Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pedestrian woes

A forty feet wide road. Vegetable vendors, bangle sellers, stalls hawking cheap toys from China, handkerchief sellers, ‘anything else you may not even know you need’ vendors taking up five feet on either side. Customers haggling over goods- another foot or two. Two red double-decker buses can barely pass, yet they often need to.

Does that leave any place for pedestrians? No! But the street is also the only walking route to one of the busiest stations in Bombay and has a constant stream of people going both ways. Often, even when I try to press myself to one side, the buses almost graze my body, and if there are people hanging out of them, there is no way you can avoid physical contact.

Is it any wonder that it takes me barely ten minutes to walk down to the station in the morning before the vendors set up shop, but the time is more than doubled in the evening when the shoppers are out in full force.

To say that the walk back is a minor torture is a bit of an understatement. But the only alternative is to hail a three-wheel autorickshaw, which, because of the traffic bottlenecks, would actually take up more time.

And if you think about it, I am one of the lucky people. I stay about a kilometer away from the station and have the option to walk down. People who stay further away, actually end up spending more time getting home from the station than they do on the commute between stations. Is it any wonder that according to a recent study more people walk in Bombay than they do in any other Indian city?

Urban planners have experimented with restricting many of the streets to traffic going in a single direction only. But there just aren’t enough streets to allow that to be feasible (and there is nothing more dangerous to a pedestrian than a vehicle speeding the wrong way on a one-way street).

Removing the hawkers may partially alleviate the problem, but that is a politically charged issue that few administrators are willing to take up. And even if they do, the hawkers are brought back by public demand – if the vegetable vendors are removed from the main route home, women would have to go that extra distance to buy the ingredients for their evening meal.

As a ‘glass half full’ person, I refuse to admit that there is no solution. And I have come up with one – pedestrian skywalks! And not just any skywalk– skywalks with place reserved for hawkers of every hue. When hawkers are given safe places to work from, they should not be averse to shifting. And when pedestrians find that they can do their daily shopping without the danger of being run down by a bus, they should not mind using the skywalks. With the entire width of the road being freed for vehicular transport, there should be fewer traffic snarls, so more people would have the choice to not walk home.

Skywalk above, road below. Seems such a perfect solution – the only people who really lose would be the residents of the first floor of the buildings skirting the road. When they draw the curtains open, they may just find themselves looking into the eyes of random pedestrians! But they are not a substantial vote bank, are they?

A solution so simple, I wonder why nobody has thought of it yet. Or is there a catch somewhere that I am unaware of?

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Doli said...

:) Good one! Actually I used to stay in Mumbai some years back and used to face the same problem. You literally have to wind around roads, people and vehicles to get across

Elspeth Antonelli said...

You seem to have hit upon a logical solution. Getting here and there in any large city is becoming more and more difficult. I'm very grateful that I can work from home. Bless the internet!


Galen Kindley--Author said...

In the late 70s, I spent some time in Seoul…about 18 months, actually. Your description of the traffic reminds me of Seoul. In fact, my first book is about Korea. Traffic often gets a mention. I recall seeing the buses so full, they couldn’t close the doors. It was pretty amazing.

Best Regards, Galen

Imagineering Fiction Blog

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Doli - welcome to the blog, and thanks for taking the time to comment. The traffic on Indian roads is something else, isn't it?

@ Elspeth - I don't envy people who work from home, I admire them. Tried it for a year, and found I am just not disciplined enough.

@ Galen - I was on one of those trains recently. It was so tightly packed, I did not think even one more person could be squeezed in, and at the next station a dozen more people got on and found space! By the end of it, some people had actually been lifted up - their feet were not touching the ground.


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