The pedestrian, emblematic of the common person, the aam admi as today’s popular expression goes, is best forgotten lot in public plans and amenities in our country. India is quite satisfied being a country of contradictions in intimate co-existence. Multi-storeyed residential expansions give a grand view of India’s poverty and slums, the common man’s lot. The latter do not protest, are infinitely patients and capable of accepting everything philosophically, as if nothing has happened-in fact, nothing much indeed has happened to meet their needs.
The pedestrians are but one species of a larger genus, manifesting as bus travellers, cyclists, those who stand in queues for basic needs, and who patiently wait in hospitals for doctor’s attention, those who sleep on pavements in mid-summer half naked, either in a state of supreme contentment or exhaustion due to hunger and probably the latter and many more we see but do not notice. The government planer’s apathy institutionalises the failure to notice.
The overhead pedestrian bridge is an example of tokenism devoid of serious intent to meet a need. People are required to climb two or, at times, three flights to reach the overhead walking path to the other side of the road. Many do not want to undertake this strenuous way of crossing the road when s/he could run across, preferring the risk of being run over to the strain of mounting an dismounting 50 to 60 steps under rain and shine. An elevator or an escalator would have cost more, but pedestrian is not entitled to such a luxury.
Subways needing fewer steps to go down and climb up are more pedestrian friendly that Foot Over Bridges (FOBs) provided they are broad and well lit. They could even provide small shopping kiosks that could be shifter from the road side to relive the congestion on whatever pavements these are.
Plans for subways have run into problems of shifting water mains and telephone and power cables. After encountering many times consuming obstacles, government has concluded that FOBs are more practical and quicker option. It has at least begun thinking of escalators and ramps. In that process, several months have been lost and it will take several more to complete FOB projects that are on the anvil. These relatively simple installations that lend themselves to assembly like a Meccanno set are pompously referred to projects and will materialise in their own good time.
Failing to provide for likely obstacles and the long gestation periods continue to delay installation of even simple facilities, thereby testing the patience of pedestrian. Meanwhile, s/he makes do with what little is available.
Take our roads and streets. Any road or any street! The pavement for pedestrians is a nominal fulfilment of an obligation devoid of its spirit which took no searching, for they are there everywhere. Concretes slabs with rough edges telescoping into each other, one foot high platforms meant for athletes and not for women and aged people to climb on to escape from whizzing motor cycles and platform hugging cars, deep ditches, and uncollected garbage all on the pavement, add to the day’s excitement in the life of a pedestrian. Pavement misuse has become a part of city life. Action is awaited everywhere to change this. But it is a never ending wait.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)