Have you ever stood at the side of the road trying to get across but motorists keep whizzing past? Or peacefully walking on the footpath when out of nowhere, a bike honks at you and nearly runs you over? For pedestrians in Bengaluru, each day is an urban obstacle course whether it's encroachments on footpaths, a lack of zebra crossings or ruthless drivers.
Throughout India, pedestrians are among the worst affected by traffic accidents, according to 2018 national data on traffic accidents. In Karnataka itself, there were more than 1,500 pedestrians killed in a fatal road accidents last year, and country-wide, there was a whopping 22,656 pedestrians killed in a road accident in the same period.
Injuries caused by a vehicle hitting a pedestrian were much higher: Nearly 65,000 pedestrians were reported to be injured last year, according to the 2018 study from the Ministry of Transportation. A 2017 study by Bengaluru’s Footpath Initiative, a community group advocating pedestrian safety, found that 90% of accidents involving pedestrians occurred when they were trying to cross the road.
TNM looked at some of the common issues that’s turned Bengaluru into an unfriendly city for pedestrians.
Absence of footpaths
The problem begins with a lack of footpaths for people to walk on, forcing them to traverse along the road instead. While there’s no specific data for roads with broken or absent footpaths in the city, the situation is bad enough that it prompted a Public Interest Litigation from Vijayan Menon of the Citizen’s Action Forum. He demanded that the city’s municipal corporation, the BBMP, be liable to give compensation to those who are adversely affected by the state of the roads. The High Court of Karnataka ruled favorably, but at the time of writing, compensation is still not accessible.
Footpaths, when available, are dangerous too
Even when footpaths are usable, they’re still often deemed unsafe. Bikers frequently use them to avoid traffic jams, cars casually park on them, and the dumping of construction waste on footpaths is rampant.
Though footpath riding is a major problem in the city, the violation often goes unchecked. In gridlocked traffic, TNM observed that bikes were seen riding on the footpath on the busiest roads. But the daily data put out by the Bangalore traffic police shows that 30 cases of footpath riding were booked on December 4, and 14 cases on December 6 — a small number when considered the number of cases that likely occur throughout the city.
Poor road conditions
Bad roads across the city, in need of urgent repair, aggravates the problem. Motorists swerve to avoid potholes and breaks in the road, which makes the road unsafe for both motorists and pedestrians.
Pedestrians are often treated to the ire of rash drivers: People honk at and abuse people trying to cross the road or for being too slow. Drivers are also often impatient, preventing older persons and children from crossing the road. Some motorists rarely brake for crossers, and those who dare to cross their path are at risk of being run over. All this increases the risk to people’s lives, for the simple act of trying to exist in a city.
Missing zebra crossings
It’s true that jaywalking — a violation in which people try to cross outside zebra crossings — occurs throughout the city. However, TNM has observed that in many places in the city, zebra crossings have become worn out and unclear. There is an urgent need for roads to be clearly marked with zebra crossings so that both drivers and pedestrians know where people are supposed to cross, making the road safer for all.
Right of way for pedestrians, and the way forward
It’s important to remember that roads are for people, not just vehicles. Pedestrians have every right to be on the roads.
According to an observation by the Madhya Pradesh High Court, “All persons have (the) right to walk on the road and are entitled to the exercise of reasonable care on the part of the person driving the vehicle. Therefore, it cannot be said that the persons who are using the road for walking … use the road at their own risk.”
The Motor Vehicles Act (1988) states that it is the duty of the driver to slow down when approaching a pedestrian crossing (Rule 8).
Though some government initiatives, like the TenderSure roads in the city, have allocated a significant proportion of the road for pedestrians, activists say it’s time that more such initiatives are taken up in every part of the city.