Bengaluru has become a death trap for citizens, whether we are walking on its dangerous footpaths or driving along its even more dangerous roads. Neither safety considerations nor aesthetics has gone into the laying of footpaths and roads.
After all, when have our elected representatives—be it corporators and honourable mayors or our even more honourable MLAs and ministers—have had time to think about the city and citizens. But one of the city’s foremost activists and thinkers, Ashwin Mahesh, has done what we elected those honourable people for: He conducted a simple exercise to envision what the city’s roads and pavements could and should look like, if only those building them paid a little attention to design and detail.
“We should try to get higher utility out of each public space by improving its design. We need to re-imagine these spaces in a way that meets specific goals – safety, ease of use and so on. The irony is that while this is already being done for many private spaces in the city by those who are developing them, the much larger public spaces are neglected,” says ABIDe member, Ashwin Mahesh, who has come out with his own concept of a public space, with a road, a bicycle lane and pavement for better movement of vehicles and pedestrian comfort in the city.
Having decided to contest the coming Assembly polls on a Loksatta party ticket from Bommanahalli, he has drawn up a Bommanahalli Action Plan to improve its civic infrastructure. Taking a picture of one of the circles in the area he has on paper visualised how the road, bicycle lane and footpath around it could fit in to provide equal comfort to commuters and pedestrians. The artistic impression is appealing with signals and signages and also allows vehicles to run smoothly even at the edge of the road, near the footpath.
“In 99 per cent of roads in the city, you can’t do this as there are craggy breaks in the road surface, pools of water and parked vehicles near the footpaths which reduce the effective width of the road. If attention is paid to these details, we’ll get much greater utility out of the existing space for vehicles, and still be able to accommodate non-motorised transport,” he says, pointing out that it is upto the BBMP to better utilise public spaces this way.
Chaos on roads? thank the politicos
While the BBMP , BDA and the state government spend crores every year on improving roads and pavements, hardly any mature planning has gone into their designing. The expertise of engineers, urban planners and consultants is hardly tapped to create better infrastructure for the city in keeping with its specific needs. The result has been chaos on the roads with traffic and pedestrians fighting for space on them.
Sadly, even when initiatives are taken in the city’s interests, they don’t last long. Take the bicycle lane that was developed in Jayanagar at huge cost , but which is now being used for parking of vehicles.
ABIDe member, Ashwin Mahesh notes that some of the “undesigned” spaces are used by various business interests with political connections. “Without breaking this nexus it will be difficult to bring these spaces back into public use,” he says.
Blaming lack of co-ordination and ego clashes among different civic agencies for the deterioration of public places, he, however, believes public opinion can play a major role in making these spaces user- friendly.
“Any effort to improve public spaces needs a lot of people working together such as architects, mobility planners and communicators who play a major role in design. Also, the involvement of BBMP and BDA engineers , BWSSB and BESCOM officials and the telecom cable-laying crew is crucial. But our political culture is too servile to allow such cooperation.
Elected leaders rarely make the space needed for citizens and domain experts to feel welcome and respected in such discussions. And invariably, people give up when they perceive that their positive interventions are resisted,” Mahesh regrets, warning that unless all the planning bodies put their heads together and work towards the common goal of making optimal use of public spaces, it is unlikely to happen.
What they say
Samuel Paul, chairman, Public Affairs Centre: “We lack a culture of making use of things the correct way in our city. People walk on the main road in the way of traffic and park vehicles on the footpaths they should be walking on. It’s all topsy-turvy. And I have never seen any traffic police stopping people from parking vehicles on footpaths. People need to first get into the habit of using footpaths properly, before we think of re-designing them.”
Dr Meenakshi Bharat, Member, Malleshwaram Swabhumi Initiative: “Vendors occupy footpaths because they have no traditional markets left to do business in. The BBMP should seriously look into this and find a way to make footpaths free for pedestrian use. This will help prevent a lot of accidents too.”
Kathyayini Chamaraj, executive trustee, CIVIC: “Our government is not applying rules the way it should be. It is providing incentives to motorists when it should be the other way around. Four wheelers cannot be given the prerogative always. Priority should also be given to non-motorists who use environment friendly conveyance. Footpaths need to be rebuilt for pedestrians and cyclists.”
Swati Ramanathan, co-founder, Janaagraha: “Of course we can improve roads with proper planning, especially when there are so many important networks like water, electricity, gas, sewage, and cables running beneath them. Presently, even if the BBMP invests in making a planned footpath, the water or the electricity board digs up the road for repairs and leaves it in a mess. This has to change. Also, there is no clear lane discipline in the city.”
V. Ravi Chander, chairman, Feedback Consulting: “The main obstacle to making proper footpaths is the mindset of the planners. If the planners think cars are more important, they will make the roads wider and the footpaths narrow. This clearly calls for a change in attitude.”
Mukund, member, Citizen Action Forum: “These days footpaths are turning into parking lots. People are doing everything other than walking on them. The cycle tracks in Jayanagar are a failure because cyclists don’t use them. So people need to be first motivated to make use of the facilities that are already there. Also, the BBMP must be blamed for not enforcing its rules strictly. If there were separate hawking zones, vendors would not occupy footpaths.”