Every day, Mumbai residents are being squeezed out of spaces to walk or cycle by the sheer pressure of cars, whose numbers are growing rapidly each year. A recent report by the Munich-based global consultancy Roland Berger Strategy Consultants stated that the Indian passenger vehicle market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12%, and will reach annual growth of five million cars by 2020. According to consultancy Strategy&, India will be the third largest market for annual vehicle sales in the world by 2030.

 

The situation in our cities points to multiple road safety issues. Urban roads are used by a variety of vehicles and users – pedestrians, cyclists, two-wheelers, cars, trucks, and buses to name a few. The gross lack and dilapidated conditions of infrastructure mean pedestrians face highly unsafe situations on the road. The flip side of this issue also highlights pedestrian and cyclist behaviours and how traffic rules are often overlooked. Jay-walking is a serious problem affecting the safety of pedestrians and impacting traffic flow.

 

In line with the National Road Safety week from 11-17th January, Equal Streets unfolds its first campaign effort focusing on safety on roads and other public spaces. The objective of this campaign is to disseminate information on existing efforts of the Traffic Police and safety rules and regulations for all types of road users; create awareness on issues related to road safety; encourage ; create an understanding and initiate a discussion and understanding of road safety issues in Mumbai.

 

Pedestrians are often squeezed out of their space and forced to share road space with high-speed vehicles. Credit: Nikhil Chaudhary / EMBARQ

Pedestrians are often squeezed out of their space and forced to share road space with high-speed vehicles. Credit: Nikhil Chaudhary / EMBARQ

 

Within cities, pedestrians account for more than half of all road fatalities. And motorcyclists form the next most vulnerable user group. The other vulnerable group is non-motorised transport users, such as bicyclists and push-cart vendors. The significant lack of space and infrastructure for pedestrians, in has resulted in some staggering data:

 

In 2013, over 140,000 road fatalities in India. Over the last decade, there has been a continuous upward trend.

Close to 20% of all fatalities are within cities and this is fast becoming the most accident vulnerable areas in the country

Highway accidents in the urban periphery (not counted in city records) further add to high fatality numbers for cities

 

A strikingly common feature of almost every road improvement project in Mumbai is the complete eradication of footpaths. Under the pretext of increasing road capacity, traffic lanes are being widened at the cost of already compromised footpath space. This is, ironically, most prevalent on roads that need footpaths the most, such as neighbourhood streets and commercial roads. However, the elimination of footpaths has not resulted in the disappearance of pedestrians, who are now forced to share road space with traffic. Thus, the perceived increase in the road’s traffic capacity has not been realised, because pedestrians, who would have otherwise walked on the footpath, now walk by the side of, or in between, of moving, thus reducing speed as well as capacity.

 

Even in places where footpaths have not been eliminated, their condition is in such a state of disrepair, that they’re rendered unusable. Unlevelled footpaths, open manholes, crumbling paver blocks, encroachments, dirt, debris, bottlenecks and missing sections are just some of the many issues common across many footpaths in Mumbai.

 

Where they are forced to walk on streets, the pedestrian is faced unsafe car speeds and movements resulting in a pedestrian’s journey becoming a long, daunting and highly dangerous one. For a city of which 60 percent of its population walks, dilapidated conditions indicate a strong focus on other transport modes. Urban policies, funding and infrastructure weigh towards enhancing the mobility needs of vehicles; on the downside, this translates into minimal focus on the pedestrian.

 

The mobility of people, largely impeded by the lack of, dilapidated or encroached-upon footpaths, is merely an afterthought in the transportation plans for Mumbai. Only a fraction of the transportation infrastructure outlay is devoted towards pedestrian mobility improvement, and these projects are normally token-like in nature, such as foot-over bridges or skywalks. What Mumbai really needs is an integrated transport and mobility plan that places priority on the movement of people, not vehicles. Good pedestrian infrastructure is not just about the quality or quantity of footpaths, but depends on a host of other factors, such as continuity and permeability of the pedestrian networks; trees and shade, lighting, pedestrian level amenities, universal accessibility features, signage, public places, and many more.

 

Equal Streets is a citizens’ movement that seeks to highlight the fundamental imbalance in our city’s transport planning priorities. It intends to bring in a certain equality in transportation priorities and road space allocation, by especially focussing on the needs of the marginalised pedestrians and non-motorised transport users, while also addressing the concerns of all other road users. This movement is driven by the mantra that everyone has an equal right to the road, irrespective of their mode of transport.