Wednesday , 16 October 2019

Creating Safer, Child-friendly Streets

An ideal child-friendly city integrates the voice, needs, priorities and rights of children in its public policies, programmes and decisions. An important aspect of such a city is to provide children with an opportunity to live in a safe, secure and clean environment, with access to green spaces says Vaibhav Kush, Project Associate- Cities & Transport, WRI India

The situations we have in our country demand resilient and robust road safety products and solutions. We have a unique set of challenges on Indian roads that are vastly different from road circumstances globally. Safety on our roads today is impacted by speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, traffic management systems that are not geared for Indian conditions, lack of training on driver behaviour and also poor infrastructure. Safety is also impacted by regulations that are not clearly defined, training, road specifications and finally the intent of such regulations. The intent always needs to be about changing driver behaviour so as to ameliorate safety on our roads and get people home alive.

In India, 66 percent of parents believe that their child could get seriously hurt in a road traffic crash, and 92.5 percent of parents believe that there is a need to improve road safety for children.

WRI India, in partnership with the Rohtak Police, the Municipal Corporation of Rohtak and the NASSCOM Foundation, started the Safer Commute for School Children project in Rohtak in May 2018. The project envisions Rohtak as a city where children can travel safely on the road, either by foot, cycle or transit, regardless of whether they are accompanied by an adult or commuting on their own.

As part of this project, WRI India conducted focus group discussions with students, parents and teachers from five schools in Rohtak. Participants of varying age groups voiced a general sense of fear during their daily commutes due to recurring problems. Some of the major challenges faced are in the form of unruly motorists, disrespectful behaviour from other road users, encroachment by vendors and parked vehicles on sidewalks, speeding vehicles, congestion caused by shared auto-rickshaws, poor road conditions, and others. Addressing these challenges may require behavioural change, but a closer look reveals infrastructural deficiencies to be the underlying problem.

While we aspire to make our streets safe for children, it is important to first make them safe for all users.

The dangers of incorrect road design

What is the image that forms in your mind when you think of a road? Usually, one would imagine asphalt bordered by pavements and trees, enabling vehicles to travel from one place to another. A significant part of any road is the black surface, technically called the carriageway. The primary function of the carriageway is to provide thoroughfare to motorised and nonmotorised transport. However, a road in its entirety is not only used by moving vehicles, but also pedestrians, as well as space for utility infrastructure and street vendors. Keeping this in mind, the width of a carriageway on the road should ideally be based on the number of vehicles plying on it, yet it is made to accommodate as many vehicles as possible.

When undue space is allocated for vehicles, the carriageway becomes under-utilized, resulting in avoidable chaotic road traffic. For instance, a road user might speed on an empty road or drive in the wrong direction and create a traffic jam. Speeding is encouraged when there is space available for a vehicle to speed. Similarly, driving in the wrong direction, on-street parking, sudden braking and abrupt turns are all the result of providing more carriageway space on the road than required.

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