Streets for All
When India’s famous nutrition expert Rujuta Diwekar addressed a group seeking health tips in Hyderabad recently, she made a strong remark about the importance of making our cities walkable to make them smart. She asked the group why do they walk more in overseas cities like London and New York and less in their own city in India. It was very heartening to see a nutritionist make this point.
There is indeed a direct co-relation between walkable cities and citizens health and well-being. The more walkable our cities are, the more active living they promote – citizens do not hesitate to leave their cars behind to go to the nearest parks, malls and metro-stations, to drop their kids to school bus stops or to go to the nearest vendor to buy their daily groceries. Besides reducing pollution, walkable cities are also more vibrant and safer, and promote tourism and social interaction.
Sadly, Gurugram is an exception. While more and more cities in the world are creating rightful space for pedestrian movement, Gurugram is literally squeezing out every inch of pedestrian space on its roads and streets to make way for cars. And as that is happening, we as citizens are minimising the non-motorised usage of our streets, walk paths and public places. We no longer have a sense of ownership or engagement with these public spaces. This leads to further neglect of the street infrastructure and upkeep. It’s a chicken and egg situation. Its high time we reclaim our legitimate rights on our streets and public spaces through active usage.
In an eye-opener workshop held recently in the city under the Raahgiri Initiative, startling data was presented on the share of various modes of transport in Gurugram. Over 50 per cent of people in Gurugram walk or cycle. And a significant 27 per cent of total trips in Gurugram are made by walk over a distance of 0-2 kms. You may be surprised by this revelation, but these comprise people who work as drivers, maids, office helpers, cooks and care givers for the city dwellers. Another 20 per cent use public transport and para transit, 21 per cent use two wheelers and only 9 per cent use cars.
However, the city’s investments on road infrastructure are totally lop-sided. More and more funds are being allocated for highways, flyovers and subways with negligible investments in creating uninterrupted footpaths, walkways and cycle tracks. Consider this. Only 28 per cent of Gurugram’s roads and streets have footpaths. The investment needed to have footpaths all across the city is one tenth of the investment needed to build a single flyover. Our road investments need to be more “equitable” and our roads and streets usage need to be more “democratic” and “inclusive”. In fact, the pyramid must become inverted where the walker and cyclist gets greater rights and higher priority over car-users.
At the workshop, we also undertook an interesting exercise of walking around the neighbourhoods to assess why people find it inconvenient and unsafe to walk. The answers were not hard to find. Footpaths were quite high to step on for senior citizens and were either frequently broken or had disruptions such as electric pole, man-holes etc. There were no proper signages to guide walkers. Vendors did not have designated places and appeared abruptly. There was a total absence of any street furniture where walkers could sit or relax. Intersections were poorly designed to ensure safe pedestrian crossing. Due to unpaved footpaths, the roads were also too dusty, noisy and intrusive to walk. The overall experience was not pleasurable.
Importantly, the walk made us realise that one does not need complicated engineering solutions to fix these issues. A practical common sensical approach is enough. Some easy solutions lie with the users themselves. Besides, every street is unique and therefore the solutions to make it accessible and user-friendly need to be innovative. Therefore, a standardised one-fit-to-all approach will not work for all streets and roads in the city.
For all the hard solutions, such as redesigning crossings etc urban planners and traffic engineers need to be sensitised. Citizens too can be part of this change. Residential, commercial, institutional and markets associations can look at their neighbourhood streets and motivate stakeholders and users to participate in improving the street design and accessibility. Assistance from local authorities could be sought. Assistance could also be sought from “Streets for All” volunteer to visit your area and give solutions to promote walkability.
Let our streets be used by one and all with dignity, pleasure and safety. Not just for those that are up and about, but also for our children and senior citizens. Next time, we must think twice before picking up your car’s keys to go our nearest market. Let’s make walking fashionable. In doing so, we will also make Gurugram less polluting and more healthy, vibrant and safer.