The unwalkable footpaths

Two-wheelers, parked vehicles, encroachments leave almost little to no space to walk over footpaths.

Credit : Indie Journal

Bhumika Oak | The traffic congestion in Pune is not just a trouble for drivers, but pedestrians too are enraged due to it. Vehicles, especially two-wheelers, being driven over the footpaths in the city during peak traffic hours as the roads are jammed, are proving to be a headache for pedestrians. Moreover, parked vehicles, broken pavements and hawkers, are leaving almost little to no space to walk over footpaths, compelling people to walk on the roads amid traffic.

Traffic burdens are a permanent hurdle in the lives of people, especially for the ones living in the cities. The city has lost on numerous accounts in delivering a fair pedestrian ecosystem. Footpaths rarely exist. But when they do, the width is too narrow and the footpath is too high. Often the footpaths are broken, discontinuous and full of obstruction. Some shopkeepers selling pre-owned cars park their ‘vehicles for sale’ on the footpath. Street vendors taking over streets and sidewalks.

"The current situation of pedestrian footpaths is not very good. They need to be better, broader and require good sources. The encroachments need to be controlled," Sujit Patwardhan, founder and trustee of Parisar - a civil society organisation working on lobbying and advocacy for sustainable development said.

Along with this, the bikers of Pune city also create a blockage for pedestrians. They suffer while two-wheelers encroach upon footpaths and the pavements are converted into roads for driving out of traffic from the main road.

"Footpath is an assurance of being safe while walking. But the rise in traffic has made the two-wheels come on footpaths," said a resident who used the footpath off Ganeshkhind Road near the Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU) regularly. He added that this has not only taken away the way for pedestrians to walk safely but has also caused risk to the lives of people.



“This happens because pedestrians are not on the priority list. Today, the city is not for people, but for vehicles. The officials will take about a hundred years to change the footpath situation in Pune,” Civic activist and convenor of ‘Pedestrians First’ Prashant Inamdar said.

Two-wheeler motorcyclists and sometimes even three-wheeler drivers use the footpaths to get ahead during heavy traffic flow. The BRTS lane is also consistently used by them. These violations are carried out with zero enforcement happening right under the nose of the traffic police.

But we have no other option," says Siddhant Shelke, a regular commuter, who travels by Pune University Chowk said, adding, “We have no other solution as we have to reach college in time. There i about a 1.5-2 kms traffic stretch every day. Driving over a footpath is not a stunt I wish to perform. We see one signal go green five to six times, yet we are still at the same place.”

Talking about the issue, a former official of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) commented on the condition of anonymity, “Law of enforcement is related to police and not the local bodies. If an individual parks or drives on the footpath, the law of enforcement reduces in the PMC. There are many political aspects to this enforcement. If this law is implemented in full-fledged i.e. 100 percent applied, then this issue can be solved.”

The Pedestrian policy on the PMC website says, 'The policy is a milestone in our efforts to provide consistent, high-quality pedestrian infrastructure with equitable allocation of road space.'

However, Inamdar says, “The administration is the largest encroachment on the footpaths. There are no footpaths, and if there are they are not walkable. Design, construction defects, capacity and maintenance are the four reasons for this.”



According to Patwardhan, the city's mechanism to receive and resolve complaints about the same is also lacking. "If you complain about encroachment to the officials, when there are so many different areas in the city and attending to one complaint in one place is not going to solve the problem about the pedestrians because the rest of the remaining places will still be the same. So, one cannot complain about the same issue again and again as it will result in the person giving up on the matter."

Pavements are an essential part of city infrastructure. Older people prefer walking and they need these safe spaces. With the increase in the number of discontinuous footpaths, it has been difficult for these people to even move. This has also resulted in people tripping and falling, causing them to get hurt.

A sexagenarian said in this regard, “When the authorities put concrete slabs to make the pavement, it has to be strong enough. It has to be constructed properly first, for its continuity to be ensured. This is not the public's job; it is something the head authority must understand.”

“There are about 30 to 40 percent deaths of pedestrians when it comes to road accidents. Children, women, senior citizens and the disabled are at a disadvantage mostly and are the most vulnerable when it comes to walking in crowded places and mid-block crossing. The administration has become insensitive and when complaints are registered, we are given lip sympathy with a positive ‘YES’ but when action on the field is required, it is not visible. Continuous and sustained action is required in this issue. Basic safety and usability are what is least needed rather than some decorative footpaths full of ambience,” Inamdar added taking a dig at some promenades built only in some parts of the city while other footpaths are neglected.

Every year, the Pune Municipal Corporation spends crores of rupees to build footpaths and provide pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, but walking on pavements across the city is increasingly a challenge.