In most of the cities/towns footpaths are in a state of neglect. Apart from wearing a dangerous and unkempt look, they have been made narrow by encroachments and pavement hawkers. Footpaths on both sides must be at least 1.5 metres wide, with even wider footpaths at bus stops. Footpaths in the cities pose an everyday challenge to pedestrians, with garbage and debris dumped on it, apart from encroachment. As a result, the footpath is not usable and pedestrians are left to fight for space with the heavy traffic.
On the pedestrians’ part, a question being asked is ‘where are the footpaths’? Pedestrians are forced to share the roads with speeding vehicles. No doubt, the authorities are forced to reduce the space for footpaths as the vehicular traffic has also increased. But, there are no footpaths despite the area being the hub of the city due to its location. A person has to walk on the sides of a road and when two or three vehicles from the opposite directions come it is quite difficult for a pedestrian to give way to the vehicles. Is this not a strange situation in Indian towns and cities?
All over the city, builders are too converting footpaths into parking places or approach roads for their buildings. Cities have no systematised footpaths for easy flow of pedestrians. One may walk along one footpath in an area, which simply vanishes at the next turn. City’s biggest affliction is that footpaths are encroached on: by shops, STD booths, bus-stops, garbage dumps, you name it, they have. Most of the city bus shelters in Indian cities are on footpaths. Most of them even use it as a permanent address for business by placing mobile tiffin centres, pan shops, puncture repairing shops, etc. For old people, it becomes very difficult and unsafe if they have to walk on the road as footpaths hardly exist. It does not matter if only a few people per day take it but the footpath is an entitlement of all citizens. They have to be kept clean, stumble-free and devoid of any obstructions.
Residents living in the cities say that the footpath is direly needed. However, with no walkways, pedestrians end up walking on drain covers, which are dangerously uneven. It’s just that, the footpaths are less for man and more for manholes. They become the street dwellers’ accommodation, the street vendors’ outlet, the public garbage dumping ground and a lot more except a pedestrian’s freeway. Pedestrian footpaths in most parts of the city are under illegal occupation by shopkeepers and vendors or are used as a parking area for vehicles by people visiting commercial establishments. Corporation officials say that encroachment eviction drives are held periodically but encroachers return quickly. Why?
One of the main reasons for pedestrian casualties is the encroachment of footpaths by not only commercial establishments and hawkers, but also by motorists. There are incidents that two-wheelers ride on footpath during peak traffic on roads and most of the two-wheelers who ride on footpath disrupt those walking on the pavement with the horn.
Pedestrians are losing space on roads and on-street parking often takes precedence over pedestrian infrastructure like paved sidewalks. The absence of adequate numbers of public toilets facilities in Indian cities is also creating public urinal problems. Pedestrians have no choice but to walk on the road, thereby disrupting traffic flow. If we look at the percentage of fatalities in accidents, pedestrians come first, followed by two-wheeler riders. On the road, the right of the pedestrian should come first.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)