One of the biggest casualties of rapid urbanisation in India and elsewhere is the footpaths which are fast vanishing from our city maps. With the increased vehicle population, we find the number of vehicles on roads increasing day by day there by causing air pollution and also traffic congestion. Adding fuel to fire is the poor condition of our public transport system which forces citizens to have their own vehicles to move around. With the number of vehicles increasing as the population and their affordability increases we are going to see more and more vehicular population on roads than ever before. Local authorities have found an easiest way to the problem of accommodating more vehicles on narrow roads simply by widening it by encroaching the footpaths. So, we can see footpaths on many Indian cities vanishing to make way for roads widening programme.
However, recent attempts by some of the city development authorities to take cognizance of the importance of walkability of cities is a welcome move. City development authorities in Chennai and Delhi have come out with policies to provide safe pedestrian infrastructure and enhance walkability. The government should aim at strengthening of existing pedestrian infrastructure in areas where it is inadequate and development in areas where it is not presently available. Steps like removal of encroachments from footpath, identifications of vending zones, shaded tree plantation, walkable distances, installation of street furniture and signages, if implemented properly can enhance the walkability of our cities which are otherwise notorious in this respect. Though coming out with a draft policy is commendable in itself, the authorities need to move fast to frame an acceptable policy, its proper implementation and following it up after implementation. After all provision for barrier free footpaths and a continuous pedestrian network are basic human rights which the government hitherto has ignored consistently.
Making the city walkable doesn’t end in creation of footpaths but includes the whole system of design and infrastructure aimed at creating an enjoyable walking environment in the city. The most important aspect of walkability is the provision of continuous, and safe walkway networks that provide clear protection from motor vehicles and are accessible to all people, including those with disabilities. Prioritized Connectivity prioritizes walking over motorized forms of transportation. It should also be noted that provision of basic services within easy walking distance enables more of these trips to be undertaken on foot. Usually shorter distances are covered by walking and future cities should be designed keeping this fact in mind. Work from home concept need to be encouraged. Including pedestrian stakeholders in the city transportation planning process is essential for its success.
Those who use the footpath to reach their destinations are the foot soldiers whose efforts in achieving less carbon footprint has gone unnoticed all these years and may remain so in the coming years too. The government may subsidise those who buy electric vehicles and incentivise those who go for green technologies and materials to build houses but the efforts of our foot warriors are completely ignored for reasons unknown. We need to learn from Netherlands who has taken the noble initiative by deciding to pay its citizens to go to work on cycle. To reduce dependence on vehicles for transportation, the Netherlands government is offering 0.19 Euros/kilometer (Rs 15/km) for those who cycle to their office daily. When there is less traffic on road, there will be less pollution in the air, less forex outgo on oil imports, less carbon footprint and above all ensures better health for the cyclist. The government should give walkability in cities the highest priority and honour those who promote it regularly.