs are a significant 9 inches longer, ending at 40 inches, quite a feat considering the surroundings.

Yet again, nearing the gate of the Temple, one sees yet another transformer, with a hole, 38 inches in width and over 100 inches in length, (so what if our pavements don’t conform to international standards? Something does!) like a moat around an ancient fort. This one takes the cup though. It’s dirtier than its predecessors and contributes to the sanctity of the temple with a tastefully situated and over flowing garbage bin. Thus, even if a modal pedestrian wanted to use the pavement, the stench would force him to walk on the road.

Past Valanjambalam’s first gate and on to its second, the distance between the two has no pavements what so ever and the unofficial bustop nearby causes bus drivers to occasionally flatten a hapless pedestrian against the temple wall railings. Maneuvering through here should rightly be an Olympic feat.

Just a glance at the bridge looming ahead will show you that though there are adequate spaces on either side, the Corporation has chosen not to mar the beauty of the place by building pavements. You see large plots of vacant land on either side, which often doubles as car parks and unofficial bustops. There is also gibberish splattering these areas, from clumps of dirt to piles of garbage.


M. G ROAD

A favorite youth hangout, a commercial area and a shopping hub, M. G Road is Cochin’s equalent of downtown New York. Scattered with shops, bakeries and eateries, it attracts more vehicular and pedestrian movement than perhaps any other area around. In shopping areas such as these, IRA recommends that width should be increased by 1 metre, which is treated as “dead width”. Where there are sidewalks around buildings and fences, the dead width can be taken as 0.5 metres. For areas of heavy pedestrian activity such as bus stops, railway stations and recreational areas, the width of sidewalks should be suitably increased to account for accumulation of pedestrians. A considerable difference from the earlier audit is experienced here. There are actual pavements! Red cobble stoned ones at that. The sad part is the landscaping that the shopkeepers around have chosen to employ. While there is often a clear, distinguishable and mostly unbroken pavement, there are some anomalies to the same.

From Joy Alukkas to Jose Alukkas, the pavements range from somewhere between 4.10 to 5 meters. There are minor interruptions here and there, such as the odd pole or railing or the annoying half built transformer, but at least there is adequate place for pedestrians who both wish to walk and who wish to gawk and window shop. Moving forward, the petrol pump adjacent to the UniverCel showroom has a huge area which allows for easy movements of vehicles and pedestrians but ends with an uphill climb before a huge, gaping, clogged and open outlet. It takes one a while to realize that the complicated system of pipes and taps nestled within, actually happens to be an integral part of the city’s water supply channels, though it does baffle one as to what its doing above ground or why it is not sealed. Thankfully, a slight wall around it saves the absent minded a dunk or a tumble.

Areas around Shenoy’s figure pavements 6 ft in length while Twinkle sports clearly broken ones, the same continuing a trend till K. B Varkey & V. S Builders. Jacobs DD Mall sports deplorable pavements, not because of the lack of space, but the lack of public spirit. These open spaces are used by food venders to set up temporary stalls as the evening arrives. Nearing Lens & Frames, the pavements widen, while the area between Woodlands till the opposite side of My Kingdom have pavements 34 inches long. Certain areas that have footpaths have the same opened and a pile of dirt from within, deposited on the sidewalks. Josco Jwellers are a testament to the landscaping skills of shopkeepers. Here, the public pavements have clearly been encroached by them by making way for a car park for their customers.

The opposite side of M. G Road, sporting shops such as Punjabi Libas is clearly the very same situation, though the width of the pavement is slightly lesser than that on the other side. The entire situation of M. G Road pavements is that it’s slightly more encouraging a scenario than other downtown areas. The pavements are in a relatively better condition, except for an occasional break. Its maintenance however, is attributed more to the shopkeeper’s commercial sense kicking in than the Corporation’s sense of duty. The singularly major complaint that one would register is that the pavements are not of even length and decrease and increase according to the shop it houses. And certain cases see a shopper surreptitiously increase his shop size by encroaching the pavements, but this is not always the case.


CONCLUSION

Missing sidewalks or gaps, abrupt changes in sidewalk width, obstructions on sidewalks, and frequent, abrupt changes in direction are all seen as signs of a faulty walkway. These standards, most pavements in Cochin, nay Kerala conform to. Reinventing Cochin Team firmly believes that this is one infrastructure that is in dire need of revamping. It is to make a mockery of ourselves to let the Corporation delude us into thinking that pavements are unimportant. We have people campaigning to make pavements and streets disabled-people friendly. When it is hardy safe for an able man to cross, one shudders to think of the plight of our less fortunate brethren. Besides which, we believe a good makeover can contribute towards the scenic beauty of the city making it a more attractive and lucrative place for tourism, industrial activity, and commerce etc.

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