On two legs and a prayer

Walkers outnumber people using vehicles in every Indian city. But city plans have no space for pedestrians, nor do urban roads. Will town planning stand on its own two feet?

Published: Thursday 30 April 2009

On two legs and a prayer

and then one day Amarnath Tewary decided to walk to work. The next day (Credit: Meeta  Ahlawat) The horn, though, would not have helped negotiate a bull that he skirted, but that meant his leg slipped into sludge heaped beside an open manhole. Before long, a bicyclist expectorated betel juice right on to his trouser legs and shoes. Next on the obstacle course was a series of puddles. Tewary rolled up his trousers and attempted a jump. Without so much as a splash, he landed on his athletic feat. Before he could feel too happy, a motorcycle sped past, depositing the contents of the puddle on to his trousers.

He had had enough of walking.He hired a rickshaw on his way back.

How many people walk?
Hiring a rickshaw or riding a scooter are not options available to Annapurnabai.Her 60 years saw her leave farm labour to become a domestic help in Nagpur.Now, she does not work--not because she is too old to work but because traffic makes it impossible to walk.She used to walk between 10 km and 14 km every day."In those days, there were wide roadside spaces and shady green trees. One could walk barefoot," said she, claiming she is physically fit to walk the same distances but cannot cope with the traffic and the heat--the trees are gone to create more space for motorized traffic.

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A devotee takes her chances near the Kalkaji temple in Delhi at 638 pm on April 1, 2009
Photographs Meeta Ahlawat

Indian cities have millions of stories like Tewary's and Annapurnabai's. But it isn't easy to put a number to these stories. Geetam Tiwari, professor at Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, tried to obtain data on walking. She could not find any from before 1994. For motorized vehicles in Delhi, data is available since the 1950s. "This shows walking has not been a priority in the planning of cities and transport infrastructure."

A 2008 study of 30 cities showed 16-57 per cent of all trips involve no vehicles at all. Smaller cities and hill towns, where walking commands a greater share of trips, figured at the higher end of this classification. Bigger cities, which have some semblance of pedestrian infrastructure unlike the smaller cities, have fewer people relying only on walking. The study by US consultancy Wilbur Smith Associates assessed footpaths and overall infrastructure, including pedestrians' ratings of the facilities. The Union Ministry of Urban Development had commissioned the study to draft a transport strategy.

The study indexed cities for walkability. The national average was 0.52. Chandigarh came on top with 0.91; cities such as London score 1.5 to 1.7.

Measuring walkability  
Indian cities ranked on scale of 4
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The survey showed 21 per cent of all trips in Delhi were only on foot. This share was 34 per cent in another 2008 survey, this one by rites Ltd, a government-owned consultancy. The figures vary depending on the survey, but there is no other way to estimate the unestimated. The two studies are not comparable, said Vinoba Sunder Singh of Wilbur Smith. "There are limitations to our study. While people's perception got 50 per cent weightage to the score, mere presence of footpath was accounted," said Singh, adding they did not study its quality.

Mumbai has more walkers than Delhi--43 per cent, according to a 2005 study by the World Bank--about four times the number of people using private vehicles. Another survey from 2005-08, by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, estimated the number at 52 per cent.

In Ahmedabad, cycling and walking constitute 54 per cent of all trips, said a 2005 report of the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology.

Walkers outnumber those using vehicles in Indian cities. Even in car-crazed Delhi, the percentage of walking-only trips has remained high over time, said Yash Pal Sachdeva of rites; it was 32 per cent in 1994 and 33 in 2001.

The walk-only trips in cities would be higher if public transport trips were included in estimates; each public transport user is also a walker at least four times a day. The Wilbur Smith report showed Kolkata ranked low in terms of pedestrian share in trips per day--19 per cent, excluding trips linking public transport. But the city has the highest public transport share 54 per cent.

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"A car hit me during my morning walk. Since there are no footpaths, I had to walk on the road. I don't go for walks now"

RAMCHANDRA NAYAK, 75, Bhubaneswar

So, people walk. Was Tewary in Patna too hasty in reverting to his scooter after a one-day trial? A close look at roads in Indian cities shows how the pedestrians never seem like a constituency to city managers. The employment--and safety--of Annapurnabai in Nagpur is not a real concern, though the old woman and her need for employment is very real, as is her fear of roads.

Insurance for walkers?
Diwakar Mohani is 80 and an inveterate cyclist. "The roads of Nagpur are better than ever before. But traffic has become unruly and law enforcement has not kept pace.The bicycle has become a vulnerable mode. My family is always nervous about me moving around on one."

Unlike Mohani, Subrata Sen, writer and social activist in Nagpur, has stopped walking. "On improved roads, vehicles speed at no less than 60 km per hour. Because of poor traffic regulation, people jaywalk. It is dangerous," he said.

The number of people killed in road accidents in India has increased about 8 per cent each year for the past decade. Pedestrians account for 60 per cent--more than 80,000--of all fatalities in urban areas, revealed a joint report by researchers from the US University of Michigan and iit, Delhi.

Ramchandra Nayak knows. The 75-year-old from Bhubaneswar survived a road accident six months ago. "A car hit me during my morning walk. Since there are no footpaths, I had little choice but to walk on the road," said he. He has stopped going for a walk since.

Down to Earth  
A close encounter at a Delhi road, featuring eight wheels, a driver, a rider with a pillion, and a non-entity on two legs

During 1970-2005, the number of motor vehicles registered increased 50 times. While the road network grew less than three-fold, accidents increased four-fold. Lack of footpaths, cycle tracks and unchecked speeding were to blame.

India's National Urban Transport Policy acknowledged the risk "Use of cheaper non-motorized modes like cycling and walking has become increasingly risky, since these modes have to share the same right of way with motorized modes."

From policy to urban plans is a short journey. Delhi's Master Plan 2021 desires a pedestrian friendly city, major work centres with large numbers of pedestrian networks.

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At the ITO intersection in Delhi, the road is a theatre for the drama of urban tension, law enforcement, and rapid SWOT analyses. One person is killed in a road accident every six minutes in India

No walking public, no transport
The master plan talks of upgrading public transport to international standards for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. To optimize the carrying capacity for each mode, transport projects must be integrated, said Pradeep Sachdeva, an architect in Delhi who designs public spaces in Indian cities.

The Public Works Department in Delhi has commissioned a pilot project to improve walkability in select areas. The project is to design and develop about 25 km around four stadium areas and some arterial roads. The concept design along side footpaths includes lanes for non-motorized transport and auto rickshaw stands, he said.

It is essential to connect Delhi's metro stations with pedestrian networks, said Tripta Khurana, chief architect, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation. "We plan jointly with the Delhi Transport Corporation to establish feeder bus services. For pedestrians, urban local bodies must ensure their needs are fulfilled." A senior official of the New Delhi Municipal Corporation admitted that more needs to be done.

The Centre for Science and Environment, ngo in Delhi, surveyed pedestrians on Delhi walkways to understand their convenience, security, safety and quality of services. No location made the top grade. Of all the sites assessed, the dedicated pedestrian path in the pilot bus rapid transit corridor (between Ambedkar Nagar and Chirag Delhi) scored the highest.

"Little attention is given to pedestrians outside the corridor," said Sachdeva. The captive pedestrian, who cannot afford alternative modes of transport, is the biggest loser.

Vehicles, vehicles, vehicles
The reasons for congested cities are well known. Planners focus on the movement of vehicles, not people. Governments invest large sums in roads and elevated roadways to provide mobility to a minority vehicle owners. Yet traffic speed and road availability per vehicle have reduced, despite road widening and flyovers.

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Steel caterpillars for tinseltown Mumbai will sink Rs 600 crore to erect 50 skywalks
Photographs Rajil Menon

Faulty designs and urban land use policies are fast razing the walking environment in India. The widening of roads alongside elevated routes and flyovers are a constant hindrance on pedestrian routes. The direct course of access for pedestrians is replaced by long-drawn routes. The vehicle lobby pushes pedestrians to subways and foot overbridges. To save time and effort pedestrians put themselves in harm's way.

Ill-planned motorization kills one person every six minutes on average.

This has pushed the Union Ministry of Shipping, Highways and Road Transport to draft a National Road Safety Policy. It talks of traffic education and social and economic implications of road accidents.

It says the government will provide financial assistance to states and local bodies to improve the quality of investigation of crash incidents for data collection, transmission and analyses.

The Indian Road Congress, premier technical body of highway engineers set up in 1934, has design guidelines for roads and pedestrian pathways. These ask for a minimum footpath width of 1.5 m to 4 m. But no urban body is legally bound to maintain a dedicated space for pedestrians.

Not binding by law
In a 2008 consultation paper, the Law Commission of India observed that in the absence of a Central legislation, it is left to the states to legislate on road safety. The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, is supposedly a deterrent to rash and negligent driving. The Rules of Road Regulation, 1989, do mention pedestrians' right of way at unregulated crossings.

But little of all this means anything on the road. "I know it's wrong but cars never stop for pedestrians," said Rohit Pillai, a Delhi motorist. "People either honk or abuse if one attempts to do so." A Down To Earth correspondent caught up with Chandrasekhar, in Mumbai, as he was waiting to cross the road at the Marine Drive. "One needs to sprint, even on a zebra crossing. The traffic signal turns green for such a short while that barely half the road can be crossed.

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"I know it is wrong but cars never stop to give way to walkers. People honk or abuse if one attempts to do so"

motorist, Delhi

The Marine Drive is a three-km stretch along the Arabian Sea. It has a promenade that lends itself to pedestrians. But the footpaths are too high, especially for the elderly. Other parts of the city are devoid of pedestrian facilities. "There are no footpaths in Mumbai's suburbs," said Pankaj Joshi, architect and executive director of the Urban Design Research Institute in Mumbai. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority is busy implementing infrastructure projects such as the metro, monorail, sea links, expressways and flyovers. But footpaths are not on its agenda. "Business districts have been developed for only those who have cars. Even though footpaths have been provided in some places, these do not connect or integrate with other parts of the city," said Joshi.

Urban planners and architects claimed the state government was working against its own data, which showed that walking accounts for about 55 per cent average daily trips. "In its right sense, any planning agency should cash in on this figure and strengthen infrastructure for walkers," said Ashok Datar, a transport expert working with the non-profit Mumbai Environmental Social Network. "But it looks like the development authority wants people to use their cars. It has now started constructing skywalks for pedestrians. The skywalks resemble caterpillars, are ugly, and do not solve the problem. These are required in some areas but should not be replicated all over."

Down to Earth Off the road, on to a skywalk
Elevated walkways are meant to disperse commuters from congested areas like bus stations. The development authority has planned 50 skywalks in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region at an estimated cost of Rs 600 crore. One such pilot skywalk, between Bandra (E) station and Bandra-Kurla Complex, is operational since June 2008. It is 1.3 km long and four metres wide.

"The skywalk was constructed for a peak hour capacity of 5,500 commuters but less than 100 people use it. The authority spent about Rs 13 crore on it," said Datar. He added there is a mismatch between pedestrian needs and what the state has to offer.

Sudhir Badami, transport consultant in Mumbai, said mindless sprouting of skywalks proved the government did not want to get footpaths in order. Badami, who studied at iit Mumbai in the 1970s, lives in Babulnath Marg in south Mumbai. "Footpaths in Mumbai were in a much better condition earlier. I would walk back from the Grant Road station. But now I am forced to take a taxi because the footpath is a mess and nonexistent."

Non-negotiable right
Everyone has a right to space on the road, said Faizan Jawed, an architect-cum-activist in Mumbai. "Why should they be left for private cars, and pedestrians be pushed on to skywalks? Pedestrians must be provided space on the road. This is non-negotiable." Non-profits have launched a campaign against skywalks in areas that have footpaths. Jawed also campaigns for dedicated cycle tracks in the city. "Cars cannot solve the transportation and congestion problems. They are the problem. We must pressure our government to provide good footpaths and dedicated cycle tracks," said he.

Neera Punj, convener of a people's group called CitiSpace, alleged the state government was ready to push only those transportation projects that involved crores of rupees and private companies. "The footpath in front of our society used to have hundreds of hawkers," said Punj who lives in Lotus Court near Churchgate station in south Mumbai. "In 2001, our residents' association decided to adopt the pavement and maintain it. It entailed a lot of administrative hassles but we managed to remove the hawkers. Our association spends Rs 40,000 per month for the pavement's protection and upkeep." But not all associations are rich enough to spend that kind of money. "Why should residents pay when they are paying taxes?" asked Punj.

As a policy, agreed a few town planners and architects Down To Earth spoke to, cities need to ensure there is an adequate network to help pedestrians directly travel to destinations. But the urban habitat model is changing rapidly. With segregation of land use supporting low-density development, commuting distances have steadily increased. The burgeoning Indian middle class is aspiring and looking at motor vehicles as an indispensable extension of itself.

Indian cities, unlike the ones in the US, have dense urban cores that are highly conducive for walking. But the share of walking trips is fast disappearing with the modern urban expansion being more car and two-wheeler oriented. "A disturbing trend revealed in the 2008 survey is the share of bus trips has slipped drastically," said Sachdeva. Delhi faces the danger of losing its walkability heritage, he added. The percentage of bus trips have fallen from 60 per cent in 2001 to 41 per cent in 2008, while over the same period car trips have increased 3 per cent to 13 (see graph More cars, fewer bus rides).

More cars, fewer bus rides  
Walking needed to reverse trend
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rites projects if Delhi implements all the public transport schemes as planned today, there would still be a shortfall of nine million trips. The projections are based on estimates that the population of Delhi between 2001 and 2021 shall grow from 14 million to 23 million. During this period vehicular trips are estimated to grow 131 per cent.

Walkability is no rocket science
Urban planners say it is easier to turn Mumbai into a pedestrian-friendly city provided the planning authorities will it. It will also be cost-effective compared to other transport projects such as the Rs 20,000 crore metro rail project.

Joshi of the Urban Design Research Institute said there is a need for citywide study to identify bottlenecks for pedestrians first and then take simple measures such as painting zebra crossings, reprogramming signals or increasing the duration of traffic signals so that people like Chandrasekhar don't have to sprint to cross the road. These measures can go a long way in easing pedestrian problems, he said. The institute has launched a year-long project to study how Mumbai can be made more walkable. Initial findings show how the system discourages pedestrians.

Two traffic signals in front of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, one of the busiest stations in Mumbai, illustrate the problem. "Both these traffic signals are programmed in a manner that pedestrians can never cross the road," said Kirti Maknija, architect with the institute. "The divider between the road is so narrow that barely one person can stand on it. There are many more traffic signals like these which discourage pedestrian movement."

A public space called the road
Architects are trying to incorporate hawkers in the city's plan. An architecture institute in Juhu in Mumbai is conducting one such study. "Our study area has a mixed population, ranging from film personalities to two urban villages, fishing villages and slums," said Benita Menezes, lecturer at the design cell of the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture (krvia). "We realized that the Irla nala flows through these areas and we could use it." The institute, along with P K Das and Associates, an architecture firm, and Juhu residents conducted a study in 2008. Commonly known as Vision Juhu, the aim of the study was to integrate various public spaces in Juhu and make the areas more pedestrian friendly.

The institute has proposed a six-metre-wide stretch on both sides of the Irla nala should be protected and developed in a way that the water flow is enhanced and the developed area used to relocate hawkers. The developed area would also have walkways and be connected to other open areas of Juhu, allowing pedestrian movement.

Then there are three metro stations within Juhu and all three open on the main roads. "Can you picture the chaos on roads when commuters from these stations come out? We have proposed realignment of these stations. If that is done, then burst points for metro stations would be open spaces. From there people can use footpaths or the developed sidewalks of Irla nala," said Menezes.

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"Simple measures like painting zebra crossings, reprogramming signals can go a long way in easing pedestrian problems"

architect, Mumbai

There are several nalas like Irla, and small rivers in Mumbai, that can be developed along the same lines. But Menezes is of the opinion that one big plan for the city won't work. The city needs a multi-scalar approach in which neighbourhoods prepare their own plans and see how best their area can become walkable, she added.

Citizens are becoming assertive. Several cities now have campaigns to push the pedestrian agenda. Hyderabad's Right To Walk campaign has led to the creation of a pedestrian safety cell. Last year, a Mumbai group headed by Krishnaraj Rao formed Sahasi Padyatri (meaning brave pedestrians), an informal group of residents demanding easy and safe footpaths. In March 2008, the group went around Mumbai suburbs and painted lanes on the road and declared them "only for pedestrians".

"We organized many such events. We expected people in cars to get angry, but their response, surprisingly, was positive. I think people saw the point," said Rao. He said foot overbridges were coming up in some areas but a lot more needed to be done.

Architects demand that the comprehensive transport survey 2005-08 be made public. "We have tried our level best, even through Right To Information application, but haven't been able to lay our hands on the survey. I feel the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority fears if this study is made public, people will question the very basis of sanctioning costly transportation projects," said Joshi. "Without a comprehensive assessment, such projects should not be cleared. If we provide proper footpaths for pedestrians, there is no need to construct a single skywalk in the city."

Immobile and dangerous
The immediate sign of the mobility crisis in Indian cities is traffic congestion and pollution. This may worsen as more commuters shift to personal vehicles.

While city managers and leaders have begun to eye the political returns on public transport investments, the most crucial link that remains invisible and neglected is walkability, the link between different modes of transport. If this is neglected in the planning process, it could, as in the case of Delhi, reduce demands on public transport. Eventually those who can afford it will switch to personal means of transport.

Down to Earth  
...Amarnath Tewary is back on his Bajaj Chetak. His Nikes back in the rack

The pedestrian movement has gone beyond footpath development for safe and comfortable passage. The aim has been to create an new ethos of urbanity by reducing automobile dependence. Urban planners and architects say the first step should be to improve the engineering and environmental features of pedestrian ways. The next step is to enforce measures to calm the traffic. One well known example is from the Netherlands, called Woonerf; it literally means a group of streets where pedestrians and cyclists are prioritized.

Indian cities have the chance to grow differently. In most cases people walk, cycle or take the bus. These cities could build on this inherent strength. In small and medium towns where the problems of mobility have not yet manifested, provision and planning could include cycle tracks and pedestrian networks. Civic authorities need a wing working full time on traffic calming measures, alongside attempting to maximize the transition of commuters from motorized modes of transport to non-motorized and public transit trips.

Perhaps Amarnath Tewary will then junk his scooter for good.

With reporting by Alok Gupta, Rajil Menon, Ashutosh Mishra, and Aparna Pallavi

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