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Monday, September 25, 2017

Unsafe streets

Wednesday, 13 September 2017 12:02
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After a day of unhindered flow of traffic in Dimapur, thanks to a one day bandh called by the Dimapur District Autorickshaw Drivers' Union (DDADU) on Monday, it was back to the usual serpentine traffic jams in all routes leading to Dimapur city on Tuesday, and it will continue in the coming days in all likelihood unless, of course, the autorickshaw drivers calls another strike. But let us talk not about the everyday traffic jams that commuters face, but on whether Dimapur, or for that matter any of the towns in our state, have space for pedestrians. Traffic management is the essence of actual operation of vehicles, but we cannot neglect that walking is the most natural form of mobility. Sadly, at present our cities have not evolved to accommodate the needs of pedestrians; yes, walking in many cases has been neglected in the development of transport systems. It is a fact that often low income people live near commercial areas and planned residential areas in order to have easy access to employment opportunities. And therefore the need for all streets to be planned for motorized as well as non-motorised vehicles. Today pedestrians and cyclists are the most vulnerable group in Dimapur, due to the absence of proper footpaths and cycle tracks. They have to share road space with cars, autorickshaws, buses and trucks, with no separate provisions. It is important to promote activities like walking to the local grocery store, cycling to work or taking a public transport to a distant part of the city, among all income and age groups. In order to do so, these options should be made viable, through safe and comfortable infrastructural provisions. Though most Indian cities show a high percentage of non-motorised transport use, most of these users are captive users - people without a choice. The transportation system and the way road spaces are allocated in the cities, is a clear indication of a societal attitude and mind-set. Transport planning is clearly car-oriented, with cars having priority on the high speed road stretches, at the intersections which minimize their waiting time, at flyovers that allow them to avoid the congestion, at market places that give them large parking spaces, and the list goes on. While the authorities may apologize for badly maintained roads, they would never think of apologizing for the broken pedestrian paths, non-existent bicycle lanes and the inefficient public transport now in place. Today footpaths in our towns have become non-existent, with footpaths becoming either parking spaces or vendors setting up stalls in the middle of the footpaths, leaving no space for the pedestrians. Authorities chose to turn a blind eye to the vendors taking over the footpaths for reasons best known to them. Whenever the issue of regular traffic snarls or the level of pollution in our cities is raised, authorities and rulers preach that people should use public transport, or walk if the destination is nearby or use bicycle. But people will use public transport if only we have an efficient public transport system, or walk if there is footpath available and cycle if lanes for bicycles are provided. Here one must understand that safe streets include all user types by allocating spaces for each - a pedestrian, a cyclist, a hawker, a car user and a public transport user. Active and passive interaction with passersby, well lit pathways and cycle tracks, interspersed with rest areas prevent creation of lonely and desolate spaces which encourage crime and unsafe situations. Sustainable transport needs inclusive streets. And inclusive streets ensure not only safe mobility - reduced risks of traffic crashes - but also reduced street crime and better social cohesion, and makes public transport, bicycling and walking attractive, and the preferred choice for commuting. Clearly prioritizing vulnerable groups like pedestrians and cyclists, who are the most affected by speeding vehicles and street crimes, is needed during the design and planning of our streets. Any type of streets, any width of streets, needs to address the prerequisites of a pedestrian and a cyclist. Yes, we need to understand that safe streets are built for people and not cars.


  Trained for what? Self-defeating exercise