Last month, in December 2021, a new skywalk came up on Outer Ring Road, near New Horizon College, Kadubeesanahalli, built by Embassy Tech Park. Coming as it did, after a long period of no new skywalks being opened, it threw the spotlight on the importance of skywalks.
In the recent past, BBMP has built a number of skywalks across the city under the PPP (Public-Private Partnership) model, which affected the final decisions on their locations and designs. However the overhead pedestrian crossings on Outer Ring Road have become a reality, largely due to citizen activism. The Sanjay Giri skywalk, between Akme Harmony Apartment and Cloudnine Hospital in Bellandur, is a well-known success story. The skywalk finally came up in 2019, due to the relentless efforts of citizen group Bellandur Jothege.
How the Sanjay Giri skywalk came to be
It all started in 2017, when local citizens got involved, to ensure pedestrians could cross the road safely. Crossing the road is a challenge common across the long stretch of Outer Ring Road – especially from Bellandur to Mahadevapura. In November 2017, Sanjay Giri, a 19-year old security guard of Akme Harmony Apartment died after a car hit him while he was crossing the Outer Ring Road.
Residents of apartments in the neighbourhood decided to take action. In August 2017, they got together to organise a poster campaign. When the poster campaign didn’t get the attention it needed, they called for a protest and human chain which finally got the attention of officials. Kishori Mudaliar and other active citizens in the neighbourhood formed Bellandur Jothege to push for pedestrian-focused solutions.
Kishori says, “We invited resident welfare associations in Bellandur, collected signatures, and Mukund Kumar (a resident of the neighbourhood) met PC Mohan (MP), who we invited. That’s when MLA Arvind Limbavali (also) attended.”
Citizen pressure and MLA’s push got BBMP to approve the skywalk plan. The skywalk was formally inaugurated in 2019, and was named after the young security guard who had lost his life.
Infrastructure construction takes years
With citizen demand increasing over the years, many skywalks had been approved on ORR. But many reasons like requirements of NOC from BMRCL, lack of responses to tenders, election code of conduct, or even unavailability of MLA for bhoomi pooja have delayed such projects.
It took two years for the Sanjay Giri skywalk to come up. Naresh Sadavisan, a former Bellandur resident, puts this down to the BBMP not prioritizing pedestrians. “Heavy vehicles and four wheelers are privileged over pedestrians. And this is just not restricted to skywalks, this is part of a larger thought process of planning, consequently, pedestrians have little place to walk across.” Bellandur Jothege even came up with the idea of Bellandur Walks. Naresh says, “Between the Sarjapur junction and Kaikondrahalli, in pre-pandemic times, based on anecdotal evidence, it is reasonable to believe that out of the six lakh commuters, 30% of the population live within a four kilometer radius. We wanted to conduct a four kilometer trial pilot walk but the city did not act on it.”
Naresh points out another lacuna i.e. little coordination among civic bodies. “ORR is part of the Major Roads division while the inside is part of Ward roads, the two don’t talk to each other. Also BWSSB doesn’t align with BBMP’s plans. It was only after civic protests and unfortunate deaths that the BBMP and local MLAs agreed to a skywalk.”
Kishori says this experience helped her understand how the process worked. “The Sanjay Giri skywalk paved the way for six more skywalks in Bellandur/ORR, of which five have been completed while one is pending.”
Kishori says that the impact Bellandur Jothege had in building skywalks are in terms of design intervention, a change in mindset, and bringing pedestrian safety in the civic agenda.
According to some Bengalureans, skywalks don’t serve much use as pedestrians run across the road and don’t use skywalks. To this, Naresh says: “Pedestrians will use it if it is convenient. If it is properly maintained and all the facilities are available and if all three factors of locality, safety and purpose are served then they will use it. The difference is between poorly thought out skywalks versus well thought out skywalks. Maintenance of skywalks is very important but even for that there is hardly any budget.” R K Misra, co-founder of Yulu, also says skywalks must have facilities such as lifts and ramps so that they are easily accessible for pedestrians.
Pedestrian road crossing facilities can include Zebra crossings at junctions, High Raised Pedestrian Crossing (HRPC), Medians and Refuge Islands, Skywalks/foot overbridge and subways. The decision for the right type of crossing has to be based on road characteristics — road, footpath and median widths, traffic composition- traffic volume and type of vehicles and their speed, pedestrian traffic volume, land use pattern, and local resident surveys.
While plans like Comprehensive Mobility Plan for Bengaluru (CMP-2020) prepared by BMRCL and DULT proposed location for skywalks, the ground reality is rarely aligned to such plans.
The deciding factor for skywalks: Who pays?
BBMP expects skywalks to be built as a private-public project, where the advertiser pays for the infrastructure and makes up the investment through ad revenues. This often means the location of skywalks are often decided based on where investors can maximise their revenue, rather than pedestrian need.
Clement Jayakumar, a member of citizen group Doddanekundi Rising, says that the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) does not take pedestrian-friendly infrastructure as seriously as it ought to and therefore, citizens often help identify issues where there is maximum crossing of people and high traffic speed. “The interest is not there (to build) in the spot where we need the skywalk, the prioritization is not aligned with pedestrian infrastructure. This is because if it is not a commercially viable spot then advertising agencies are not interested in investing in it.”
RK Misra, who has been actively engaged in urban issues and has advised governments, says, “Skywalks have only been successful when citizens have identified the locations where it should be built. Citizens take into consideration the actual needs of the area/locality. Usually, if skywalks are built out of commercial exploitation that it has not been of much use.”
Clement says that the Private-Public Partnership (PPP) can be one option but not the only option. “If BBMP doesn’t get any tender bids within three months then they should convert it into self funding. If funding is an issue let them leave other BBMP work, like asphalting of roads, and focus on pedestrian infrastructure.”
Like in the case of the Sanjay Giri skywalk, most other skywalks on the stretch have been PPP projects or have had the cost borne by the business groups on the road like Outer Ring Road Companies Association (ORRCA) or the Embassy Tech Park.
What does the future hold for ORR’s skywalks?
Now with the Metro construction initiated on Outer Ring Road, the existing walkways are at risk. They are expected to be dismantled, and restructured to integrate with the Metro’s viaduct. When and how it happens, at what inconvenience to commuters and pedestrians on the road, remains to be seen.
[Corrigendum: Errors regarding the chronology of events organised by citizen groups have been corrected. An error regarding the funding source of Sanjay Giri skywalk has also been corrected.]