Pedestrians victims of 46% crashes
It isn’t just the growing number of automobiles that impede pedestrian access. The growth in numbers doesn’t just manifest in congestion everywhere. If that were the case, we should have had traffic jams with no impact on pedestrian network. Automobile dependency leads to several externalities that eventually impede the safety of pedestrians
More number of pedestrians does not indicate high quality walking spaces. This can be said of the state of pedestrians in Mumbai right now. Over 50% mode share is that of pedestrians, and barely any space to walk safely. Mumbai Traffic Police report of 2021 states 46% of fatal crashes in the city were those of pedestrians. The number has been consistent over the past decade. The growing pressure of automobiles continues to squeeze pedestrians out of spaces to walk, putting their lives at risk.
It isn’t just the growing number of automobiles that impede pedestrian access. The growth in numbers doesn’t just manifest in congestion everywhere. If that were the case, we should have had traffic jams with no impact on pedestrian network. Automobile dependency leads to several externalities that eventually impede the safety of pedestrians.
While one can never exhaustively capture reasons for the impediment, let’s look at some obvious concerns. As automobiles grow, so does the demand for parking. In Mumbai, the demand is 10 times that of supply. The gap might never be met, especially if automobiles continue to grow at the present rate. Parking is also not a zero-sum game, which means that creating supply away from demand will not work, as we have repeatedly observed in cases of multi-level car parks in Mumbai which operate at much lower occupancies. People will always park closer to their origins and destinations – streets and footpaths in Mumbai.
Automobiles also drive the livelihood of those in the lower income bracket – they could be two wheelers, auto rickshaws or taxis. For most of them, the only option to park on the street or footpath. More automobiles also means more breakdowns and more garages, and more automobiles parked outside garages, that eventually make the footpath outside inaccessible.
Add to this other blockages that block pedestrian access: construction and construction material dumped on the footpath; property entrances ramped up or down, or their gates blocking the walking space; utility boxes; bus stops; traffic signages and signal posts; trees; guard rails; shop fronts extending beyond permissible limits; Sulabh Shauchalays; vendors. This list could go on.
In 2017, World Resources Institute (WRI)-India did an analysis of footpath blockages on Hill Road, Bandra, and observed that on over 80% of the stretch from SV Road at Lucky Junction until Mehboob Studio, pedestrians preferred walking on the carriageway.
So if we just clear all these impediments and blockages, will it make everything better?
The answer to this, unfortunately, is NO. Firstly, we cannot just wish away the many activities currently being performed on the footpaths. Secondly, there just isn’t nearly enough footpath space on most streets in Mumbai. Even if the footpaths, as they are in their current form, were to be cleared of any obstructions, there will still be spill-over on the road at many places in the peak.
So what do we do?
In Mumbai, as with several other cities, high-quality walking spaces and high levels of automobile dependency cannot co-exist. The conscious effort has to be a move towards moving people instead on moving vehicles. Parking is the best tool to manage demand. Instead of striving to increase supply wherever possible, parking restrictions can actually manage demand. And moving people doesn’t mean only enhancing public transport capacity. While that is extremely critical, there is a lot of redundancy on Mumbai streets that carefully designing every sqaure meter of city streets can abate. A blocking wastes more space than its own, as it disrupts flows, creates conflicts with other modes, and invites other illegal uses of the space. Temporary blockings become progressively permanent. Which is why building ownership of street space is critical. To restore the ownership of pedestrians’ footpaths need to be used, and for that they need to be usable.
As the renowned author, Jane Jacobs states, “The trust of a city street is formed over time from many, many little public sidewalk contacts... Most of it is ostensibly trivial but the sum is not trivial at all.”
(Dhawal Ashar, head, WRI-India)