Lack of guidelines, standardisation turn Bengaluru footpaths into deathtraps

Why are the majority of footpaths in Bengaluru unusable? A major reason is that these are built as per the discretion of the local engineer and contractor, without adhering to any specific standards.

The majority of road accident victims in Bengaluru are pedestrians. An analysis of road crash deaths in 2017 by the NGO Footpath Initiative showed that 44% of the victims were pedestrians. As per their data, between 2010 and 2018, over 3000 pedestrians have been killed in traffic crashes in the city, and four times as many have been injured.

Given the poor state of pedestrian infrastructure like footpaths, it isn’t surprising that pedestrian deaths are so high. Anusha Chutturi of Footpath Initiative said their data showed that areas with better footpaths had fewer pedestrian accidents.

She said, “The areas around Central Business District (CBD) that have better pedestrian infrastructure, such as wider footpaths, have lesser accidents compared to other areas where people are forced to walk on the sides of the roads alongside fast-moving vehicles.”

Across the city, footpaths are in a sorry state. Problems include the uneven length and width of the footpath, improper height of the kerb, missing slabs, encroachment, waste strewn on the footpath, and so on. Many localities don’t have footpaths at all as well. Last year, the Karnataka High Court had held that the right to reasonably good roads and footpaths was a fundamental right of citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Footpaths like these force pedestrians to walk on the road alongside speeding vehicles, leading to accidents.

Why then are our footpaths so poorly built? Aren’t there any standards for building these?

N R Ramesh, former corporator of ward 167 (Yediyur), said that footpath design varies from place to place since decisions on it are made by the local corporator, assistant engineers and contractors. Engineers in BBMP’s Road Infrastructure wing concurred; they said the city currently lacks a “guideline for footpaths”.

A senior BBMP engineer explained, on condition of anonymity, how land-use in roads is currently decided on: “Generally, an Assistant Engineer (AE) holds public consultation with local residents, observes the volume of pedestrian movement, and identifies footfall-intensive locations such as bus stops, educational institutions, temples, hospitals and markets. The land-use by the public is then informed to the Road Infrastructure wing, which then incorporates such recommendations in planning and design.”

There are no strict standards to be followed during footpath construction. The engineer said, “Contractors are just shown the stretch of the road where footpaths are to be laid. The material used, grade of concrete, reinforcing steel rods in between slabs, are all at the discretion of the contractors.”

No priority for footpaths until recently

By large, the officials at the Road Infrastructure wing of the BBMP said that until recently the land-use and design of roads were motorist-centered and that pedestrian-friendliness was not a priority. The BBMP engineer says, “Given the sudden boom of the IT sector, employment and population, the department had to prioritise the swift movement of the working population. Especially within the city and the Central Business District (CBD) areas, easy movement of public transport, two-wheelers and four-wheelers was crucial.”

Along with this, the widening of older, narrower roads gave limited scope to build footpaths. This, the engineer says, is a major reason for footpaths being inconsistent across the city.

Vinay Srinivasa, who’s part of the bus users’ advocacy group Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike said that unlike roads, footpaths don’t seem to be routinely maintained or repaired. He said, “Authorities simply treat it like surplus infrastructure rather than as part of the overall road infrastructure. This attitude affects pedestrians, especially the elderly and people with disabilities, who need to move around independently.”

Transport planning documents for the city have largely neglected pedestrian infrastructure. It was only in the draft Comprehensive Mobility Plan (CMP) released in 2019, that there is some attention to these facilities.

Footpath design needs to be consistent

BBMP officials admitted there was a need to bring some consistency in the size, dimension and quality of footpath slabs. For example, sharp-edged kerbs need to be avoided as these can injure both pedestrians and motorists. Additionally, the BBMP engineer said, the quality of construction should be compulsorily inspected prior to the release of funds to the contractor. “This is both for maintaining the longevity of the footpath and for the safety of the pedestrian.”

N R Ramesh suggested, “Of course, there needs to be a standard template. A footpath must be easy to climb, with pedestrian guardrails and resting areas, and should allow for uninterrupted commuting. Guidelines must also include rainwater harvesting in the drains under footpaths.”

Guidelines for footpaths have in fact been laid out by the Indian Road Congress (IRC), a body under the central government that evolves standards on roads and transport. As per the IRC:103-2012 (Guidelines for pedestrian facilities), a well-planned footpath must provide continuous space for walking, at consistent height. It should support other activities such as street vending and waiting at bus stops, without compromising pedestrian mobility.

IRC also recommends installation of bollards on footpaths to prevent vehicle parking there. Vehicle ramps should be installed at the entrance of every property so as to avoid damage to the footpath furniture due to vehicle movement.

However, Vinay says blanket imposition of IRC guidelines is not the solution. For example, IRC suggests that footpaths need a clear path (pedestrian zone) of 1.8 m in residential areas and 2.5 m in commercial areas. The height of the footpath shouldn’t be over 150 mm.

Credit: ITDP Footpath Design Handout

But considering the additional area for frontage zone (space between footpath and properties/buildings) and furniture zone (space for streetlights, trees, benches, etc), the total footpath width required would be much higher:

  • 3.3 m in residential areas (including frontage zone of at least 0.5 m, pedestrian zone of 1.8 m, and furniture zone of 1 m)
  • 5 m in commercial areas
  • 6.5 m in high-intensity commercial zones

Vinay said implementing this would be difficult in the city since the width of roads is not consistent. “First, IRC or the KMC (Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act, 1976) needs to update guidelines to be in tune with the reality,” he said.

Urban expert Ashwin Mahesh suggested that instead of handling pedestrian infrastructure like footpaths as a piecemeal projects, a network of walkable pedestrian facilities should be created in the city. Time and again, agencies like Namma Metro and BBMP, and ward councillors have taken up projects to address pedestrian woes, but they follow a piecemeal approach. Ashwin said, “During the last few years there have been attempts to improve pedestrian facilities through a few projects, which has brought relief in some areas. But these are too small in scale, and we need a stronger imagination or ideation of footpath networks for the whole city.”

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