Delhi’s pavements: Paved with good intentions

The pavements of the national capital are used for all activities other than walking

By Ananya Choudhury
Published: Tuesday 23 July 2019
A footpath in Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“God made us walking animals — pedestrians. As a fish needs to swim, a bird to fly, a deer to run, we need to walk, not in order to survive, but to be happy”.  So said former Bogota Mayor Enrique Penalosa.

But, what if Delhi pavements make you do all other activities but walk? Delhi pavements have versatile uses. They are for sleeping on, spitting on and obviously walking on (I wish I could say that last bit).

My weekend project — roaming around Delhi, gives me enough opportunities to explore every other possibility a pavement can give to humankind. Delhi pavements have taught me a lot regarding that line.

So, without further delay, let us explore the ‘Delhi footpath’ with some heart-rending, sometimes hilarious, frequently exhilarating, always unforgettable — and extremely dangerous ‘walks’.

To survive the experience, I looked into a precious old book called, Patha Purana; a disputed Sanskrit text, summarising five rules of walking on Delhi’s pavements.

Sutra 1:

The assumption of auto-healing / instant healing is required of all travellers. If injury frightens you, you better stay home. We enjoy broken and potholed pavements, which is hereby defined as the ‘law of the broken path’.

In 2016, the CSIR-Central Road Research Institute conducted a study wherein they found that 20-26 per cent of pavements in Delhi are obstructed by garbage, potholes, encroachments for personal gardening and about five per cent have permanent obstruction in the form of toilets, poles and trees.

Sutra 2:

Delhi pavements, like Indian society, follow a strict caste system / hierarchy. If you are walking in Lutyens’ Delhi, there is a lesser chance to stop by some street furniture or broken pavement, as that part of Delhi is reserved for the ‘elite class’.

As you move to the other parts of Delhi, especially towards the not-so-popular East Delhi or North Delhi (mainly the North Campus area), the situation deteriorates.

As an example, we can look at the area of Vikas Marg near Laxmi Nagar Metro station area. The large portion of the carriageway is generally occupied by cycle-rickshaws and autos, and commuters waiting for the bus.

This causes traffic congestion on the metro line stretch between Laxmi Nagar and Preet Vihar.

At the same time, (according to personal experience), pedestrians cannot be blamed for walking or standing on the main carriageway, as there is little space on the pavements. The haphazardly installed signages and un-even pavement make it difficult for people to use.

Sutra 3:

All two-wheeled motor vehicles shall be driven on the pavement in accordance with the maxim, ‘to slow down is to falter and to see a pedestrian and stop is defeat’. So, while walking on a pavement, every pedestrian is required to have: Good luck.

Sutra 4:

Right of way: pavements are not for pedestrians. They should be used as a bike-parking area and for street vending (rather pavement vending) and also for installing haphazard signage.

It is not just the civic bodies who are to be blamed for the mess on pavements, but the residents as well.

For many such residents, pavements are not meant for pedestrians, but for parking their vehicles.

As a result, the entire stretch of the sidewalks are packed with vehicles forcing pedestrians to juggle with speedy traffic on the carriageway. This sight is common in West Delhi’s Karol Bagh, Hari Nagar, Janakpuri, Subhash Nagar, Tilak Nagar and Wazirpur where pavements are only for parking vehicles.

In fact, even posh areas in South Delhi bear the same sight. These include Malviya Nagar (not Khirki Extension), Saket and Vasant Vihar.

Sutra 5:

All law and guidelines of building a pavement shall be violated. Pavements should be built in a fashion that you will become a professional high-jumper.

Street design guidelines issued by Unified Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure (Planning & Engineering) Centre (UTTIPEC) clearly state that the height of a pavement cannot exceed six inches.

The pavements must have a ramp of the slope 1:12 and must have tactile paving both at the beginning and along the pavement. But, none of this seems to have been reflected in the actual layout.

Pavements in Mayur Vihar Phase III and Kirti Nagar clearly exceed the six inches limit making it tough for people, especially senior citizens, to get on and off them.

Slopes or stairs at the end of pedestrian stretches are absent almost everywhere. Such sites are common in East Delhi’s Jagatpuri, Krishna Nagar, Preet Vihar and Laxmi Nagar.

Over and above, at several locations, tactile paving (yellow footpath tiles that act as a warning and guiding blocks for the visually impaired) are missing.

If this was not enough, access ramps are either missing, too steep or replaced with steps that cannot be used by those on the wheelchair.

After this long rant (life experience) you will ask me for recommendations. Yes, I have researched that as well in this context and there is no one stop solution for it, but the starting point is to follow UTTIPEC guidelines and proper enforcement.

Disclaimer: All the views are personal and that use of sarcasm in the article is meant to be taken in a light note, and not intended to offend any person or institution

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