Lindsay Pereira: Cars matter, people don't

Jun 09, 2018, 06:08 IST | Lindsay Pereira

Traffic police want flyovers to be cleared to make way for more vehicles. When will authorities think about people who walk, for a change?

Lindsay Pereira: Cars matter, people don't
Traffic police want to remove bottlenecks near bridges and increase the width of carriageways so the carrying capacity of roads can be increased. Representation pic

Lindsay PereiraHow does one walk in this city? It's a question I ask myself often, whenever I am compelled to get from Point A to B without access to a vehicle. Petrol costs make private vehicles increasingly expensive for most Indians to manage, while public transport continues to be a joke. Most cities with this problem would have focused a large amount of energy and resources on walking, because that is what our grandparents did. Our government and the agencies that supposedly work for it consistently focus on the opposite. Everything — from the Sealink to massive projects like a coastal road — is about making life more convenient for Mumbaikars who have enough money to drive. The majority do not, and will never be able to afford a private vehicle but, unfortunately, anything that benefits the common man is never as good for publicity as things that make the lives of the rich a little more convenient.

This is probably why our traffic police recently urged the BMC to free up space under flyovers across the city to facilitate the smooth movement of vehicles. They want to remove bottlenecks near bridges, apparently, and increase the width of carriageways so the carrying capacity of our roads can be increased. It doesn't matter if common sense dictates that our roads should carry fewer, not more vehicles, that our city's green cover is being systematically eroded to make way for more roads, or that the space left for most of us to walk has only decreased over the past couple of years. The only things that now matter are motorists and drivers.
I suppose this wouldn't be as serious an issue as I make it out to be if we actually had roads worth walking on. The fact is we don't, and never have. Thousands of crores are poured, literally, into giving us roads that barely last a few months, that are routinely encroached upon by hawkers, and that continue to be a very serious health hazard to the young, infirm, differently abled, and senior citizens. If you don't believe me, ask one of your older relatives to walk down a street of your choice and take note of his or her comments.

The government spends no time or energy on things that ought to be examined, such as functional sidewalks, covered manholes and properly paved paths. Instead, it puts together committees that either recommend killing projects such as the one involving gardens under flyovers, or putting up even more flyovers in a city that needs anything, but a new one. This is why two flyovers and an underpass were thrown open a week ago, inaugurated with ribbon-cutting and photo-ops. When will we ever have a ribbon-cutting for a properly paved path outside any of our homes for a change?

Enough research on Mumbai's roads shows exactly what the problems are. A number of solutions have been given by experts, all of which disappear into the black hole that is the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. A couple of years ago, a study declared that approximately 5,000 vehicles ply Mumbai's streets every hour, while a similar number of pedestrians try crossing a junction. It pointed out that these intersections were simply not designed keeping pedestrians in mind, which also explains why our city is sometimes referred to as the 'car crash capital' of India by people living elsewhere.

For a metropolis that claims to be the financial capital of a rising power, it's unfathomable how cruel our streets are to pedestrians, who simply don't matter to successive governments or agencies tasked with making our lives better. Our sidewalks have repeatedly been held up as examples of bad planning, there are no attempts at tackling encroachments until tragedy strikes, and even the simple act of crossing a street to enter a railway station comes with all kinds of potential dangers. I leave you with one more thing to consider over the weekend. The BMC is aware of open manholes across the city, one of which claimed the life of a doctor during the last monsoon. Activists say there are almost one lakh manholes in the city and suburbs, a majority of which are open death traps. Guess how many of these 1,00,000 manholes will get a protective net this year? 900. Good luck surviving the rains.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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