Do People matter? From being first-class citizens to third-class

Need a Paradigm shift from “Moving Quickly” to “Moving Safely”

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I am a proud public transit commuter or at least I used to be. On my way into work on March 24, 2014, the BMTC bus driver stopped in the middle of the road and expected all of us – a woman with a young kid and a couple of office/college goers to get down. Despite repeated requests, he refused to halt at the bus stop and while we were getting down, we heard a loud screech – we were just inches away from being hit by another BMTC bus. The loud screech was the other driver braking to avoid hitting us. This incident hit too close to home as I had just lost a good friend and a passionate campaigner for urban road safety and pedestrian rights, Kadambari Badami Vamanan due to the recklessness of a BMTC bus driver on March 2.

The drivers of the BMTC buses and several other vehicles nearby did not seem to be affected by the near-miss, and whizzed by as though they were on a racing track and us pedestrians were merely a fly in the ointment. Their attitudes reminded me of a quote from the book titled “Interurban Queen” by R.A.Lafferty:

 “The kindest man in the world assumes an incredible arrogance when he drives an automobile…….it will breed violence on a scale never seen before. …It will destroy the sense of neighbourhood and the true sense of nation. It will create giantised cankers of cities, false opulence of suburbs, ruinised countryside …It will make every man a tyrant.”

 If you think you are safe on the road – in an automobile or as a pedestrian, then let’s take a quick look at some hard facts:

According to the data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), in 2013 road accidents accounted for a whopping 37.5% or around 330 deaths every day. That’s more than 120,000 lives every year or nearly 14 lives an hour!  The news about the missing 230 people aboard Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 was a tragic one and got the attention of several countries including India. But did you know that Bangalore had more pedestrian deaths last year than air crash deaths worldwide?  If Bangalore Traffic Police statistics are anything to go by, in 2013 more than 650 traffic fatalities were recorded of which about 40 percent were pedestrians. How is it that we care more about crashes happening elsewhere but do not pay attention to the sorry state of road safety in Bangalore?

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3Out of sheer curiosity, I started counting the pedestrian crossings on Outer Ring Road (ORR) from Sarjapur to Jayanagar near
Jayadeva Hospital. There was just one pedestrian crossing at the BTM signal. With no marked crossings or pedestrian signals, Bangalore roads especially at major intersections and flyovers become a nightmare from hell.

People usually wait for a traffic jam to make their way between vehicles to get to the other side of the road. But even that has become difficult says Arun, an IT consultant, “While I was trying to cross the road near Jayadeva Hospital, the van driver was not keen on letting me cross and got so close to me that I thought I was definitely going to be crushed. “ He also points out that even in places where footpaths exist, pedestrians are unable to use them as they are either used for two-wheelers to get around traffic or used as car/bike parking areas or by some kind of construction activity.

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Guru, a software professional, who stays in a community on Sarjapur Road, faces a different issue altogether. His parents visit him every summer from Chennai but he refuses to let them walk out as he feels that the traffic and driving is erratic, making it unsafe for his folks who are above 70. “Sarjapur Road has no footpaths and is uneven throughout making it unfriendly, not to mention unsafe for walking. Drivers have no concern for two-wheelers or pedestrians and do not reduce speeds even when they are at a crossing. There is no way I am allowing my parents or my kids to walk on Sarjapur Road on their own. The irony is wealthy countries like Sweden or even car-oriented countries like USA provide good pedestrian and bicycle facilities for their citizens. In a country like India where we have walked everywhere, we have no facilities whatsoever,” concludes Guru.

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7Himadri, an urban designer, cycles every day from Indira Nagar to Ashoka Pillar and is appalled by the lack of road sense in his fellow commuters. He says, “ I try to stay to the left-most lane but motorists, (including high speed Volvo buses, cars and two-wheelers trying to squeeze in a gap, however small it is), try to run me off the roadBike lanes do not exist in most places and even when they do, have been converted into on-street parking.”

JNNURM initiative saw significant investments like Volvo buses and rail-based metro systems to enhance public transit capacity. Even the BBMP budget for 2014-2015 includes proposals worth several crores to construct 4 major roads and widen several others. However, minimal provision, if any, was made for infrastructure and facilities such as bus shelters, raised footpaths and bike paths.  It is unclear to what extent these massive investments will be effective in relieving congestion and improving road safety, which is BBMP’s justification.

 

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Bangalore, known earlier for its tree-lined and wide footpaths is now treating its pedestrians as third-class citizens. Walking, the most natural and basic activity, has become hazardous.

We walk everywhere, even to our cars, no surprise there….so isn’t it high time the Govt. of Karnataka, BBMP and BDA clean up their act and provide us with the basic infrastructure instead of building more roads to move cars from point A to point B? Like Gil Penalosa said, “we need to stop building cities as if everyone is 30 and athletic”….our cities need to be friendly for everyone, from a small child to an elderly person or someone who is not physically able.

 

Wondering how you can make a difference? When you drive next time, please don’t think of just getting from Point A to Point B in the shortest possible time. We are not goods. Use your senses – and engage in safe driving practices. Along the same lines, if you see someone engaging in wrong driving practices (driving on the wrong lane, on footpaths, jumping signals), take a minute to stop them and explain the issue at hand. I did this when the auto rickshaw I was in kept jumping red lights. The driver actually laughed and told me that I was the only one asking him to adhere to safe driving. Only when I raised my voice and threatened him with non-payment, did he stop. Nonchalance will not get us anywhere. Change comes from within and a small step from each one of  us will go a long way in creating awareness, sensitize people to road safety issues and DEMAND safe roads for ALL of us.

A First Step in the Right Direction

Bangalore Mirror’s ‘Footpath, My Foot’ campaign has brought focus back on the lack of usable and continuous pedestrian walkways. The campaign highlighted the lack of foresight and budget allocation to the development of footpaths and has prompted the Chief Minister to set aside Rs.100 crore for the construction of new footpaths and repair of existing footpaths. The main issue at hand now is to ensure that these funds are not mismanaged and in fact improves the pedestrian environment across Bangalore.

kadambariThink you are still ok, do take a look at the alarming statistics due to lack of road safety. Kadambari was a relentless campaigner for safer roads, let’s all do our bit to make sure that she is not just another statistic.

Not-A-Statistic

Kadambari’s friends and family have started a campaign, “Not-A-Statistic,” to create awareness on road safety and work together to bring about that change. Currently at 1,073 members, the Facebook group is working towards accountability, and changing the way the authorities deal with reckless driving, not to mention changing the way we drive, so that there is not another statistic.

Media Coverage on Not-A-Statistic Campaign

 

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