CSE releases its new findings on how walkable are our cities

  • Even today one third of Delhi’s daily commuters walk to work. But they face policy neglect
  • None of the Delhi localities surveyed for walkability have superlative qualities. But the dedicated pedestrian path in BRT corridor is the best amongst all
  • Worst are the localities of poor people that have high pedestrian volume but worst infrastructure
  • To increase the share of public transport ridership cities will need good pedestrian network
  • Policies are too weak to protect pedestrians and their right to walk

New Delhi June 12, 2009: Centre for Science and Environment has released its latest findings on how walkable are our cities in a roundtable organised in the capital today. This exposes the startling fact that even today one third of Delhi’s daily commuters walk to work. On a nation-wide basis share of walkers varies between 16 to 57 per cent of al trips depending on the nature and size of the city. Yet walkways are victims of policy neglect.

The stark evidence of this neglect is high number of fatalities in road accidents. The total number of accidents in Delhi is almost 2.5 times higher than that of Kolkata, and 2.1 times higher than Chennai. Only pedestrians in Delhi account for 47% of fatalities in the city. The walkers remain invisible in the maze of motorized traffic that chokes our roads. They walk in extremely unsafe and hostile conditions, in constant conflict with motorized traffic and are easy victims to crashes and accidents.

This is extremely worrying at a time when the cities are in the grip of paralyzing mobility crisis and pollution. The share of public transport ridership has already dropped dangerously from 60% to 43% in Delhi. As all public transport trips end and begin with walk trips the emerging public systems Metro, BRT, upgraded buses cannot work optimally if these are supported by a good pedestrian network. Any attempt to improve the share of public transport will lead to correspondent increase in walking. Even 50 per cent increase in kilometer traveled by public transport will lead to massive increases in the quantum of walking. Roads will have to be planned with more space for walking. This needs urgent intervention to meet the present and future demand for walking in the city.

Walk the talk

CSE has conducted random survey in representative locations in Delhi to assess the state of walking facilities, -- engineering design, walking environment for pedestrians, and their exposure to traffic and safety. Locations were selected to represent different types of land-use -- The pilot bus rapid transit corridor from Ambedkar Nagar to Chirag Delhi with dedicated pedestrian way. Connuaght Place, the central business district. Interstate Bus Terminus an important multi-modal interchange point. All India Institute of Medical Sciences, a sensitive area. Lajpat Nagar an important commercial area. Residential colonies include Patparganj, Chittaranjan Park and Alaknanda. Delhi Haat as a recreational area. Nehru Place another business district. Seelampur Zaffrabad, Govindpuri as low income neighbourhoods.

  • None of the locations meet superlative international best practices.
  • But the dedicated pedestrian path of the BRT corridor has scored the best amongst all sites surveyed.
  • All residential colonies have scored poor.
  • Neighbourhoods of poor have scored worst when India’s urban poor are too poor to even afford a bus ride for daily commuting. Often the only option for them is to walk.
  • Only the BRT corridor has disable friendly engineering design.
  • Walk facilities near hospitals like AIIMS need to be hundred per cent handicap friendly with supportive tools if subways become absolutely necessary.
  • The current engineering guidelines for pedestrian facilities are outdated and inadequate. Even the basic clarity on height of the pavements is missing. Steep heights of footpaths make them inaccessible. Even the minimum width is not maintained as walking space is chipped away for creating more space for motorized vehicles.
  • Prominent commercial areas like Connaught place show mixed results. Some stretches including RK Marg and Janpath have improved. But Connaught Lane, link to Scindia House have problem of connectivity and obstruction.
  • In most places walking space is being surrendered to parking of cars.
  • Focus on signal free and seamless flow of motorized vehicles is inciting jay walking and increasing risk of accidents.
  • User survey brings out disenchantment of the walkers. The main points of complaints include uneven surface, potholes, urinals, height of the pavement that makes them walk on the road.
  • However, pedestrians on the BRT lane are very happy with the sidewalks and have commented how their daily drudgery of walking has changed because of the improvement.

Unfortunately, obsession with seamless, signal free travel for motorized vehicles through flyovers, expressways and elevated ways, is disrupting direct shortest routes of the walkers and increasing distances and travel time for walkers. This can adversely affect public transport usage.

Should cities legislate right to walk?

It might surprise many but India does have a plethora of laws and bye laws related to road safety, road infrastructure, pedestrian protection, and urban planning that have bearing on pedestrians. But laws are fragmented and do not add up to effectively promote pedestrianisation or protect pedestrians and their rights with any degree of stringency. Currently, laws cannot even prevent loss of walking space to widen the roads. Communities are not involved in decision making on road infrastructure.

What are other governments doing?

In many US and European cities policies are creating walkable neighbourhoods and fully pedestrian spaces. Some global examples are Kaufingerstrafe in Munich, Nanjing Road in Shanghai. Copenhagen has done extensive pedestrianisation. Zurich and Oxford streets are good examples. Buenos Aires, Curitiba, Sai Paolo, Shanghai have begun to create car free shopping streets. Studies show pedestriansation of shopping areas has positive effects on sales.

Legal reforms have also been initiated to pedetrianise as well as to reduce traffic volumes. In London, Road Traffic Reduction Act allows authorities to reduce traffic levels or their rate of growth in targeted area to reduce congestion and improve air quality. San Francisco has enforced Better Street Policy. New York city is promoting pedestrian infrastructure. In Auckland Land Transport (Road Users) Rule stops motorists from stopping, or parking on a footpath and pedestrians have to be given right of the way.

Agenda for action

CSE is concerned that road engineering interventions once made cannot be changed easily but it will permanently decide the design of the network and influence travel choices of people. It is imperative to ensure that road design does not increase dependence on and usage of personal vehicles. That is possible only if policy focus shifts to public transport, walking and cycling.

  • Government should mandate pedestrian plans and make it conditional to infrastructure funding: Investments in road infrastructure before Commonwealth Games must be linked to an explicit pedestrian plan in Delhi. Even in other cities city development plans under JNNURM programme should have mandatory provision of pedestrianisation and the funding should be linked with it.
  • Immediately reform engineering and environmental guidelines for walkways and make their implementation mandatory: Ensure these guidelines are incorporated by all road building agencies.
  • Harmonise existing laws for effective implementation: While relevant laws will have to be harmonised it will have to be combined with more direct legal protection of pedestrian space and rights.
  • Need a comprehensive Road users act for targeted pedestrianisation; segregation of space by users; system of penalty to prevent encroachment in pedestrian space; prevent usurpation of pedestrian space for motorised traffic without proper justification.
  • Urban local bodies must implement walkability audits of pedestrian ways
  • Public transport plans must include pedestrian plan for multimodal integration.
  • Zero tolerance policy for accidents
  • Mandate pedestrian plans in small and medium towns: The programme for small and medium towns under the aegis of the Union ministry of urban development should make pedestrian plan mandatory.
  • Implement measures to reduce traffic volumes and introduce traffic calming measures:

For more discussion and details contact:

Anumita Roychowdhury – 9811793923 (anumita@cseindia.org)

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