Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Pedestrian Audit - the what's, where's n why's...

For a city that’s going to play hosts to the Pedestrian Audit, the first-of-its-kind -venture in the State, the blog caricaturing the ‘metropolization’ of Kochi remains largely silent on the same. As one of the enthusiasts behind it, I believe it to be my solemn duty to remedy the situation by updating our reading public as to what a pedestrian audit is, why it is necessary and finally, what we seek to accomplish by executing it.

Starting from the basics, a Pedestrian Audit is a species of the genus known as a Road Safety Audit; an initiative usually undertaken by governmental authorities to estimate the safety needs of the roads. It’s more than just a plain analysis. It seeks to ensure adherence to road safety rules and construction regulations, be a forum to showcase the opinions of all stakeholders, to let authorities have a say and yet see how far one can hold them accountable in a non-confrontational manner.

As to the question of why do a pedestrian audit, I would say, it's because pedestrians, as a race(?) are everywhere. They are not an ethnic group found in some far-flung corner of the world. A passenger or a driver of a vehicle is a pedestrian the minute they step out of their transport. You may not find a vehicle, a driver or a passenger everywhere, but the world over, your sure to find a pedestrian, simply because of the pleasure an inexpensive stroll bestows. Inspite of being the largest road users to-date, they remain pitifully under-represented and their voices unheard.

A traveler of the Indian sub-continent will tell you that from the northernmost reaches of India to its southernmost tip, perhaps exempting our capital city of Delhi, all Indian roads are intercept with strategically formed potholes with patches of road left un-tarred, a testament perhaps, to the rather unusual aesthetic sense of our reigning governments. Signals malfunction and policemen either stray from their posts or point blank refuse to stay in places with heavy traffic flow, thereby contributing to haphazard traffic.

Overflowing drains find themselves covered in just-barely-there concrete slabs that are laid so that they form a semblance of a footpath, a myth which is almost immediately dispelled the minute one steps on them. They quiver like feathers, and one soon dreads the inevitable drench in gutter water. Medians are either non-existent or extent for miles at a stretch, prompting the frustrated pedestrian to demolish parts of it to make way for crossing the road… talk about “State-sponsored vandalism!!!” (term, curtsey Dhanuraj).

Apart from shaky footholds over gutters, Indian roads have no specific footpaths to speak off. Vehicles veer dangerously on roads and the Indian pedestrian, an agile and fearless breed of streetwalkers, jump out of the way in record time. In monsoons, this becomes a particularly challenging feat, as the Indian pedestrian finds it difficult to differentiate between a gutter and a foothold, with murky rainwater upto their calves.

Not very hard to gauge the safety levels (or the absolute lack of them!!!) of an Indian road, is it? We’re hoping to alert the public as to the hazards and pitfalls (pun intended!) of the Indian road, without them having to suffer a personal (read harrowing/traumatizing) experience of a gutter-bath or something equally vexing!

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