Every pedestrian in metro cities hopes for “A city for pedestrians”. Living in such jam-packed cities, where the roads are choked with traffic, parking lots are filled with cars and people are stuck in glass boxes, is nowadays a normal city-life routine.
Amidst these situations, people walking on the roads are highest at risk.
As per a survey, conducted by traffic police in India, of the 1,510 people who died in road accidents in 2017, at least 44 percent of them were pedestrians. In 2018, about 40 percent of the 1,604 people who were killed in road accidents were pedestrians. Taking the case of Delhi, as per the data provided by DDA, as many as 34 percent of all daily trips are “walk-only”—with 58 percent of them being to education institutes and 31 percent to workplaces. Almost 50 percent of metro users travel to and from the stations on foot. Walking is also the dominant mode of travel for 77 percent of the urban poor who commute on foot.
In our country, mobility of the pedestrian traffic is least taken care of. There is complete ignorance of adequate pedestrian infrastructure in the metro cities of India. Most of the roads don’t have a footpath and even if there are some, they are interrupted by street lights, informal parking, entry and exits of buildings, and garbage bins. The basic walking infrastructure has to have at least a continuous, safe and uninterrupted walking zone where people feel comfortable.
To know more about the pedestrianization of our metro cities, let’s first find out what are the common issues that a pedestrian goes through-
- People walking on roads are often overlooked: So many times, we have seen people in cars try to overtake from the edge of the road. Since there’s no proper footpath, pedestrians are walking literally on that edge of the road. This creates a high chance of accidents as the pedestrians are neglected and then being blamed for walking on the road.
- Car-oriented infrastructure is given more importance than people-oriented: Every city’s development is judged by the quality of road infrastructure that has been provided. Designing space for rocket rising car traffic is always a major priority in our urban planning policies. Hence, the pedestrian movement network has been phased out to the edge of the street. Therefore, people moving in cars tend to overlook the pedestrian and drives as per their speed.
- Streets are not safe for walking: Traditional cities have always been planned according to human needs and dimensions. Hence, we see narrow lanes with ‘eyes on streets’, mixed functions and a blend of human activities happening with shop openings on the same lanes and most importantly, no cars or other traffic hindering the movement. Such spaces invite people to walk.
But currently, in cities, neighborhoods are planned by decentralizing the functions. Markets are zoned out, high boundary walls are constructed along the edge of the street, the footpaths are encroached upon for car parking and there are no human activities on the wide streets. In such a scenario, no one like to walk on a dead street that completely ignores people’s perspective.
What is the way out?
Many urbanists have worked upon a few strategies that can make roads livelier and safe for pedestrians in metro cities. They believe that to revitalize our cities, it is important to look at the human scale and dimensions for better urban quality of life. Some of the key strategies are:
1. Converting the roads into pedestrian priority streets
Urban planners can identify the streets with maximum pedestrian traffic and can convert them into pedestrian thoroughfares. These streets can be linked to more pedestrian-only streets, where only walkers and cyclists have the freedom to roam around, with cars being allowed only during a certain time, and that too at the restricted speed limit.
2. Rethinking parking lots into public squares
Having more public spaces where people can enjoy social activities, relax and experience the city’s culture could make a huge difference. It is important to make people in the position to take final decisions, understand, that the city needs spaces that enhance human activities. Parking lots are one of the spaces that can be converted into public squares.
3. Respecting the Human scale and needs
People prefer to go to places where they see other people. Hence, there is a need to create or revitalize the existing public areas such as markets, monuments or historic buildings and greens, into accessible spaces. Interconnecting such sites can create a lively and experiential pedestrian route that encounters pause points at regular intervals.
4. Encouraging Mixed living
Neighborhoods can get vibrant when there is a mixed typology of buildings. Also, mixed land-use planning helps in making the streets active throughout the day. Having a variety of activities helps in creating diverse spaces, which make the streets usable through different time zones. For example, students living in any neighborhood will add to the active movement on streets during day and night with shops remaining open till then to cater to their needs, adding more eyes on the streets.
5. Ensuring safety and comfort
For any street to be successful, the walking zones have to provide a safe and lively environment to encourage people to walk. There could be a diverse group of users on a street such as children, senior citizens, women with kids and also people with disabilities, prompting the street to cater to everyone’s safety. The could be made visible for vehicular traffic to slow down. Walkable zones can be made more comfortable and accessible by protecting pedestrians from heat, rain and other elements.
Making streets accessible to pedestrians will not only help to improve the city’s spatial quality but also make the cities more sustainable and safer for its citizens.
Aarushi Gupta is a practicing Architect and Urban Designer who is fascinated by Indian cities and their culture. Born and brought up in Delhi, she has experienced the transformation the city has undergone and how it is adapting the change. She loves to capture the small yet powerful transitions that solve the issues of common people. Writing about cities is one of her dreams that she’s going to fulfill through RTF.