Residents of the eastern part of Bengaluru would have found it difficult to ignore the omnipresent banners that have sprung up on road dividers, announcing the launch of “signal free corridor road from Domlur to Murugeshpalya.” I want to assess the implications of this project to the city transport’s most neglected users – the pedestrians.
One of the banners on the Old Airport Road announcing the launching of the signal free corridor
The principal-agent problem
At the first glance, projects that solely promise faster moving traffic are illustrative of the classical principal-agent problem in governmental issues. On one side, there is a large section of people in Bengaluru that would want to see road safety prioritized over traffic speed. In the Pedestrian Walkability Index that measures the quality of pedestrian infrastructure, Bengaluru was ranked 12 out of 30 Indian cities and second last amongst 15 Asian cities. On an average, more than one pedestrian die daily on the streets of Bengaluru.
In April 2013, the Karnataka High Court issued notices to the State Government and BBMP seeking better facilities to ensure pedestrian safety. In spite of the deteriorating situation, very little has been done for the humble pedestrian in our city.
On the other hand, BBMP and BTP collectively face the grave problem of traffic congestion and reduced vehicular mobility. As a result, most of the road infrastructure creation (if any) has been focused on increasing the speed of moving traffic, while pedestrians have been seen as obstructers slowing down traffic movement. For example, the Comprehensive Traffic and Transportation Scheme (CTTS) 2007 proposed a massive investment of 46944 crores INR for the transport infrastructure of Bangalore over the next 16 years. The mass transportation strategies rightfully got a lion’s share of 79%. But the pedestrians who would be using these mass transport facilities got a share of 0.6%, which waste even lesser than the funds allocated to parking facilities.
Thus, we have a situation where the priority of a vast section of the people (the principals) is not the same as the priority of the implementing agencies (the agents). A consequence of this problem is that the solutions that arise are sub-optimal and unsatisfactory by nature.
The problem can be tackled if and only if people come together to demand pedestrian safety as a priority in all road infrastructure projects. People from all classes need to make common cause with this issue because regardless of the size of one’s vehicle, every Bangalorean uses the road as a pedestrian for one purpose or the other. Hence, prioritising pedestrian safety will help every single road user in the city.
A promising start
In the case under consideration, a signal free corridor on Old Airport Road was proposed by the Agenda for Bengaluru Infrastructure and Development Task Force (ABIDe). The state cabinet approved the corridor in January 2014. After six months, in July 2014, the work was formally launched.
Coming from a set of urban planning experts, the signal free corridor promises several features for pedestrian safety. For instance, apart from constructing a traffic light-free corridor road from ASC Centre to Hope Farm for faster moving traffic, the proposal also includes remodeling of footpaths, asphalting, street lights, bus bays and construction of medians. If implemented as promised, this construction will be a boon to pedestrians who risk their lives at Marathahalli, Kundalahalli Gate and several other junctions on a daily basis.
It is now up to the people of East Bengaluru to work towards ensuring that all the promises of the pedestrians are fulfilled by BBMP. Historically, signal-free corridor projects worsen the plight of the pedestrians. For example, the signal-free corridor on Outer Ring Road between Marathahalli and Sarajapur is a daily nightmare to cross on foot. It is hence imperative for everyone to come together and ensure that the new project does not repeat these mistakes.
In the long run, there is a need for the creation of a Non-Motorized Transport (NMT) Cell under the BBMP’s authority on the lines of the NMT cell in Pune Municipality with statutory powers to recommend the overall planning and design aspects for issues related to pedestrians. This will be like a pedestrian’s lobby to seek what is rightfully theirs – the right of way.
The way forward
The theory of Induced Traffic states that the more one invests in road infrastructure, the more traffic it attracts. Similarly, the more we invest in pedestrian infrastructure, the more will be the number of people using walking as an element of their commute. Prioritizing pedestrian safety is the only way to ensure that road infrastructure projects don’t lead to freedom for a few at the expense of the humble pedestrian.