Pedestrians are among the most endangered population category of Hyderabad, the sixth most populous urban agglomeration in India and the fourth largest in terms of area. “One-third of accident victims in Hyderabad were pedestrians,” according to Telangana Director General of Police, M Mahender Reddy. Given the current state of the pedestrian walkways and footpaths, this comes as no surprise.
The rapid cheek-by-jowl urbanisation over the last four decades has put a heavy burden on Hyderabad’s infrastructure, especially its transportation and road network. The few pavements that do exist are in very poor condition with about 95% of them encroached by hawkers and others.
“We literally walk on the main roads to reach our final destination after landing at the metro or bus station,” says Latha, a college student. “Footpaths are for people, not for electric poles, hoardings and shops.”
“The biggest obstruction to pedestrian safety is the encroachment of pavements,” says road safety expert, Vinod Kumar Kanumala. “It’s impossible to walk on a pavement for a kilometre due to hinderances like temporary shops, footpath dwellers, bus stops, or public toilets”.
Flouting IRC norms
The Indian Roads Congress (IRC), an apex body of highway engineers set up by the Union government, mandates that every walkable footpath should be at least 3.5 metres wide and just 6 inches in height. Not a single continuous stretch of footpaths in Hyderabad meets IRC’s specifications. And not even a single footpath is designed for specially-abled persons.
Even the Hyderabad Metro Rail Limited (HMRL) has encroached on pavements to commercialise the space, though the state of a few footpaths near metro stations has improved. In most other places, hawkers and shops have taken over the footpaths, besides different departments digging them up for installing electric poles, transmission lines, transformers and water pipelines.
In order to streamline the process, M Dana Kishore, Commissioner of Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC), in a city coordination committee meeting held in July 2020, had instructed all concerned departments to submit their proposals for road-cutting and digging to GHMC and the Hyderabad Road Development Corporation Ltd (HRDCL) well in advance so that permissions could be given for taking up the work from November.
“While we are struggling daily to avoid traffic jams, pedestrians are equally challenged because there is no space to walk,” says city resident, Radha Reddy. “Pavements are dotted with potholes and litter. People need to compete with vehicles on already narrow roads.”
According to Anil Kumar, Hyderabad Additional Commissioner (Traffic), pedestrian safety means “putting up signages and raising the height of medians to prevent pedestrians from crossing roads at random points”. Not clearing the pavements of encroachments, which Telangana (Municipal Administration and Urban Development) MA&UD Minister, KT Rama Rao admits needs to be done.
Other problems pedestrians face on a day-to-day basis are “inadequate zebra crossings, overbridges and subways, encroachment by vendors and autowalas, and the total absence of pavements in many places which makes the city roads a fatal ground for pedestrians,” says Vikas Jain, an IT professional. “We don’t even have ‘walk’ signals at major junctions. To add to our woes, the residual sides of the road (place left after laying of roads) are so uneven that walking on them is akin to crossing rocky terrain.”
Construction of pavements
There are two paving methods. One, a flexible pavement, which consists of various layers of granular materials covered with a bituminous material layer on top. The second, a rigid pavement, which has a cement concrete pavement laid on a well-prepared granular sub-base.
Flexible pavements have low initial costs and have been preferred over rigid pavements. However, due to easy availability of cement, and scarcity and rising price of bitumen, India has started moving towards rigid pavements, which provides an economical alternative as per its life-cycle costing.
But as Prof. Sireesh Saride, Department of Civil Engineering, IIT Hyderabad, pointed out: “Pavements are complex, layered structures influenced by many factors such as material properties, environmental and climatic conditions, traffic volume, subgrade soil profile, construction practices, and pavement aging process. Looking at only the financial angle while laying footpaths may defeat the very purpose.”
More recently, Hyderabad has been experimenting with reusing plastic waste to build pavements. The paver roads, as they are called, are cost effective as compared to cemented roads. While on an average road construction costs up to Rs 10 lakhs per km, the paver tiles purchased by the Greater GHMC cost around Rs 3 lakh. In addition, these paver tiles are easier to handle for road widening or digging works. These tiles can take approximately 20 tonnes of weight, so the possibility of cracks is less.
“I’ve seen a new pavement near Shilparamam which looks very bright and durable,” says Raju Shrivastava, a resident of Madhapur. “The pavement is made from plastic waste. I hope this material lasts and can be replicated in other parts of the city. Hyderabad is in dire need of pavements.”
“While these initiatives for saving funds to build pavements are good, the truth is that roads (and pavements, where they exist) are constantly being dug up to lay either cables or pipes,” adds Rahmat, a resident of the old city. “Before the pavements are even completed, we find that some fresh digging has started in the same place. Vehicles which are meant to travel on road, are driven on pavements, especially two-wheelers and autos. Where are walkers expected to walk?”
“Around the world, citizens are being encouraged to walk towards better health,” points out K. Bhavya Manasa, a college student. “The concept of leisure walking is almost unheard of in Hyderabad. We are being compelled to ride a car or auto as pavements are almost non-existent and there is barely any space for walkers in the city. In addition, roads are getting widened while the pavements are getting narrower or ceasing to exist.”
Maintenance of pavements
As every resident we spoke to had mentioned, the problem is the lack of adequate walking space in most parts of the city and poor maintenance of the few that do exist. Rather than being part of urban infrastructure design, many of the city’s existing pavements have a very limited structural life.
Pavement distress, consisting of fatigue and rutting, is a known factor. However, their maintenance and rehabilitation comes with a steep investment of money and materials.
GHMC has decided to adopt Microsurfacing technology for the maintenance of the city’s pavements. According to B Janardhan Reddy, GHMC Commissioner, routine maintenance of pavements costs Rs 12.5 lakh while microsurfacing costs only Rs 6 lakh. The typical approach so far has been for the authorities to act only when the pavements visually appear to have failed. However, preventive surface treatment to footpaths at regular intervals will significantly reduce upgrade, development and maintenance costs.
GHMC, along with the other executing agencies, is primarily responsible for the construction and maintenance of Hyderabad’s roads and pavements. The Traffic & Transportation Division, under the GHMC was established to improve pedestrian facilities and other road safety infrastructure. As on date, GHMC has a road length of 9,099.24 km in its purview. Of this, 800 km are four-lane roads for which footpaths on both sides are mandatory. However, only about 450 km of pavements is in place. And most of them are non-functional.
HRDCL is a public roads authority established by the Telangana government in June 2017 as a special purpose vehicle (SPV) with a mandate to exclusively build and manage the city’s roads. Out of the 600 km road network under its scope, the Roads and Buildings (R&B) Department, Telangana State has already transferred over 240 km of road length to HRDCL in Phase I. In coordination with GHMC, HRDCL will eventually maintain all 9,099.24 kilometre of roads across the city.
Under the first-of-its-kind initiative in the country, GHMC has recently constituted a Comprehensive Road Maintenance Contract (CRMC). Within its ambit, CRMC will provide footpaths on major internal roads, where the roads are wide enough to accommodate pedestrian facilities.
“We have chosen major through roads which do not lead to a dead end, for the purpose of laying pavements which will be two to three metres wide,” said a GHMC official. As on date, many of the city’s pavements have less than a metre in width.
The pavements are being planned on stretches up to 10 kilometres in each zone. Once privatised, construction and maintenance of footpaths too would be the responsibility of the contracting agency of GHMC.
For the financial year 2021-22, GHMC in November has placed its annual budget proposals before the standing committee for approval. Allocation for roads and pavements constitutes the major component of the projected expenditure at ₹1582.5 crores (28% of the total planned budget).
The disappearing footpaths are inexorably taking away a slice of the city’s culture. Civic activists and pedestrian safety organisations question if Hyderabad can ever become a global destination if it ignores 75 percent of its people who are pedestrians. “The one who walks has no say in the decision making process while the ones who decide do not walk,” says Kanthimathi Kannan, civic activist.