Sunday, January 25, 2009

Use them or loose them

My city’s municipality has built a brand new and quite beautiful footpath on a road near my house recently. They also paved the road passing next to the footpath.

For as long as I can remember this road did not have anything resembling a usable footpath and every day, hundreds of pedestrians, many of them school kids had to walk on the road dodging autorickshaws, cars, trucks and motorbikes. It was quite dangerous and so the new footpath was a very welcome addition.

But almost no one uses the new footpath!

People still prefer to walk on the street, in fact many of them walk right next to the footpath, while the footpath lies empty and unused. The street is as dangerous as ever to pedestrians, in fact even more so now that the road is newly built since vehicles go faster on the street now.

Nature of course abhors a vacuum, and hawkers, beggars and garbage sorters who have noticed that people aren’t using the footpath, have now started setting themselves up on it in various places. This has only served to de-motivate pedestrians who have wanted to use the footpath.

So let's not blame encroachments on footpaths when we do not actually wish to use the ones provided to us.

In any case I think what is really going on over here is that people in India, not used to using pedestrian infrastructure for generations, do not know how to use it, or simply cannot get themselves to using it now that it is available.

We need to implement jay walking laws in India, similar to ones existing in developed countries, that impose a fine on people who walk on streets when a usable footpath is available.

For decades, people in India have had to make do with basic, woefully inadequate and shoddy civic amenities. Now that good quality civic infrastructure is finally becoming available, there is also a need for complimentary laws that would nudge people towards the proper use of the new amenities.

And to people who think such laws are useless since they don't get implemented effectively, I would ask them to look at ones that have been implemented effectively. The two-wheeler helmet law in Mumbai is a classic example. Two wheeler riders without helmets have been fined often enough now that most two wheeler riders prefer wearing a helmet - probably more out of fear of getting fined than out of a concern for safety - which incidentally, how most of the effective laws all over the world function!

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