Make room for pedestrians on India's roads

Carlin Carr, Bangalore Community Manager
Bangalore, 14 August 2014

Earlier this year, a well-known road safety activist from Bangalore was killed on the very streets she sought to improve. Kadambari Badami, who was a 37-year-old urban planner, was driving home when a bus traveling on the wrong side of the road ploughed into her car, killing the sole occupant on impact. Her case brought to light the woeful state of Bangalore's streets and the great risk at which both drivers and pedestrians travel on them.

Outraged citizens harnessed the attention to bring awareness to the need for improved road safety in the city. The demands have included more footpaths, which many activists claim are nearly non-existent. According to an article following the accident, half the people killed in accidents in Bangalore in 2012 were pedestrians. These issues cut across socio-economics, but disproportionately impact the poor, since few have access to cars and many walk to work. Children from disadvantaged neighborhoods use roads as cricket pitches and playgrounds in the absence of parks and safe play spaces. Errant drivers put these children at risk on a daily basis.

In Bangalore, motorist behavior is a major issue, in addition to poor roads and lack of footpaths. A survey on walkability in India found that Bangalore scored the lowest of seven surveyed cities with just 30 out of 100 points in the "motorist behavior" category. The survey's objective was to rate the Indian cities on walkability parameters and to inform policymakers and stakeholders on the changes required. "Bangalore's low score implies that vehicles seldom stop for pedestrians to cross a road and often halt on the zebra crossing at signals leaving pedestrians with minimum or no space to cross a road," says the site Walkability Asia. "At times, vehicles are driven on the footpaths, robbing the pedestrians of their exclusive zone. More worrying is that the areas where schools are located, too, fared equally badly."

In an effort to improve road safety conditions in India, Ashoka Changemakers, in collaboration with Underwriters Laboratories (UL), launched an online competition, 'Safer Roads, Safer India: Game-changing Innovations that Save Lives,' to crowd-sourcing ideas from across the country. One of the winning initiatives is from Delhi, Raahgiri Day, but has the potential for widespread appeal and implementation across the country.

For a few hours every Sunday morning, Delhiites celebrate freedom from cars. Raahgiri Day, as it is called, closes down a main part of Delhi to vehicular traffic for residents to walk, job, roller skate, ride bikes or to simply play. The Raahgiri initiative has been organized by Delhi Police and New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) with EMBARQ India. A.S. Bhal, economic adviser in the urban development ministry, said, "It's an exciting initiative that has gained a lot of traction. It focuses on the fact that roads are meant for all and not just motorized traffic."

Car-free days are simple, low-cost solutions that could easily be implemented in cities across the country. These types of initiatives take political will and active collaboration from citizens, but send a strong message: roads are not only meant for cars. It's a message that can go a long way in improving respect for pedestrians using the roads every day and to improving the safety of citizens young and old in Indian cities.

Photo: C/N N/G

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