Walk the walk

The Sunday newspaper featured a couple of hit 'n' run accidents, where young people had lost their lives to speeding vehicles. What about pedestrians' rights, in a city where space is at such a premium? With car loans more accessible, there are more vehicles on our roads than ever before. Footpaths are shrinking and in many cases, they are simply non-existent, thanks to large-scale encroachment. In a few places where they actually exist, they are unfit for walking.

Those perennially controversial paver blocks are constantly uprooted, leaving gaping holes in the pavements or there are other obstacles -- dog poop, human excreta, garbage, boulders and lots of other impediments that Mumbaikars are familiar with. Earlier, one could walk on the road. Today, with burgeoning cars, even that little leeway seems to have been blocked. The pedestrian is slowly being squeezed into progressively smaller spaces and soon, there may be a time when he is forced off the roads altogether. In this inevitable tussle between car and commuter, vehicle and walker -- the bigger and faster, the vehicle, always wins.

Just a couple of days ago, architects and urban planners spoke about a project which aimed to give the pedestrian his right of way, back. While the project sounded Utopian, and focused on pedestrian plazas in South Mumbai, it brought the 'pedestrian versus cars' tussle into focus. It said that cars could move underneath through underpasses, while pedestrians walked unhindered on plazas, a little elevated from the road.

This is not to demonise every vehicle driver. Understandably, pedestrians do jaywalk at times, cross dangerously close to vehicles and thread through traffic at signals. In many cases, though, they have little choice. Why not spare a thought for the pedestrian while urban planning? Walkways and good footpaths, this is the absolute minimum for walkers. Let's not just talk the walk but walk the walk.  

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