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Walking has always been the primary means of human locomotion. Pedestrianism (walking) was a popular spectator sport just as horse riding during the 18th and 19th centuries in the United Kingdom and the United States.

With the advent of motor vehicles and modern transportations systems, footpath or pedestrian pathway gained a separate identity in most developed countries. Roads often have a designated space for pedestrian traffic, called the ‘sidewalk’ in North American English, the ‘pavement’ in British English, and the ‘footpath’ in Australian and New Zealand English. 

Accessible & safe pedestrian pathway is still a dream 

Pedestrians shared the same space with the vehicles since vehicles were very small in number then. With growing affluence and ‘car’ being seen as a mobility medium of the ‘rich’, the divide has been on the rise. So much so that the motor vehicles gained focus in our mobility planning for urban areas (often led by decision-makers who owned vehicles), roads have been constantly widened across cities to accommodate vehicles, only at the cost of pedestrian pathways.

poor pedestrian facility in India
Poor pedestrian facility in India

This has resulted in the shrinking of pathways and higher chances of conflict between the pedestrians & vehicles as people left with no choice had to walk on the road. 

The zebra crossing on the streets are most often inaccessible, have kerbs on both sides of the road as well as in the median. This makes the zebra crossing unusable by wheelchair users, slow walkers, senior citizens, etc. 

Cars are still considered as ‘status symbols’ in comparison to a cycle or walking in most developing countries. The policies do not protect the rights of pedestrians or cyclists vis-a-vis a car user. So, in a way, walking and cycling continue to be considered as ‘poor man’s burden’. The decay of pedestrian’s rights to walk safely have continued unabated so did injuries and deaths.

Pedestrians as major casualties: 

The inaccessible, unsafe pathways coupled with rash driving are now leading causes of accidents and deaths world over. As per report, “Pedestrian safety – A Road Safety Manual for Decision-Makers and Practitioners” by WHO, each year, more than 270 000 pedestrians lose their lives on the world’s roads.

At a global level pedestrians constitute 22% of all road deaths. According to another report, “European Pedestrian Crash Standards Will Make Global Changes in Car Design Inevitable”, in the European Union countries, more than 200,000 pedestrians and cyclists are injured annually. 

The picture is as gloomy in India. According to the information given by the government in the Rajya Sabha in Dec. 2019, 13,894 pedestrians lost their lives in road accidents in 2015, the next year the number rose to 15,746 in 2016, an increase of over 13%. Similarly, the number of pedestrians killed in road accidents increased from 15,746 in 2016 to 20,457 next year, a sharp increase of 30%.

In national capital Delhi, 420 pedestrians were killed in road accidents in 2018. Bengaluru saw 272 pedestrian deaths in 2019, highest in-country, as per NCRB data.

Pedestrians need should be top most priority

Pedestrians needs and requirements still to come on the planning table naturally. Making ad hoc pavements & model street at one place or stretch is not serving the purpose of the city and its people. Pedestrians deserves all the attention and budget for making cities friendly & accessible for walking.

Making Walking Great Again 🙂 !

(This article is first in series of the articles which takes a deep dive on the pedestrian issue in India esp from inclusive design aspect)

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