On Delhi pavements, encroachments more common than pedestrians

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While crores of rupees are being spent by various government agencies to provide residents of Delhi a pedestrian-friendly road infrastructure, walking on pavements continues to be challenge in the national Capital. Except in Lutyens’ Delhi, it is difficult to find a continuous, barrier-free, disabled-friendly stretch of pavement in the city.

The reason: majority of the pavements are not constructed or retrofitted as per the Street Design Guidelines, which were approved by the Unified Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure (planning and engineering) Centre (UTTIPEC) in 2010.

The guidelines, though not binding on government agencies to follow, give specific details of how pavements and streets should be like. But haphazardly installed information signage, vehicles parked on pavements, encroachment by hawkers, broken and uneven pavement surface, mindlessly installed tactile to guide the visually impaired, missing ramps, and unusually high pavements are a common sight across pavements in the city.

For example, a large portion of the main carriageways on Vikas Marg near Laxmi Nagar Metro station occupied by cycle rickshaws, autos and commuters waiting for public transport — the main reason for traffic snarls on the stretch under the Metro line between Laxmi Nagar and Preet Vihar. However, pedestrians cannot be blamed for standing or walking on the main road, as there is little space on the pavements. Moreover, the pavements — encroached upon by hawkers and parked vehicles, haphazardly installed signage — are too high for pedestrians to climb. Besides, the uneven surfaces of the pavements make it difficult for people to use it.

To add to pedestrian woes on this stretch, the East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC) has constructed a public toilet right in the middle of the pavement. “People have no option but to walk on the main road as the toilet complex takes up the entire width of the pavement,” Rohit Khandelwal, a shopkeeper at Laxmi Nagar, said.

Guidelines not followed

According to the UTTIPEC-approved guidelines, pavements should be 1.8mt-wide and six inches high and have ramps on both ends. “It is difficult to find pavements in the city that are made as per the prescribed norms. Road-owning agencies such as Public Works Department (PWD), municipal corporations (MCDs) and the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) are not following the guidelines,” Sabyasachi Das, former planning commissioner, in charge of the DDA and member of UTTIPEC, said.

He maintained, “The guidelines were prepared after carefully studying the best practices from around the world. But no government agency is following the guidelines. They are not developing detailed alignment plans for walkability while preparing road alignment plans. There is a need to develop pedestrian-friendly infrastructure to ensure they are safe.”

Main hurdles

Road safety experts stress on the need to provide continuous, barrier-free and disabled-friendly pavements, especially on arterial roads since the traffic volume is high.

The Ring Road, experts say, is one of the many stretches where the government should provide wide pavements with provision for Non-Motorised Transport (NMT) lanes. The need to better the pavement infrastructure has hit urgency after the Metro’s Pink Line (Majlis Park-Shiv Vihar) was made operational last year.

Though the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has redesigned the spaces around the entry/exit of its stations as per the prescribed guidelines, these are not well-connected with pavements, which are maintained by the Delhi government’s PWD.

For instance, the space around South Extension Metro station has been redesigned. But the pavements maintained by PWD on the same stretch are not pedestrian-friendly. Aruna Kotru, a resident of South Extension-I, says she uses the Metro for daily commute. “I use the Metro when I travel to Gurugram for work. But to reach the AIIMS Metro station, which is at a walking distance from my home, I have to take an auto as it is difficult to walk on the pavements. The area around the Metro station is well-maintained, but the pavement till AIIMS is broken and encroached upon by hawkers,” Kotru said.

A study conducted by the CSIR-Central Road Research Institute (CRRI) found 20%-26% of footpath length is obstructed due to garbage, potholes, personal gardening among other such encroachments. Close to five per cent of the length have permanent obstructions in form of toilets, poles, trees etc. Nearly 14%-36% of footpath space is occupied by hawkers and parked vehicles. The study was part of a larger research commissioned by the Centre for `Development and Application of Technologies for Sustainable Transportation’ (SUSTRANS).

“A large number of people in the city use public transport but their convenience are grossly neglected while planning road infrastructure. A good network of footpaths is essential for providing last-mile connectivity. With the Metro network expanding in the capital, it has become even more important to focus on improving our infrastructure for pedestrians,” Dr S Velmurugan, senior principal scientist, traffic engineering and safety division, CSIR-CRRI.

Government agencies such as PWD, however, claim it is difficult to develop pavements on the basis of the guidelines, especially along roads which were built long ago. “Maintaining a width of 1.8m is difficult in most areas, especially roads which were developed long ago. We are now redesigning some stretches as per the street guidelines,” a senior PWD official, who didn’t wish to be named, said.

As for lack of maintenance of pavements, officials blame the multiplicity of agencies in the city.