Whether the city never sleeps or not, traffic on some roads certainly does not. Stop, not sleep. This was the primary rationale in setting up elevated foot overbridges at key points in the city — outside Central Station, Shastri Bhavan, Nungambakkam High Road, Chrompet and all along the IT-infested Old Mahabalipuram Road.
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Unfortunately, what the city corporation and the planning authority did not contend for is the fact that people hate climbing steps. If they’re not going to do it in an air-conditioned gym, they’re not going to do it in broad daylight. Initially planned for roads that have a deluge of one-way traffic, the town planning authorities have erected these structures at places where the traffic thoroughfare is substantial and unrelenting. “It doesn’t make sense to use these overbridges,” says Anita M, who works with Scope International on Haddows Road. “I know it makes perfect sense and all, but given that we have to climb 40 steps, walk across and clamber down another 40 steps just to cross this small road, it’s too much exercise to grab a sandwich,” she adds. Other than the junta who come to visit various offices in Shastri Bhavan, almost all the others are people from the other side of the road trying to grab a bite to eat at the sandwich stalls on the other side.
So elevators to the rescue right? Not quite. In the case of the overbridge outside Ganpat Hotel, the elevator hasn’t quite been the trusty workhorse that the authorities hoped it would be. “It keeps having trouble and we are constantly worried that it may be tampered with so it is under lock and key at some points in time,” said an official tasked with it’s running. “But it does have a lot of patronage,” he insists. Maybe it does. Truth is, people would much rather dart across the busy Nungambakkam High Road than waste their time waiting for a lift and taking some 10 minutes just to get to the other end. The cost of installing an escalator-enabled FOB is considerably higher than a simple steel stepper, but planners believe that there is no question about going back to the ‘plain’ ages, “The estimate for these foot overbridges is `5-5.5 crore each but the utility factor is far higher. A feasibility report will be done to check whether the existing structures can be converted,” said the official.
This is where the newly installed escalator-powered overbridges were supposed to create a revolution. No stairs, no jaywalking — they logicked. And it worked to a good extent, especially at Anna Nagar West and Chromepet. “Lots of SBOA students use it during peak hours and shoppers who go to places like Saravana Stores in Chromepet tend to always use the escalator and the overbridge to cross over,” explains a corporation official, but adds, “There are times when the escalators are undergoing maintenance when people revert to crossing manually.” Same old, same old?