Sunday, October 19, 2008

Making roads in Kochi inviting to pedestrians

While urban planners are making some cities in the world more walkable, our cities are becoming increasingly hostile to pedestrians. SHYAMA RAJAGOPAL goes into the results of a pedestrian audit conducted recently by an NGO in Kochi.

Walking on the roads in Kochi is a nightmare.

Ask pedestrians and they will tell you why. Unruly traffic, overflowing gutters, encroachments, non-existent foot paths, accumulated garbage – the list goes on and on.

Identifying needs

So what exactly makes life so difficult for pedestrians on our roads.

A pedestrian audit by the Kochi-based Centre for Public Policy Research tried to find out the problems faced by pedestrians, what they thought should be done to facilitate safe walking and who they thought should take the lead in improving the situation.

A pedestrian audit, says the centre, is a road safety audit.

Or in other words, it is what the government agencies undertake to estimate the safety needs of the roads.

It seeks to ensure adherence to road safety rules and construction regulations, be a forum to showcase the opinions of all stakeholders, let authorities have a say and yet see how far one can hold them accountable in a non-confrontational manner. Though the centre’s initiative may not have covered a large number of people, it is, perhaps, the first one of its kind to find out what the pedestrians look forward to.

And to that extent, an intiative to make the city more ‘walkable’.

The centre points out that that the Indian road rules insist on footpaths with an even surface and continuity with a minimum of 1.5-m width.

And they should be clean and free from obstacles or encroachments.

Besides how many know that footpaths ought to have guiding blocks for visually challenged people and the kerb height should not exceed 15 cm?

The capacity of footpaths must, as far as one- and two-way footpaths go, differ according to the number of pedestrians traversing on it, points out another specification for Indian roads. But in most cities, a one-way road is indistinguishable from a two-way one. There are often no indications to show that a particular road is one-way. A motorist gets to know about it on being nabbed by the police.

The centre also refers to the lack of awareness of traffic signals among pedestrians. Many do not know that that a zebra crossing is a free-cross zone.

Most pedestrians take a criss-cross route to cross the roads in between the flow of vehicles. Many, perhaps, do not even know what the traffic lights indicate.

Unruly traffic

And what made Kochi roads unfriendly to pedestrains? About 76 per cent of those who took part in the audit listed unruly traffic as the main obstacle.

This was followed by overflowing gutters, garbage, absence of pedestrian crossings, unusable footpaths, two-wheelers usurping footpaths, encroachments and so on.In the audit, about 48 per cent of the respondents indicated that better traffic regulation is needed to make the roads pedestrian- friendly. Better regulation can be achieved by providing separate lanes for different types of vehicles, said about 47 per cent of the respondents. Nearly 43 per cent indicated that pedestrian pathways have to be improved.

And who are capable of making roads more pedestrian friendly?The majority (37 per cent) felt it was the government authorities who should take the lead.

Those who said the onus was on vehicle drivers made up about 20 per cent and that on the general public, 18 per cent.

A significant section – about 30 per cent – said that among others, all the three sections, should play a role in bringing about change.

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