‘Elusive’ by another name is ‘footpath’ in Namma Bengaluru

In that attempt, the threat of running down some unsuspecting biped struggling to navigate the footpath, remains.
Representative Image
Representative ImagePhoto | T P Sooraj

BENGALURU: In all the repertories of urban development mechanisms, one persisting mystery about Bengaluru baffles all. Most parts of the city – which is firmly on the global map for reasons linked to business, tourism and medical services – have no footpaths. And where there is indeed a semblance of footpaths, they are in a poor condition, encroached without fear of the law, or claimed by motorists as extensions of roads. In the background, enforcement remains conspicuous by its absence.

In fact, the lack of enforcement to ensure that footpaths are clear for pedestrians to walk safely is so striking that on rare occasions when authorities do crack their whips, it turns into a dramatic show begging for public appreciation.

What is equally baffling is the poor understanding – or the lack of it – about the importance of footpaths. While urban mobility models indicate increasing use of public transport, cycling and walking rather than using private vehicles, footpaths are given a short shrift despite their crucial potential in promoting that very aim.

That we lack understanding about the importance of safe footpaths is visually evident in the upmarket Sadashivnagar neighbourhood. The residences of the high and mighty – be they from the political, business or the celebrity class – commonly have encroached footpaths right outside their lavishly structured houses.

Why just Sadashivnagar, most existing footpaths across Bengaluru are either encroached or uneven; worse, some have gaping holes, threatening to swallow an entire human of any shape or size.

Barring the Central Business District and a few areas in Bengaluru, the city has no signs of anything coming close to being defined as a “footpath”. The result: children, elders and the specially-abled are forced onto the roads, facing the risk of being mowed down by speeding vehicles. The motorists, on their part, anyways use footpaths as parking lots or as means to overtake others. In that attempt, the threat of running down some unsuspecting biped struggling to navigate the footpath, remains.

A recent study conducted by an association working for social and ecological justice, Action Aid (India), titled ‘On Foot: A Study on Safety and Risk Assessment of Child Pedestrians’, conducted from Vinobha Nagar to Karnataka Public School, VV Puram, from August to November 2023, showed that children walking to the school were not safe. Two routes for children going to the school were marked from Vinobha Nagar to JC Main Road and along JC Road to Minerva Circle.

The study found nine construction debris sites, 12 spots where vehicles were parked on footpaths, six footpath encroachments because of commercial establishments, nine litter accumulation spots, 14 locations lacking features on footpaths, five locations of inaccessible footpaths, four locations where junction boxes of Bangalore Electricity Supply Company were placed and six locations without zebra crossings. The study noted that children usually walked in groups, along with friends or siblings, a minimum distance of 700- 900 metres with their school bags. Imagine the constant threat that these children are exposed to while on their way to school and back.

Think about the senior citizens. They are even more threatened. There is no need for anyone else to harm them. The condition of the footpaths is enough. They just need to trip, break a few brittle bones, and if alive, enter the world of medical complications. Bad footpaths are potentially good business for hospitals and orthopaedic experts!

Lack of footpaths is good business for chain-snatchers, too. Most chain-snatching cases have occurred when victims have been walking on the roads without footpaths, or because of poor footpaths. And the perpetrators are commonly on two-wheelers, making easy pickings of the unsuspecting victims, who are mostly women. Wonder whether the law & order police have observed and reported this to the state government to highlight the importance of laying good, safe footpaths that are barricaded as much as possible.

Think about the physically challenged. Look at the Bengaluru footpaths, wherever they do exist. Most of them are not wheelchair-friendly, and what’s worse is that they only threaten to add to the numbers of the physically challenged.

There is still scope for the state government, ruled by Congress, to provide a sixth guarantee – footpaths, of course – after the five they made to win the assembly polls last year. Of what use are the five guarantees if poor footpaths – or the lack of them – threaten to compromise them in the bargain? They talk of a threat to the Indian Constitution, but without thinking of how poor, or absent, footpaths obstruct freedom of movement. It’s time to think, if they haven’t yet started to do so. If they have, then it’s time to act!

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The New Indian Express