The paranoia of pedestrian(s)

A reflection on 'walkability' in South Asia
By: Papia Samajdar

Aug 29, 2012

It was that time of the day, when lunch will be served too late to make the hunger pangs wait, as well as to order a small snack, because the canteen fellows are too busy preparing lunch, plus its a bad excuse to let a customer escape from their hardships of the preparation.

So me and my colleague decide to walk to the nearest corner store to buy ourselves a packet of biscuits to just about console our hunger. The walk is a short one, close to Batra hospital; we just had to cross a couple of institutes. However that does not necessarily mean, that the walk will be a  pleasant one or by any means an easy one! With no pavements to walk on, the entire city seemed to be in a rush. Cars whizz by honking angrily for us to get out of their way – indicating we have no business to be walking on the roads, bikers barely missing us, as confused and hurt we scurry against the wall to save the city of the chaos we were causing.

Delhi is by no measure a walkable city! Though the National capital of the billion plus countrymen does have the maximum number of pedestrians. The pathways are either encroached upon by shop owners – either by their shops or their cars, broken or too dirty for even a venture to use them to walk. Horror stories of people barely skipping death by falling in open manholes during monsoons add on to this long list of 'un-walkability'.

One would think, this is typical of a large ruthlessly paced car centric western influenced metropolitan, however other cities do not show any mercy on the pedestrians either. The rushing cars impose their right on the roads, encroaching on the right to walk. By no means, does an Indian walk for pleasure on the roads – unless they are into adventure sports!

South Asia is much the same in that respect. Ofcourse I have not visited every city- every town in the region, but by and large the attitude of the car owner seem to be in harmony across the region. Dhaka has pavements only in places, where people never walk, and the rest of the city- the pedestrian has to put up a steady fight to walk and walk with dignity amongst the crawling traffic of massive imported Japanese cars, rickshaws, bullock carts and so on. A typical Dhaka pedestrian is likely to be a rural immigrant trying to make ends meet, and his paths are criss-crossed by varied hardships along with ones posed by the car centric 'rich', who do not seem to miss the opportunity to crib about  the bad traffic conditions, which they themselves contribute to..

Colombo seemed to have better regards for the ones on feet on its street. The pathways well maintained, absolutely clean, drainage system properly maintained, a class apart from its northern neighbours. Digging a little deeper, the army is to be thanked! They in their own 'sweet' way, control migration in the city and the municipality is under their watchful eye. No wonder, tiny Colombo gives the first impression of a quaint European city..

Kathmandu seemed the most progressive, when it came to taking care of their pedestrians. Wherever I went - hordes of people just walked – to work, school, colleges, homes,, women, children, adolescents,  couples, mothers, colleagues – all on the roads, on pathways made and maintained for them. The overhead crossover bridges stood well utilized and rarely did pedestrian 'species' spill over on the traffic – heavy with Indian made cars, buses, rickshaws and bikes.

Interestingly, Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur have managed to keep their Darbar square and the surrounding area car free. This immense measure has given the city its characteristic human space, where the walkers are spared of  constant fear of being run down, or the pleasure of the surrounding beauty snatched away by loud honky motorists, as is the case in most of the region.

During my whole stay, I tried to compare the walking culture with other Indian cities vis-a-vis the infrastructure support that is given to support this culture, and no city came even close to compete with the happy experience a pedestrian might have  - where threats to their life are rather reduced, and an evening stroll might not strip them off their vital organs. If you like to walk, Kathmandu might be a good option, as the valley city has started reclaiming the 'car space' for the option of safe and enjoyable  walk.

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