Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Jaywalkers Fined Rs. 100...but Where are the Footpaths?

The Delhi state government, in its wisdom, has analyzed accident data and realized that every second victim of an accident is a pedestrian. So they’ve decided to slap a fine of Rs. 100 on every pedestrian who does not use the zebra crossing, does not observe the traffic flow when crossing the road or does not use the footpath, foot-bridges and subways wherever provided. However, there’s a sticking point--where exactly are the footpaths?

That’s an easy question to answer if you live in Lutyens’ Delhi--the footpaths are nice and wide, if a little too high for even the able-bodied, let alone people with disabilities to use. But where in South Delhi can you find a footpath? For instance, if I look at the road that leads into Saket from the Sheraton end, the footpaths have all been dug up and all you see are heaps of dust. If I look for footpaths from the PVR end, I am likely to find said footpaths infested by hawkers, scooter wallahs and the like. So where is the footpath that the Delhi pedestrian (and I don’t mean just those going walkabout in Lutyens’ Delhi) are expected to use? There are no footpaths in South Extension--all you will find are narrow roads. There might be footpaths in GK, but are the crossings properly indicated?

I hate sounding like a snob, but the UK is a more pedestrian-friendly and cyclist-friendly society when compared with India. We might have a larger number of pedestrians, but you’ll find nice, wide footpaths, not too high for a wheelchair user or a mother taking her kids to the supermarket anywhere you go in the UK. You have proper pedestrian crossings, not just zebra crossings--you need not look at the flow of traffic or at a distant traffic light to decide whether or not you should cross. You press the button and get a signal (audio and visual) to walk or not. This is especially useful for those who have auditory or visual disabilities. As it is, UK pavements are much lower when compared to pavements in India--you don’t feel as though you need a hand up when you move from the road to the pavement as you do here. Pedestrian crossings are sloped and somewhat lower than the pavement, which makes it easier for a wheelchair user to move from the pavement to the road.

In the UK, you don’t really feel the need for a car--London itself has an excellent public transport system, as does Oxford. However, the activity that most Indians who visit the UK would indulge in, if they really enjoy it, is walking--to the market, to the bookshops, to the cinema or anywhere at all. In the UK, although I was an alien, I did not feel hemmed in at all--I felt as free as a bird, as I went about my daily activities. Here, in Delhi, one feels totally handicapped without a car. We need a change.

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