Are Smart Streets Pedestrian-Friendly?

By Chandrima Biswas

Pune is a growing metropolis and one of the first cities to be declared a Smart City under the Union Government’s ambitious plan. At the very outset, one must laud the city for its efforts, although the idea of this blogpost is to highlight the problems that the city still battles against in order to become a true Smart City. For this blog post, the focus is on issues that plague pedestrians in the city. For this piece, the writer studied the 1.1km long ITI Road from Parihar Chowk to Baner Phata Chowk. The model smart street observes more economic activities on both the sides as the street is lined up with formal shops, whereas ITI road has more of informal activity at certain places, especially in the later half of the day. The ITI Road is evidently a busy road, as a lot of the commuters take this road daily to reach the IT sector, and as a result the traffic increases during peak hours.

 

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The bus-stop opposite the ITI Gate is literally on the road in the absence of a pavement.

 

One of the key factors in becoming a smart city is the efficient use of public transportation systems. A look at the photograph above makes it clear that while it would be wrong to say that the city of Pune does not have proper bus-stops, the entire point of them existing is rather ironic. This bus stop besides the ITI Gate stands not on a pavement (which doesn’t exist on this side of the road) but on the road itself, leaving pedestrians and public vehicle commuters at the mercy of speeding traffic.

 

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A lamp post is used as a bus-stop as seen on ITI Road, opposite a jewelry show room.


The stretch has a total of seven bus stops, and given how heavy the daily commute is, it needs a lot more. Several of these bus stops are also severely damaged, as shown in the picture above. At particular points no proper passenger shelters exist at all, even on the road. While a tree outside a jewelry showroom is being used as a bus-stop, the opposite side has only a lamp-post is marked as a stop.

Traffic lights also exist only at Parihar and Baner Phata Chowks, with the rest of the 1.1km stretch going virtually unmonitored. There is also no mobile traffic monitoring unit, with the city’s traffic department manning only the crossings, and that too, during office and rush hours. The designated pedestrian crossing areas are also at these two points only, but being a 1.1km long stretch, people are often compelled to dodge traffic and cross, especially at the intersections.

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Pedestrian is seen crossing the road in the absence of a pedestrian walkway.

C.P. Chiplunkar a senior citizen who is a daily user of the pedestrian plaza said, “It becomes extremely difficult and risky for us, the old people, to cross the road due to the lack of proper pedestrian crossings.” He further added, “Accidents have also increased recently, as speeding cars often run over people who try to cross the road.”

The lack of pavements on certain parts of the ITI Road is another major concern. The road is lined on one side with the iconic pedestrian plaza. The other side does not have any walkable space in most of the places, leading to the bus stand being on the main road. The discontinuous and uneven  footpath are also a major concern, as they also have a significant role in providing safety to the pedestrians.

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The footpath vanishes in certain parts of the ITI   Road, forcing people to walk on the streets.
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This image shows how the footpath is not continuous on one side of the ITI Road posing threat to pedestrian safety.

 

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Uneven footpath along the ITI boundary wall.

Not only this, several areas of the plaza also double up as parking zones, which means that there ultimately remains very little area that can be claimed by the pedestrian.

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Pedestrian plaza converted into a parking area, forcing those who walk onto the streets.

A traffic constable, Mr. Pathan, who was on his duty at Baner Phata Chowk said, “The residents as well as the users should cooperate with us more to make the streets safer and more accessible. People should start realizing their duty and responsibility, and contribute to that.”

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Snapshot of Pune’s Model Road as part of the Smart City programme.
Photograph by Tushar Anand

In contrast, Pune’s Model Road (as part of the Smart City initiative) takes into account both of these problems. What is most intriguing is the pedestrian crossing however. Given one of the streets’ main goals to be ‘smart street’ and disabled friendly, the pedestrian crossing is at the level of the pavement, making it higher from the road-level. This allows the creation of a table-top plateau at each intersection, causing speeding cars to drop their speed. This further meant that the blind and the disabled (including those with wheelchair access) would neither have to go through the difficulty of tumbling off a footpath edge nor have to fear speeding vehicles headed their way.

Prachi Mahajan, a visually challenged student, said, “I expected to walk independently using the tactile path that was provided, however the path was discontinuous in nature and as a result of which the entire purpose of walking independently was defeated.”

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As opposed to the model road, branches of trees used as dividers due to lack of proper dividers on the ITI Road..

This of course, is not to say that the Model Road is without problems. The road runs from Bremen Chowk to Parihar Chowk. The road is neatly divided (as opposed to ITI Road, which used branches of trees as a road divider, picture above), and the pavements are almost continuous with tactile signs and elevated crossings for the blind and the disabled. These however, do not take away the negatives. Several portions of the tiled pavements have already caved in, making it dangerous for disabled individuals to traverse without the risk of harm or injury. The tactile signs too, are not continuous, and are often taken over by parking zones, entrances to people’s homes or even trees which stand in the way, making it difficult for people to move around independently.

Given that the pavements are meant to serve a more wheelchair friendly purpose, they roll onto the level of the street at certain intersections instead of dropping. This also means that the pavements remain prone to usage by motorists who often drive their motorcycles and scooters. In such situations, it becomes even more difficult for those with difficulties to navigate on their own.

Thus, we see streets are not complete without accounting for the safety of the pedestrians. Even the model street under the smart city project is not entirely flawless. The authorities for their future endeavours should design streets which not only provide modern facilities to the pedestrians but also takes into consideration the safety element of the street. Proper pedestrian crossings, bus stops and footpaths for all should be constructed to bring down the number of road mishaps. However, it’s not just the duty of the authorities to provide the facilities but also of the pedestrians to make use of them and cooperate and maintain them to make sure that they build a safe environment around them.

The Winter Institute is a full-fledged 3 credit Course in the academic calendar of the Masters in Urban Policy and Governance program of the School of Habitat Studies conducted in the first year. It is conceived as a platform for interdisciplinary collaborative learning through research and action in the field. The blog series showcases the work, reflections and opinions of the students, and not the Centre.

To see institute reports from previous batches visit our website: http://urk.tiss.edu/winter-institute.html

 

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