A study put together by Clean Air Initiative, a Delhi-based organisation, has show our city to be the least pedestrian-friendly. Chennai has scored even lower than Bangalore and several tier II towns of the country. The study’s conclusions appear almost to imply that the pedestrian has little or even zero chance of staying alive on Chennai’s roads.
The evaluation was done on the basis of nine parameters, some of which are: motorists’ behaviour, grade crossing availability, grade crossing safety, security from crime, availability of walking paths, and disability infrastructure. Chennai managed to score the lowest or second lowest on all counts. Is this a record worthy of a city that claims to be on the road to world-class infrastructure?
Of course, the results of the study ought not to be a surprise for those witnessing the developments in Chennai. Ever since 1996, the city has seen a shrinking, or complete removal, of footpaths. And all road developments have been done keeping in mind the interests of the motorists alone. As a consequence, we have several flyovers for the building of which we have sacrificed pavements. We also have a series of one-ways, none of which has any zebra crossing. Those wishing to cross these roads on foot do so at their own risk. The statistics speak for themselves – 38 per cent of fatal accidents on Chennai’s roads involve pedestrians.
What Chennai needs is a complete makeover of its traffic system. This requires coordination between many agencies and it also requires communication with, and training of, all stakeholders in the city’s roads, of whom the pedestrian is just one. Firstly, all road junctions need zebra crossings, no matter how minor they are. All world-class cities have them and so we need to be no exception. And these have to be painted regularly so that they remain bright and visible. This is no easy task, but, then, it has to be done.
Second, it is mandatory internationally for motorists to stop when they see someone walking on a pedestrian crossing. This basically recognises that the pedestrian’s rights are foremost on the road. In our city, motorists never stop for pedestrians to cross. If they do, it is because of a traffic signal and even then, they choose to stop on, or even beyond, the pedestrian crossing. The pedestrians have to make their way between the vehicles.
Footpaths and routes for those with disabilities are a must in any world-class city. Chennai has been steadily removing what little it had. Though a tough task, the Government has to bring back footpaths wherever it has done away with them. What is ironic is that even in greenfield developments and new colonies, these are not mandatory. All the new, so-called posh South Chennai areas have come up sans these facilities. And where we have footpaths, these need to be protected from encroachments. They cannot be granted to have become spaces for parking two-wheelers, or for hawkers, wayside shrines and storage areas for nearby construction projects.
Lastly, at the same time, we need to recognise that the pedestrian is no paragon of virtue in our city. Jaywalking is rampant and, let us face it, most of the concrete medians in the city are witness to pedestrians jumping over them to cross roads at what appear to them to be the most convenient spots in terms of distance but certainly not in terms of safety. Elsewhere, in some cities, pedestrians practise road discipline, too. We need to educate our people on this.
All this requires a great will, greater coordination and an enormous effort. What we are witnessing on the roads is a culmination of several years of apathy. But it is never too late to make a start in a new direction.