Millennium Post

Walkers should have right of way

Aman (in Hindi and Urdu) means peace. However, a 10-year-old Aman was recently crushed to death in south Delhi by a maverick DTC driver, when he was walking on a zebra crossing. Every day, scores of pedestrians, young and old, are hit like pin balls across the country by incompetent, arrogant, and rogue vehicle drivers.  It is the same chaotic scene on every street in every city. Pedestrians scurry to cross roads as vehicles relentlessly race ahead at maddening speeds with scant regard for the vulnerable humans in the way. Crossing main arteries, boulevards and streets in residential areas is always risky, particularly for children and senior citizens. Vehicles, especially two-wheelers, may zoom in from nowhere. Walkers account for nearly 50 per cent of all fatalities on Indian roads.

 Each day is an obstacle race for pedestrians. During monsoon, the game turns into hop, step, and jump. In most urban settings, sidewalks do not exist, and where they do, they are in a poor state of repair with crevices and pits making it difficult to navigate on foot. They are poorly designed and challengingly high, making climbing and descending painful, particularly for children, women, the aged, and the physically challenged. At many places, pavements are covered-up drains with manholes, at times left. During rains, unless careful, walkers may vanish into these death traps. Therefore, pedestrians are forced to walk on road shoulders.

 Pedestrians compulsorily share their right of way with utilities, trees, streetlights, transformers, markers for gas and electricity feeder boxes, signboards, roadside vendors, and bus shelters. Dogs and cattle dirty them. Footpaths are converted into makeshift markets. Not to be outdone, bikers climb up to exhibit acrobatics.  The latest to join these trappings are the 4G high mast towers on traffic islands, which serve as crossroads and where traffic signals are installed, in Nagpur. These towers have created blind spots that block the view of motorists. Planners and engineers are yet to properly design and construct walkable pavements. Amid all this chaos, hapless traffic cops have no role to play. 

Crossing roads any given time is a nightmare for pedestrians. Zebra crossings are haphazard, traffic lights are installed at will—the poles have varying heights and designs, some are hidden behind adjacent trees planted on the meridian or are hidden by billboards hung on poles. In such a scenario jay walking is the order of the day. Pedestrians mostly ignore foot over bridges, skywalks, and subways as most are badly designed and ill maintained. Underground passages stink, are poorly-lit, appear unsafe and are difficult to access.   Every day, a competition ensues on Indian roads. For motorised vehicle drivers, the motto is “you don’t stop for anyone”. And more determinedly, these vehicles do not stop for walkers. Unrelentingly, resolute walkers also do not stop for cars. The end is predictable, and both the pedestrians and drivers are to be blamed.

 A major share in the blame certainly goes to the Government, civic authorities, city planners and law enforcement officers for the haphazard management of road safety. Passenger-vehicle conflict requires a judicious mix of road engineering and strict law enforcement measures. Pedestrians are also responsible, though less, for accidents. While population has exploded, necessary infrastructure has not kept pace.

 Many innovative devices could be installed, and maintained to control traffic and avoid conflict. Radar speed signs (an interactive sign generally comprising LEDs) that display vehicle speed as motorists approach, warn drivers to slow their vehicles when they are driving at unsafe speeds. Mounted on poles and powered by a solar panel, these devices must be used in school zones, busy residential roads, construction zones, and definitely on highways. Currently, interceptors are placed inside traffic police patrol vans, but they are too insignificant. Initially, the devices should be placed along with CCTVs where traffic violations are high.

CCTVs must be installed at/near all intersections and record red light infractions, rolling through stop signs and halting on zebra crossings by vehicles must be recorded and sent to central computers. A major hindrance to pedestrians is vehicles parked haphazardly.  As followed in several countries, traffic wardens should issue tickets, using hand-held computerised devices, by pasting them on windshields of these vehicles.

 Walking is a basic and common mode of transport the world over. But, walkers are the most abused in India. Due to the dramatic growth of motor vehicles and general neglect of pedestrian needs in roadway design and land-use planning, pedestrians are increasingly vulnerable to road traffic injury. Pedestrian safety is a shared responsibility. All road users have a role to play in  protecting the pedestrians better and making cities safe for walking–-even for pedestrians.

 Perhaps, to help both in India, a car maker in the US has introduced a new driver-assist vehicle safety system that can reduce the severity of or even eliminate some frontal collisions involving vehicles and pedestrians. The Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection, debuting this year in Europe, provides a collision warning to the driver. And, if the driver does not respond in time, the system can automatically apply the vehicle brake, to help reduce the severity of or even eliminate some frontal collisions. It uses radar and camera technology to scan the roadway ahead.

(The author is an independent journalist)
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