August 7, 2011

INDIA: Pushed to the wall

BANGALORE, Karnataka / Deccan Herald / News / August 7, 2011

Pushed to the wall
By Shivakant Menon

A city should be planned keeping citizens’ welfare in mind and not vehicles. But Bangalore’s development and urban planning authorities have forgotten one very important and primary mode of transportation - walking.  According to a research paper by India Environment Portal (IEP) in 2008, Bangalore is among the worst cities in India for pedestrians, besides having the worst record for traffic violations. Deccan Herald spoke to a few citizens including people with disabilities, the visually impaired and the elderly, who face problems while walking on the roads. 

M L Devikala, affected by polio in 2000 and who has been on crutches since then, says that people like her can neither access the footpaths nor use skywalks. Devikala works with the Association for People with Disabilities as a rehabilitation worker. “The skywalks are very difficult to access while footpaths are uneven if at all they exist,” she says.

Many disabled citizens on wheelchairs cannot even think of going out on their own, says Devikala. Slopes for the wheelchairs to access the footpaths are missing, she adds.

“Do they expect us to jump with the wheelchair or perhaps never ever leave our homes, because we are handicapped?” questions Ajay Rathod, another handicapped citizen from Ashok Nagar.

Hasiru Usiru, a citizen’s group working to improve the quality of life in the City, has come out with an initiative starting July 11, called ‘Come, Cross the Road’. The once-in-a-week event, which started with seven volunteers, has gained publicity with more than 20 people from all age groups and people with disabilities joining the force. They focus on issues relating to pedestrians and the time and risk taken to cross a stretch of road in various spots across the City. Sridhar Raman from Hasiru Usiru says: “In places like Jayanagar, we found elderly people are scared to cross the roads, unless vehicles come to a complete stop. Even after crossing half way, it becomes very risky to climb and get down on the other side of the tall medians.” He said many people above 60 find it safer to remain at home or be inside a vehicle.

Skywalks are not used by most pedestrians and on an average every skywalk has around 50 steps on either side, making it extremely difficult for the elderly and disabled.

Annamma Thomas. who is in her 70s and resides in Domlur, says: “Crossing the road under the Domlur bridge is very difficult. I am old and slow on my feet. There is absolutely no footpath or zebra crossing for pedestrians who want to cross over to the side of Indira Nagar.”

Srirag Gudi, 32, walks from Richmond Layout to Shivajinagar in the morning to catch the bus to work. “Shops, salesmen, cows, dogs, broken slabs and manholes are found on the footpaths in Bangalore. These problems pertain to the City’s prime locations along M G Road (entire length), Brigade Road, the roads towards Shivajinagar, St Marks Road and Residency Road. It is easy to deduce the trouble faced by people living in other areas of the City,” added Srirag.

Students from Christ College residing near Tavarekere face many hurdles while commuting on foot. Snigdha Rajgarhia is one such student. As a vegetarian she faces the problem of having to walk through meat shops on the roads leading to her college from home. “The sight and smell is not a pleasant experience for people like me. Blood spilled onto the footpaths is just nauseating. I have to pass through these roads everyday,” says Snigdha. Some footpaths have broken slabs, which she says is ‘a Bangalore thing’.

Contradicting the common perception of Indians that the Western pedestrian life is better, Karthik Rao,a post-graduate in urban planning from US, says: “The US has everyone following the rules in the downtown areas and there are better footpaths. But in the suburbs, there are no footpaths as highways sprawl the cities.”

Karthik, who will get back to the US for a PhD in urban planning, says: “There is no need for expertise to provide footpaths with no hindrances. It is more common sense that the planners need.” He finds the issue of parked vehicles and footpaths built over sewage pipelines disturbing. “If roads for vehicles can be built on proper grounds, then why should pedestrians be made to walk over sewage,” he asks.

Santhi Menon, senior citizen: I live near the Marathahalli bridge. To walk to the temple a few metres away is impossible as the footpaths are broken and too high for me. BBMP does not want us to go outside.

Snigdha Rajgarhia, student of Christ College: Blood spilled onto the footpaths from mutton shops is just nauseating. I have to pass through such roads to the college everyday.

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