Planning for Pedestrian Safety

Since Delhi Traffic Police last week implemented a Pedestrian Safety Week, it was felt that it may be an opportune moment to highlight certain RTI applications which raise policy level issues of pedestrian safety while planning & maintaining roads.

Any pedestrian who has tried to use pavements in Delhi or tried to cross roads, would certainly come to conclusion that Delhi is no longer a city for pedestrians but only for motorised vehicles. Otherwise, how CM of Delhi would proudly boast that there would be no traffic lights on Delhi’s ring road. This kind of mentality of making traffic ‘fast’ rather than ‘smooth’ can often be observed even in planning of the roads. We often see pedestrians waiting for long periods before they can cross roads, simply because there are no pedestrian crossings.  This results in hardship for all pedestrians and not just elderly and children. Pedestrian end-up making suicidal leaps often resulting in accidents.  With construction of Metro the situation has become worse, most dividers between the two roads have become inaccessible to the pedestrians, thus forcing them to take huge extra walking to cross the roads or jump over high hurdles, not only creating physical hardships, but compromising the self-dignity of individuals. No where in the world such kind of callous attitude towards pedestrians would be observed. 

It is essential that any transport-management system needs to recognise that pedestrian are an important component of the system and their needs are appropriately addressed. To understand policy/planning processes regarding usage of roads by pedestrians, an RTI application was filed with MCD. Since the Ring Road is maintained by PWD, a response on similar lines was sought from them too. A reply by the Engineering Department of MCD stated that it follows standards as set out by Indian Road Congress (IRC), while the PWD gave even more vague reply, without adding any new insight. Its response was that the feasibility of ‘a project’ is approved by Delhi Urban Art Commission, DDA Traffic Advisory Committee, etc, without making any reference to the pedestrian safety at all. Obviously both the answers were vague and it appeared that the Departments were just evading the questions raised, under the cover of various high sounding institutions.

A visit to IRC revealed that it has issued basically two guidelines IRC-70 in 1977 and IRC-103 in 1989 entitled ‘Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities’. IRC-70 issued in 1977 has obviously been overtaken by the latter version. IRC-103 is a small pocket-size booklet of around 15-16 pages. The Guideline discusses general principles as well as provides some drawings and technical details of guard-rails, pedestrian crossings, footpaths, etc.

The general principles identified in the Guidelines include, planning to be done in an integrated manner so as to ensure a continuous pedestrian flow, avoidance of situations which force people to abandon pavements, reduce pedestrian conflicts with vehicular traffic to the minimum and provision of pedestrian crossings in the ‘substantial conflict’ areas. Viewed against such policies, if one is to consider, the practical reality of status of footpaths and crossing facilities, planning of pedestrian safety appears to be almost non-existent. For example the height of the footpaths in most parts of Delhi is not standardised. At places it is so high that leave alone, children & elderly, even the ordinary pedestrian users would be found avoiding use of the pavements. Most pavements are so uneven or generally un-walkable simply because one feels like almost doing a steeplechase while using a pavement for any reasonable distance. Thus the ground reality is such that the policy referred in the IRC guidelines of ‘avoidance of situations which force people to abandon pavements’ is clearly not being complied with, simply because our Engineering Departments have not specified height of the pavements for the designers. Or even if it has been specified there are no mechanisms to ensure that these are actually adhered to.

One of the other major problems is crossing the roads, often pedestrians cross the roads at serious risk of injuries. Accordingly two additional questions under the RTI application were raised with the Dept. One being, how does the Department establish ‘substantial conflict’ areas and if these policies ensure that identification of such areas is pre-requisite while designing a road (a substantial conflict area is defined as area where there is a conflict between vehicular and pedestrian traffics, i.e. area where pedestrians need to cross roads). The second question, asked if the Dept. has a policy for determining at what distances, ‘pedestrian crossings’ need to be established. If yes, what is the policy and how it is intimated to the concerned engineers designing the roads. As expected the answers to both the questions were vague and incomplete, for all the issues raised, it just stated that it undertook everything as per IRC codes.

Since IRC codes only specify general principles and not exact distances that need to be kept in between the two crossings, it is the duty of the Department to undertake an assessment of traffic density at various locations. However from the responses, it is clear that the department does not have any laid down policy in this regard.

In the conclusion, one can say that scientific pedestrian planning in the road management is total lacking, and that there is no systemic mechanism to ensure that whatever little polices that may be formulated, in this regard, are actually put in practice. Leaving pedestrians to simply on their own or a few ad-hoc initiatives.