City caters to motorised transport, gives importance to inanimate objects and not to human beings, says Consumer Action Group senior researcher
Despite being touted as the first city to have introduced the Non-Motorised Transport policy in the entire country, Chennai does not seem to respect its non-polluting commuters or at least this is what statistics reveal. A total of 158 pedestrians have died and 670 have sustained injuries in road accidents that took place in 2020.
To make the city roads safer for pedestrians, infrastructure has to be improved, laws have to be enforced and motorists have to be educated, say urban planning experts and residents. Pedestrians shouldn’t be treated like second class citizens by giving first preference to motorised transport, they feel.
Left in the lurch
“Nobody respects the pedestrians and they are not considered as legitimate road users. As a city we have a single point agenda to ensure that flow of motorised transport is not affected and anything that posed an impediment should be removed including the pedestrians. We have been giving importance to an inanimate object rather than a human being,” said Sumana Narayanan, senior researcher, Consumer Action Group.
She said that pavements are a joke in the city. “They are encroached upon by vehicles and garbage and are uneven mostly. It is great to see government coming up with pedestrian plaza in Pondy Bazaar, but it is happening only in small stretches,” she added.
Urban planning experts point out that the foot over bridges and subways are used less, and hence, are useless. “The infrastructure also shows that priority is given to vehicles and to ensure their movement is not affected. Hence pedestrians have to go under the road or over it and this is unfair. Priority should be given to help cyclists and pedestrians cross at surface and for this the government has to follow the Indian Road Congress guidelines,” said Ms. Narayanan.
After the government introduces the infrastructure, the focus should be on attitude change in motorists to respect pedestrians, cyclists and other forms of non-motorised transport. “This should be done at the time of issuing a licence. Even pedestrians need to be made aware of their rights on the road,” she explained.
D. Neelakannan, president, Federation of Madhavaram Residents Welfare Association comprising 43 units, said that while most of the focus is on roads inside the city, residents living outside the core part of the city are suffering without proper traffic intersections to cross the road.
“We have been fighting for signals with traffic islands. People here have to walk a long distance to cross the road or risk their lives and squeeze their way through the gap in the median to reach the other side,” he said.
Aswathy Dilip, senior programme manager of Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), said that recently they did a study of road accidents on OMR.
According to the 2018-19 data, 45% of accidents on this corridor involved pedestrians. “At a quick glance, one may wonder with almost a foot over bridge (FOB) every 2 km, what could be the problem. However, pedestrians find it extremely inconvenient to use the FOBs and prefer to cross at-grade. Also, between the 2 km stretch, the lack of mid block crossings are a huge concern,” she said.
She added that to save the most vulnerable road users — pedestrians — from road deaths, first, there is a need to redesign our roads with wide, continuous, and segregated footpaths. There has to be adequate number of mid-block crossings, safe intersections with refuge islands, traffic calming and adequate lighting.
N. Kannan, Additional Commissioner of Police, said all his traffic police officers have been asked to educate motorists to respect pedestrians, cyclists and other non-motorised transport modes. “We are doing this at junctions where pedestrian deaths have occured. Mostly pedestrians get hit at stretches which have medians. At these places, we have started stopping and educating them about the dangers. We are also planning a big campaign for pedestrian safety,” he said.
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