Friday , 19 July 2019

Foot over bridges and pedestrian safety in Pune

The article critically examines the suitability of building foot-over bridges and the need for a change in the pedestrians’ mindset towards safety. There is also a need for the authorities to take pedestrians and safety experts into confidence while introducing new safety measures.

Pedestrians are one of the most vulnerable sections in the transportation scenario in Pune and most Indian cities today. It can be said that a city that ensures safety of pedestrians, automatically ensures the existence of a people-friendly, livable city. A walkability survey done in 2010 by Clean Air Initiative, with Parisar being the local partner, resulted in the city getting a score of 54/100, and the situation may only have worsened thereafter.

However, the quest for providing this safety may in fact be counterintuitive in its approach. From the experience of Pune, it is observed that a major trend of building grade separated crossings has been touted as a solution to pedestrian issues. In the last couple of years, these grade separated monsters, both in terms of money spent and visual impact on the city, have come up at various places, in a very alarming way. This is in spite of the fact that these structures are largely unused by public for different reasons.

While the Pune Municipal Corporation proposes these as ‘pedestrian infrastructures’, the message it really gives is that pedestrians should be removed out of the way of motor vehicles at crossings, which is a place of heightened conflict/ friction between these two modes. Instead of providing safe, at grade crossing by spending perhaps a fraction of the money spent on foot over bridges and subways, the PMC chooses to splurge public money on these structures. The foot over bridges and subways do not adhere to the Indian Roads Congress guidelines and are not disabled friendly in their design. The existing Persons with Disability Act mandates that there shall not be any discrimination against people living with disabilities while using any mode of public transportation or using any road or bridge and that their right to livelihood is not denied or restricted. India is also a signatory to the UN Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities, whose contents, the Supreme Court has ruled, “are binding on our legal system”. Though lifts have been provided at some of the newly constructed foot over bridges, there is serious doubt about their functionality and the lifts themselves are not built to accommodate wheelchairs. These structures also become political trophies because of their visibility, but fail to serve any substantial needs of the citizens.

Parisar has already conducted a study on the relevance of these grade separated crossings previously, revealing that pedestrians feel invisible to the authorities and motorists, a sentiment which is the direct result of the kind of solutions being proposed for safety.

With this situation serving as the background, Parisar decided to conduct a study on how people perceive these foot-over bridges and the extent of their usage. This study sought to capture the design issues as well as perception of citizens towards these structures.

While an overwhelming majority of respondents said they would prefer a foot-over bridge or a subway, in reality only about half of them actually used the FOB to cross themselves.

When asked whether the foot over bridge was necessary at the particular location, majority of them said it was, the most interesting observation being that almost 40% of these respondents actually crossed at grade. This, inspite of the fact that 47% of the respondents felt that crossing at grade was very risky and 39% felt that it was risky.

A ratio visualisation of the sections of users and non users and their given responses follows the trend of conflicting actions and opinions. An attempt to decode these conflicting responses can be found in the reasons the respondents gave for either crossing at grade or using the foot over bridge.

While people using the facility rate safety as their top priority, those not using it seem to find it inconvenient both in terms of time and effort. This observation comprehensively explains the reason of conflicting actions and opinions amongst people interviewed. While no person would debate on the need for safety, the fact still remains that foot-over bridges have a high inconvenience component to actually attract usage. So, even when people perceive at grade crossing to be unsafe, they still continue crossing at grade because the alternative is highly inconvenient.