One of the main problems is that the city is clogged with a rising vehicle population which has increased by almost three fold in the past ten years while there has been a meagre increase in motorable roads. This has led to increased traffic congestion and reduction of driving speed in the city. To reduce congestion and increase the traffic speed, the authorities have introduced various traffic engineering techniques like road widening, flyovers and one-way streets. But they have neglected and marginalised the pedestrian infrastructure forcing the pedestrians to walk on the roads, compromising their safety, and slowing down the traffic further. There are over 150 one-way streets in the city which have no or minimal refuge and grade separated crossings for pedestrians. It is a big hurdle for the pedestrians to cross these roads considering the heavy vehicular traffic. Northern Chennai has almost 60% of the one-way roads in the city as it is very densely populated with narrow roads which have to cater to heavy vehicle population from the port. Most of the roads on which metro rail construction is taking place have become one way streets with no pedestrian infrastructure causing the pedestrians to run amok and scurry for security.
Though the need for building more pedestrian facilities is evident, the Corporation of Chennai has spent only
?45 lakh in the 2010-2011 financial year for building and maintaining pavements in the city. In contrast, the city and the state government spend large sums of money for building expressways and motorable roads.
In spite of all this, the traffic police blames the high pedestrian fatalities on jaywalking, pedestrians not using the foot over bridges & subways and recklessly crossing the roads without considering the speeding vehicles. But in reality, it is evident that the appalling condition of the limited pedestrian infrastructure is the reason for such high fatality rate.
To implement the various road safety programmes, the state government had formulated a Road Safety Fund under the Tamil Nadu Road Safety Rules in 2000 with an initial allocation of
?2 crore which has been raised to ?65cr for 2012-13. This is mainly funded by the state government but also receives accruals from the fines collected for traffic violations.
Between 2006 and 2010, the Government of Tamil Nadu had sanctioned approximately
?84cr for various road safety measures which included the purchase of road safety equipment, improvement of blackspots and upgrading of intersections & accident relief centres. In 2010-11, an additional ?10 crore was made available to the district collectors to provide compensation to accident victims under the Chief Minister?s Accident Relief Fund (Working group of Road Safety Education, September 2011).
To increase funding for road safety, the state government amended the Tamil Nadu Motor Vehicles Taxation Act, 1974 in June 2009 to allow it to levy a road safety tax on all new vehicles. This is a one time tax payable at the time of registration, ranging from
?250 for motorcycles to ?1500 for light motor vehicles and ?2000 for others. Since the inception of the Act, the government has collected ?119.159 crore till March 2011 as road safety tax. In the financial year 2010-2011, Chennai alone had collected ?15.5 crore as road safety tax. Yet, only ?2.32 crore was allocated for the road safety programme despite an ever increasing accident trend in the city. Hence, substantial amount of money has been collected but very little has been spent on effective enforcement and preventive measures.
In order to improve road safety the current focus on vehicular safety and infrastructure for motorised transport needs to be expanded to include pedestrians and non-motorised transport. This can be achieved only if there is a reduction of private vehicles and people switch to sustainable public transport. More funds need to be allocated for constructing infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists. The current share of public transport in the city is 29% and with the advent of modern and more comfortable public transit systems like metro, the city intends to increase this share to 55%. But these public transport systems cannot be successful if there is no safe access for pedestrians and cyclists. Hence, the emphasis on safe pedestrian infrastructure is the key to Chennai becoming a safe and sustainable city.Roshan Toshniwal (The author is an architect and urban planner. He is a consultant with Transparent Chennai, CDF (Centre for Development Finance), IFMR and also teaches at the Measi Academy of Architecture in Chennai. He has been researching road accidents and safety in Chennai for the last two years.