A “long short walk” for pedestrian safety

In 2011, the United Nations launched the Decade of Action for Road Safety (2011-2020) and urged all countries to organise programmes in the name of “UN Road Safety Week” from 6th-12th May. The theme selected for this year’s campaign is “pedestrian safety” with the aim of creating awareness around the world for the safety of youth on the road. It is dedicated to the memory of Zenani Mandela, the great granddaughter of Winnie Madzikela and Nelson Mandela who was killed in a road accident on 11th June 2010. This campaign aims to spread awareness on pedestrian rights and safety which will help achieve the goal of the Decade of Action for Road Safety, in saving as many as 5 million lives. Every government, citizen, school, college, child and senior citizen must be part of this campaign and uphold the rights of pedestrians. Safe walking is the basic right of every human being and but is denied to many at all levels.

There is an urgent need to focus on pedestrian safety in Bangalore too. Pedestrians in Bangalore and especially children find it very difficult to cross the road and walk on the footpath due to their pathetic condition everywhere. It is disheartening to know that Bangalore is not child friendly. With no adequate play grounds, children are forced to play on streets. Footpaths encroached by vendors garbage, construction material, etc., compels pedestrians to walk on the road. There is no safety and proper infrastructure for especially for physically or visually challenged persons (children and adults). The current scenario of road safety is such that parents are worried until their children return from school.

Children and adults walked to highlight challenges and rights of pedestrians (Pic courtesy: ESAF)

Road safety rally

On May 9th 2013, at 11 am around 50 children in the 8-15 year age group and 45 adults walked on the footpath from Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan campus at KR Circle to the office of Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (KSCPCR) near Kittur Rani Chennamma Circle. They wanted to spread awareness among the public about road and pedestrian safety by singing songs, holding placards and banners.

Labelled “The Long Short Walk”, the campaign was jointly organised by NGO’s working for children in Bangalore such as CRT, Evangelical and Social Action Forum (ESAF), Sparsha, APSA, Mobility India, APD and many other child right activists as part of UN Road Safety Week 2013 (May 6-12). The walkathon was flagged off by Dr R Padmini, Founder and Executive Trustee of Child Rights Trust (CRT). The children were received by M A Saleem, Additional Commissioner of Police, Traffic and Umesh Aradhya, Chairperson KSCPCR. The former had submitted their recommendations to both the officials to take adequate measures to protect their rights while they are on roads. They aim to make Bangalore city child and pedestrian friendly.

“Vehicles go at such a speed that they do not bother about us children when we have to cross the road. They should stop for us and allow us to cross the road safely”, said 14-year old Dileep, whom SPARSH assists. Though they planned to walk on the footpath, its condition and frequent obstructions denies access to most pedestrians. People with disabilities and especially those in a wheel chair or needing assistance of prosthetic and sensory type find it more challenging. This initiative was an eye opener for many as broad and tiled footpath in the heart of the city does not guarantee accessibility and safety.

Manasa, aged 14, from Chagalehatti Child Rights Team and Library remarked, “The footpath has to be used by pedestrians. But we see motorists coming on the footpath and pedestrians have to risk their life. They honk so badly that it makes the pedestrian wonder about who is violating rights”. Umesh Arradhya, Chairperson KSCPCR, added, “Mobile phones should be switched off while driving and as children you should request parents to not use mobile while driving. Parents are the ones who give motorbikes to their children. You should remind them that they should encourage children not to use motorbikes until they obtain their licence”.

Disturbing realities
As per UN statistics, every year 2,70,000 pedestrians die in road accidents. This shows the intensity of the issues faced by the pedestrians on the road and the poor or absent pedestrian infrastructure. Effective systems and monitoring will ensure the safety of pedestrians and saves many lives by:

* Providing good lighting facilities and removal of obstructions on road
* Creating awareness on pedestrian safety and precautions
* Making roads child friendly
* Strengthening and enforcement of laws related to drunken driving and speeding of vehicles

12-year old Karthik from Sparsha opined, “Bus and other heavy vehicles should give priority to people with disabilities. They may not be aware of or see the vehicles approaching. So, drivers should stop their vehicles to allow pedestrians to cross the road safely. Also, other pedestrians should help visually challenged persons, children and the elderly to cross the road”.

Uneven footpaths force pedestrians to choose to walk on the road rather than use footpaths. The rate of accidents and pedestrian fatalities per day shows that pedestrians are not safe. Pedestrians, specifically children, are faced with many issues while they are on the road. This walkathon is to highlight children’s right to have safe roads. Hence, we need to create awareness among the public and government. Similar programmes should be organised at least once in a month with the hope that Bangalore will become safe for children sooner”, observed, Nagasimha G Rao, Executive Director, CRT.

Both ESAF and CRT have always raised the issues of pedestrian safety especially children before and after school hours. In fact, ESAF has done a study on the possibilities of safe routes to school on Promenade Road where there 13 schools in one stretch alongwith the Chairperson of KSCPCR. They have submitted a report to the Additional Traffic Commissioner with specific recommendations. The research results will be soon disseminated and shared among all stakeholders and requesting their attention and action on the issues highlighted by children.

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