(Profile – Photo source - https://pixabay.com/en/hyderabad-india-city-urban-people-2707439/)
The following points illustrate the problems of pedestrians on roads of Indian cities with some of the related facts and figures.
1. It is NOT safe to walk on roads in Indian cities – It is not easy, safe or healthy to walk on roads in Indian Cities. Urban planning in the country seems to have failed to accommodate for pedestrian amenities required for a citizen to choose walking as a preferred option to commute. Rapid urbanization and massive industrialization have contributed to taking air pollution in India to alarming levels, which makes walking on roads difficult for citizens. Civic bodies appear to be ineffective in efforts to address the day-to-day problems faced by pedestrians. And, society at large doesn’t seems to be concerned about the very basic privilege of a citizen to walk on the road with dignity and pride.
It is observed that, walking in urban India currently requires tricky negotiation through a series of obstacles and impediments, which often necessitates risking one’s safety – or sometimes, one’s life. Pedestrian neglect in Indian cities is not just an issue of low prioritization and poor implementation of pedestrian amenities, but also a reflection of a larger systemic issue: the absence of a comprehensive set of legal rights and remedies for pedestrians in India. This situation is especially precarious for vulnerable groups like the elderly or children.
It may be noted that, pedestrian fatalities constitute a significant share of total fatalities and the magnitude is in fact much higher in cities that lack adequate pedestrian facilities. In New Delhi, Bengaluru and Kolkata, the pedestrian fatality share is greater than 40 per cent. In the case of Bengaluru, three pedestrians are killed on roads every two days and more than 10,000 are hospitalised annually. Elderly people and school children carry a large share of the burden with 23 per cent fatalities and 25 per cent injuries (Bhatt et al., 2013).
On the other hand, Indian roads are extremely polluted. Data available on pollution are alarming. India is ranked amongst nations with highest level of air pollution in a recently published data by International Energy Agency and World Health Organization. The Picture - 1 below illustrates the same. Further, as shown in Picture – 2, India happens to be amongst the nations with highest number of deaths from air pollution. The next picture (Picture - 3 below), shows that ten out of the fifteen most polluted cities of the world are Indian cities (as per 2014 data published by WHO). Most of these cities are not amongst the metro cities or mega cities but are amongst Tier-II cities.
|Picture – 1: Nations with Highest & Lowest Pollutions (Reference - https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/02/the-best-and-worst-countries-for-air-pollution-and-electricity-use)|
|Picture – 2: Nations with Most & Least Deaths from Air Pollution (Reference - https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/02/the-best-and-worst-countries-for-air-pollution-and-electricity-use)|
|Picture – 3: Worlds most polluted cities are in India (Reference - http://www.thehawk.in/news/these-are-the-15-most-polluted-cities-in-the-world ; Source – WHO, 2014)|
2. Interestingly, studies suggest Indians are also amongst the nationals having least average-daily-walking-steps (refer Picture - 4) - Despite the fact that most of the parts of the country has got good weather to walk most of the time round the year, we Indians do not walk as much as (most of) other nationals walk. Stanford University analysis published in the journal Nature, we Indians are officially among the laziest people in the world. The study ranks India at 39 after comparing the walking patterns of 46 countries. The picture below (Picture - 4) is a good visualization on walking pattern of some of the countries across the globe. To an otherwise health conscious urban population, the issues of pedestrian safety and the issue of air pollution may surely be contributing reasons to poor walking figures illustrated in the graph (Picture - 4). This correlation (between conditions for walking on roads and average-daily-walking-steps for any region) may worth investigating by researchers.
|Picture - 4: Average Daily Walking Steps across the Globe (Reference - https://www.scoopwhoop.com/indians-are-among-the-laziest-people-in-the-world-because-we-dont-like-to-walk/#.9f42jyzz5 published July 14, 2017; Source – Tim Althoff, Stanford)|
3. Nevertheless, everyday over a fifth of non-agricultural working class walks to their workplace in India– Over a fifth of 200 million working Indians (who are neither employed in agriculture nor in household industries) commute to work on foot, followed by commutes by cycle, moped or motorcycle and bus, new data from the Census shows. More illustration on mode of transportation of working population in megacities is given in the following picture (refer - Picture – 6).
But, in the other picture (Picture – 7), the census data also shows that in India most of the commuter to work place walk less than 5 kilometers (approximately 6,600 steps, assuming 1 kilometer = 1,320 steps). This is far less than 8000 – 10,000 steps of daily activity recommended by most of the reputed agencies related to healthcare (reference - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3197470/table/T1/ )
|Picture – 5: Non-Agriculture Workers Commute to Workplace (Reference - http://www.thehindu.com/data/india-walks-to-work-census/article7874521.ece; Source – Census Data)|
|Picture – 6: Commuting in India’s Megacities (Reference - http://www.thehindu.com/data/india-walks-to-work-census/article7874521.ece; Source – Census Data)|
|Picture – 7: Mode wise distance wise commute to work place in India (Reference - http://www.india.uitp.org/articles/mobility-in-rural-india; Source - Census data)|
4. A point to note is that data show gender disparity in walking pattern - Another mention worthy finding of the Stanford University study (mentioned above in Point 2) was that inequality largely persisted between men and women, where women in general were less active. The Indian data points out that women walk a mere 3,684 steps a day compared to 4,606 steps by a man, on an average.
Census data of India reveals that commuting for work is even less common among women workers - 45 per cent of women do not commute for work - and the trend is observed to be higher in rural than in urban areas.
Anyhow, it is a known fact that in comparison to relatively better economies (China or Western Europe), there exist a significant gender disparity in India across a spectrum of development indicators (Picture - 8).
|Picture – 8: Gender Disparity in India (Reference: http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/how-india-ranks-on-gender-parity-and-why/ ; Source: Mckinsey Global Institute Report, 2015)|
Therefore, there is a likelihood that observed gender disparity in walking pattern could be just reflection of larger gender disparity prevailing in society. Many studies suggests that vulnerability of women pedestrian in developing countries (like India) have close link with existing socio-cultural conditions. Thus, in addition to general factors limiting women pedestrian like road congestion, exposure to crowding, air and noise pollution, inaccessibility, the other risks are violence, crime and sexual harassment (Seedat, MacKenzie, & Mohan, 2006).
Nevertheless, it is important for countries across the globe to work towards gender equality. It may be noted that narrowing the gender gap at work could add $28tn to the global economy by 2025 (according to a research by Mckinsey conducted in 2015).
It may sound convincing that the causes of observed gender disparity in data of pedestrians on Indian roads be rooted on existing socio-cultural conditions. So, efforts should be made to address the causes and effects may automatically start improving. But, there could also be merit in the converse argument. Thus, the possibility of bringing changes to socio-cultural conditions (for gender equality) by making Indian roads much safer for women could also be possible, at least to some extent. May be, because, there could be link between socio-cultural norms and insecure environment for the issues like gender disparity. Researches in this direction at different levels and under diverse conditions may be helpful in conclusive deducing any associated link and its characteristics.
5. Largely the poor walk to work in Indian cities - Experts believe that in urban India, mostly poor people walk to work as they can not afford for other available alternatives. “In urban areas, a large number of people who walk to work are poor,” Shreya Gadepalli, Regional Director, Institute of Transportation and Development Policy told the Times of India. “They often walk long distances despite inconvenient and dangerous conditions because they cannot afford any other form of transport.”.
Roads are amongst the important urban Public Spaces in Indian cities. Diversity and dynamism on Indian roads portray picture of a society full of life and vigor. However, these roads also reflect that this public space (roads) is not being put to use for the larger benefit of all the citizens. The facilities available on the roads do not seem to be doing justice towards pedestrians (who are mostly assumed to represent poorer population).
Now, in the following couple of points, an attempt is made to briefly sum up some of the reasons usually cited for problems of pedestrians on Indian roads:-
1. Pedestrian is lost in the era of Rapid Urbanization – In recent past, urbanization has taken place at unprecedented pace in India. This has not given the governing agencies time to develop required facilities in a planned manner. The daunting challenge of accelerated pace of urban transformation faced by India can be understood with the available census data on rate of urbanization and on rate of motorization (Picture – 9 and Picture – 10).
|Picture – 9: Rapid Urbanization; (Reference: http://iihs.co.in/knowledge-gateway/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/RF-Working-Paper-Transport_edited_09062015_Final_reduced-size.pdf; Source: Census Data for 2011)|
|Picture - 10: Growth of Registered Vehicles in India (Reference: http://iihs.co.in/knowledge-gateway/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/RF-Working-Paper-Transport_edited_09062015_Final_reduced-size.pdf; Source: Census Data for 2011)|
Workers moving to urban clusters for better job opportunities is an age old story. Cities have always been thought as engine of economic growth and prosperity. Traditional view of linking urbanization to job creation and to economic development was dominant in past decades in India and therefore, it was not possible to restrict, to resist or to control (with the intent of systematically organizing) the pace of urbanization in this poor country with consistently increasing population.
In view of exploding expansion of cities and rate of motorization, appropriate planning of road facilities, which may do justice with pedestrians could not be conceived, planned and executed. Eventually, the concerns of pedestrians consistently got ignored to the extent that the roads of Indian cities became extremely unsafe for them.
But, new researches indicate that building urban infrastructure, enacting directed policies, encouraging management of knowledge capital and promoting entrepreneurship could make the real difference for maximizing economic advantage from urbanization. There is no simple linear relationship between urbanization and economic growth, or between city size and productivity. The potential of urbanization to promote growth is likely to depend on how conducive the infrastructure and institutional settings are. Removing barriers to rural–urban mobility may enable economic growth, but the benefits will be much larger with supportive policies, markets and infrastructure investments. Cities should use realistic population projections as the basis for investing in public infrastructure and implementing supportive land policies. Governments should seek out ways of enabling forms of urbanization that contribute to growth, poverty reduction and environmental sustainability, rather than encouraging (or discouraging) urbanization per se. Thus, it is suggested that, to capitalize on the benefits of urbanization (that has happened) so far, a strategic planning with due considerations to inclusive development and to a just and fair distribution of scarce urban public spaces will be critical. This can not exclude suitable infrastructure with enabling technology to address the issues of pedestrians.
2. Challenging Dynamics of Urban Infrastructure Development –
Definition of Urban Public Space - Francis Tibbalds (1992: 1) describes the public realm as, “all parts of the urban fabric to which the public have physical and visual access”. Public space is the space we share with strangers, people who are not our relatives, friends, or work associates (Walzer, 1986: 470). Almost all definitions and views about public space include the primary indicators of accessibility and activity. We can single out the various definitions to an inclusive one: urban public space is a space within the city area which is accessible to all people and is the ground for their activity. According to Madanipour’s (1996) terms “they are controlled by a public agency, and are provided and managed in the public interest”.
In the days of rapid urbanization, urban public space is a scarce resource and it is important to plan its utilization for inclusive development of a city. Roads are the most important urban public space in developing countries like India. Ensuring access to roads to different mode of transportation in such a way that pedestrian can walk safely and more importantly with dignity and pride should be utmost priority of urban planners. This is possible only when planners understand dynamics of road traffic and public behavior on roads to much greater depth. These days advanced systems installed for surveillance (in public places and private places) do produce data for analysis and interpretation of planners. Researches on the related topics may also be promoted for understanding different minute aspects of roads in different areas during different times.
In many occasions, even with making a choice of best possible solutions, it becomes difficult for roads to accommodate pedestrians due to other dominant mode of transportation and / or due to encroachments of roadside footpath; in such situations, alternate access to pedestrians through pedestrian-walk-ways parallel to roads in the same vicinity may be considered.
It is widely believed amongst the development sector experts that both public and private agencies entrusted to urban planning and urban infrastructure development in developing countries have temptation to replicate successful urban plans and planning methodologies from advanced countries. In the process, as many people suggest, they often miss basic local needs. Not addressing to pedestrian issues in urban planning in Indian cities is cited as one such case.
Many times governing agencies and administrative bodies responsible for urban development also could not give adequate attention towards urban planning. Some people believe that these organizations function in a work culture which is highly hierarchal, strictly driven from top and very much focused on just getting urban development projects executed and generating output (rather than focused on ensuring objectives are met and impactful outcomes is achieved). Such organizations limit collaborations both within and outside the organization. A few others suggest that political compulsions of democratic governments to do things for public good in chunks of short-term spoils the larger vision of long term planning for urban development.
Another group of people point out that critical civil issues of interest to general public and to larger societal benefits do not get due attention in the prevailing political process in India. Developing consensus among influential political groups or dominant communities to converge for a solution on general issues is usually found to be a difficult task. Mostly, political groups and communities have many issues to address, which relates to the specific interests to these entities. Thus, it takes time and effort to voice civil issues of general public. Problems of pedestrian is considered to be one such issue.