According to some accounts such as this, every year over 200 pedestrians are killed on Hyderabad’s roads on average. This number might seem like a lot, but as someone who walks very often, I was actually expecting it to be quite higher considering the absolute lack of apathy from our civic authorities and even fellow citizens to pedestrian safety.
It is said that everyone is a pedestrian at some point. I don’t know how true that is, because it fails to explain the life-threatening situations our city forces pedestrians to be in almost everywhere.
Issues with infrastructure
A big part of the problem lies in the infrastructure of our city, which, at times, feels like it is intentionally designed to be hostile towards pedestrians just for the sake of it. That is, when infrastructure is even present, which it isn’t in most places.
I live along the Inner Ring Road, and footpaths are a rare sight here. What we do get though, is wide, signal-free roads that are very unsafe for pedestrians, but are convenient for motorists only. Take this junction at Rajendranagar for instance, it is one that I cross on a daily basis.
It has free lefts everywhere, which, once again, makes it convenient for motorists at the expense of pedestrian safety. This is quite an important junction that also serves as a bus changeover point, so it sees quite a bit of pedestrian activity. Nevertheless, there is no facility to make it safe for pedestrians. There are no zebra crossings, no footpaths, no pedestrian signals, and free lefts which mean there is a continuous flow of fast moving vehicles here.
Now, imagine trying to cross this massive junction with a mobility disability!
That brings me to my next point: accessibility. I am a young, able-bodied male. However, infrastructure should not be designed keeping me in mind. It should be designed for the elderly, and for the differently abled. It should be accessible to everyone. For example, the American Disability Association mandates that every footpath should have a ramp with an easy gradient. Forget ramps, we don’t even have footpaths. The few places we do have footpaths, they are built completely unscientifically.
Footpaths should have a height of not more than 150mm anywhere. Take this footpath at JNTU, which is arguably one of the most pedestrian-intensive places in our city.
It is over double the maximum allowed height! Are our civic authorities so incompetent that they are unaware of basic footpath standards? Or, are they aware but they just do not care? Either way it is a big problem that needs to be addressed.
Footpaths should also be a minimum of 1.8 metres wide. I don’t think I need a ruler to show that this “footpath”, if you can even call it that, is nowhere near the minimum width.
Also, where am I supposed to go once I reach the end of that footpath? Footpaths should be continuous, so that people don’t have to constantly get on and off the walkway. We not only have discontinuous footpaths everywhere, but more often than not the area between two walkways is completely unwalkable too.
It is also common to see footpaths being occupied by big stores to be used as parking. Again, convenience for motorists at the expense of pedestrians.
Attitude and culture
In my experience, though, the biggest issue lies not in infrastructure gaps, but in how pedestrians are treated by society as a whole. Pedestrians, just like someone in a car or on a cycle, are also people going from A to B. Unlike motorists, however, pedestrians are seen as pests who should move out of the way.
Despite being the most vulnerable road users, pedestrians are still expected to stay off the roads and not cross anywhere, giving motorists full priority to use the roads however they see fit. This is not unique to Hyderabad, but it is still very prevalent here. Even our traffic police is infamous for using words such as “jaywalkers” to describe victims of automobile violence.
Pedestrian injuries and fatalities are wrongly considered an unavoidable consequence of vehicles, instead of something that can and should be stopped. Vehicle drivers are often absolved of any and all responsibility, despite them being the ones operating multi-ton metal boxes at fatal speeds in public areas.
I remember this one time after dark I was waiting at Biodiversity for a bus towards Mehdipatnam. People familiar with that place will know that there is no bus shelter, footpath, or even streetlights over there. Nevertheless, the traffic police stationed there was shouting at us for standing on the paved road and ordering us to go back and stand on the mud and construction material instead. Why? Because vehicles are more important than actual people, of course.
Another incident that comes to mind is when I was traveling in a bus that broke down on the Attapur Musi bridge. As I got down from the bus and went onto the (broken) footpath there, I immediately heard a honk behind me. A scooter was honking at me to move, while on the footpath!
How can pedestrians expect to be safe in a city that treats them like this? Even in spaces that are supposedly designated for pedestrians, we are honked at and made to move for the convenience of motorists. We are constantly reminded not to “jaywalk”, and the onus of safety is put on us instead of on motorists or civic authorities.
If a motorist is seen speeding, they are simply sent a message about a challan, and they are allowed to go about their day despite doing something that can very well harm or even kill people.
Our city needs to realise that we pedestrians are people too, and we should be treated like actual human beings. Motorists should be held accountable for their dangerous actions. Our streets should be made safe and accessible for everyone, including the elderly and the differently-abled.