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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 21, february 16-28, 2010
Pedestrian safety – a matter
of low priority in Chennai
(By a Special Correspondent)

The city witnessed yet another exercise at converting existing two-way traffic systems into one-ways, recently. This was to ensure smooth flow of traffic. Elsewhere, huge flyovers are coming up, once again, as we have said so many times before, catering to private vehicles and edging pedestrians to the periphery. Government is talking about elevated corridors to enable vehicles to travel at high speeds. But what of the pedestrian in Chennai? Where does he go and who cares for him?

Every time a proposal for easing traffic snarls comes up, pedestrians of Chennai can be reasonably sure that it means one more compromise with their own safety. The one-way conversions are a simple example to illustrate this. The moment a road is declared one-way, it ceases to have any traffic signals. The average pedestrian depends on traffic signals to cross roads. With traffic signals being done away with, or simply switched off, traffic continues to come on endlessly and those seeking to cross roads on foot have to do so at their own risk. Yet another issue with one-ways is that traffic is often diverted into narrow bylanes that were never meant to handle vehicular traffic on a continuous basis. This puts danger in the way of those who walk in these areas regularly.

Pedestrian crossings are practically non-existent in our city. Where they do exist, there is no protection to those who use them. Even the most important arterial roads lack basic coordination among traffic lights to ensure that pedestrians can cross in safety. Mount Road and South Beach Road (Kamaraj Salai) are two examples where pedestrians cross at great risk, all the while competing with vehicles going at high speeds. In many countries, it is mandatory for vehicles to stop as soon as a pedestrian sets foot on the zebra crossing. Not so in India and, more importantly, never in Chennai.

Foot overbridges and subways are announced and also declared open with much fanfare at various places in the city that see heavy traffic movement. Most of these become space for antisocial elements. The subways are poorly illuminated and suffer frequently from drain water seepage, giving the average pedestrian very little confidence in them. As for foot overbridges, very few pedestrians appear to be interested in climbing all the way up and down when, in typical Chennai fashion, they can simply dash across the road and clamber over medians.

In short, there is a complete absence of any emphasis on pedestrians, street culture and walkways as far as urban planning goes. Despite budgets doubling and tripling for road-widening and infrastructure building, hardly anything is spent on pedestrian facilities. Most of the road-widening has been done at the expense of footpaths. And wherever footpaths continue to survive, they have been vastly reduced in width – from average eight feet that once existed, we are now down to two or three feet. This shortening has also necessarily meant an increase in the height of the footpath and, as a consequence, the elderly and children have severe problems in climbing on to them.

This despite Chennai being a city where 28% of the population walks, with another significant percentage utilising public transport which in turn involves walking at various places. A recent study has shown that Chennai fares poorly on walkability index – a figure that is calculated as (W1 x Availability of footpath)+ (W2 x Pedestrian Facility rating). W1 and W2 are parametric weights, assumed as 50% for both. Chennai has a rating of 0.77 as compared to foreign capital cities which on similar rating scales score in double digits. In the past few years, we have seen local residents complaining and staging protests about poor pedestrian facilities but the authorities, in their quest for smooth-flowing traffic, have brushed these issues aside.

How can our city claim to be international in its outlook if it continues to neglect the requirements of its pedestrians? The worldover, most cities are working towards encouraging people to walk, whenever possible, for their errands. This is shown to reduce traffic congestion and pollution and also improve public health. In Chennai we appear to be taking the opposite route!


In this issue

Planning for better days for the Cooum
Pedestrian safety – a matter of low priority in Chennai
Three men, a sidewalk and a morning Tamil paper
After the SVS days – the slide
Historic Residences of Chennai - 36
Other stories

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your Diary


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