Mixed use of our roads has long been both a plus and a minus in Bengaluru, especially in ‘shopping’ areas like Commercial Street and Brigade Road. Recently, some children from Poorna Learning Centre, a school in north Bengaluru decided to address the issue by conducting a survey and presenting a report.
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Anyone who has gone to Commercial Street, especially on weekends, cannot be oblivious to the difficulties that pedestrians face, due to the traffic on that narrow street. G V Dasarathi (aka Das) and his daughter Amala saw a woman with a tiny baby tripping and falling, when they were there in January this year. The crowds, and the chaotic passage of vehicles, contributed to the accident. The incident triggered off a resolution in the minds of father and daughter, resulting in Das speaking to children and teachers of Poorna Learning Centre (where Amala studies) on Bellary Road, and initiating a project that would involve conducting a survey of Commercial Street.
The survey was to be done over two days and the results worked out over a couple of weekends, with the children themselves drawing the graphs, compiling statistics and writing the report.
On the 11th and 18th of January, a group of 15 children met at Das’ home from where they went to Commercial Street. On both occasions, they positioned themselves at three of the traditional entrances to the area: Cavalry Road junction, Old Poor House Road junction, and the tiny lane that joins Commercial Street from Dickenson Road. Two boys calculated how many cars were entering the street and noted down the figures. While the other children, shedding their inhibitions, accosted shoppers and visitors and asked them whether Commercial Street should be for pedestrians only or whether vehicles should be allowed. Shopkeepers were asked the question too. “The shopkeepers told us that anything which brought in more customers was welcome,” says Amala.
According to Das, some people did hesitate to respond, initially. “They were worried that the children were selling something or evangelizing,” he says. “Some of the police constables thought that the children were selling books!” And yes, some of the less-savoury experiences also did happen, with some men looking the young girls up and down. But the parents, who felt that the children should brave this experience as part of the real-world, were generally around. And when people realized that this was part of a survey, they participated enthusiastically. They were informed by the children that M G Road in Pune is a pedestrian-only zone on weekends, and were asked if they too would like the same kind of restrictions on vehicular traffic.
Amala bubbles over with enthusiasm as she speaks about the way she and her friends conducted the survey. “Our school has always been involved in civic issues,” she says. “The first day, we spent about four hours, on the second day, a little less.” Once the data was collected, two weekends were spent by the children at Das’ home, collating and tabulating the figures. “Each of us took up part of the job of preparing the report!” exclaims Amala happily.
The survey, she says, has been a great learning experience. “We learnt that we must be very polite to people, in order to make them listen to what we were asking,” Amala explains. “We also learnt that conducting a survey is not as easy as it looks.” It was hard to decide on what to ask people and how much time to take. “We decided not to take more than two minutes of any respondent’s time,” puts in Das.
The results of the survey are remarkable. Here is a summary of what these children found out:
- A total of 900 shoppers were surveyed.
- Of these, 70 per cent prefer a pedestrian-only street.
- Of the people walking into the street, 92 per cent prefer a pedestrian-only street.
- 76 per cent of shoppers come on foot, 14 per cent in cars and 10 per cent on two-wheelers.
- Only 32 per cent of the road space is available to pedestrians. Automobiles carry only 24 per cent of the people coming in, but hog 68 per cent of the road space. This even though Commercial Street is not a thoroughfare; people come here only to shop, not to travel from one place to another.
- 42 per cent of the road space is used for parking, by just two per cent of the people.
- Each person in the parked cars uses 66 times the road space used by pedestrians.
There is obviously a strong case for converting Commercial Street, at least over the weekends, into a pedestrian-only zone. “The report has been circulated to the media. We are now taking it to the Commercial Street Shopkeepers’ Association and also to the Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic),” says Das.
There is now hope that, backed up by the statistics collected from this survey, citizens of Bengaluru can push for making Commercial Street a pedestrian-only zone, at least on weekends. A similar initiative had been tried about 15 years ago, with the Commercial Street Association introducing shuttle buses on the roads in the area to pick up and drop off shoppers, but after a year it was given up because of pressure from some shopkeepers, who felt that business had slackened because of this rule. However, with the increasing traffic, and number of shoppers on this road, it seems high time that the initiative be revived.
Some of the suggestions that the children have put forward in the report, to incorporate the changes in a phased manner:
- For one month, on Saturday and Sunday evenings after 4 PM, make the street pedestrian-only.
- For the second month, disallow parking on the street, and use the parking space for walking.
- After this, ban vehicles on the street after 9AM.
To solve the problems that this would cause for physically challenged, or elderly people who cannot walk, the children suggest that the Commercial Street Association provide an electric golf-cart shuttle service from the parking areas to the street. If each shop contributes just Rs.150 towards this, this can be done.
And while thinking about the ways in which this can be done, let’s also appreciate the efforts of these schoolchildren, who have addressed tough civic issues head on, and tried to bring some solutions, too! ⊕