Preventing pedestrian deaths: “Lower speeds, better street design are key”

PEDESTRIAN FATALITIES

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Vehicles often crowd pedestrian crossings, endangering pedestrians. Pic: The Footpath Initiative
Vehicles often crowd pedestrian crossings, endangering pedestrians. Pic: The Footpath Initiative

In the first part of this series, we looked at the patterns in pedestrian fatalities in Bengaluru. In this part, we look at solutions to the problem.

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Between 2010 and 2018, over 3000 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in Bengaluru. Since 2010, the number of deaths have gone down by around 31 percent, which is an average reduction of 3.8 percent per year.

While the city has performed better than other metros like Delhi and Chennai, it is yet to make significant strides in improving pedestrian safety. That a large number of pedestrians continue to die is unacceptable, and warrants serious measures to address this public safety issue.

Global cities are strengthening pedestrian infrastructure

When planning and designing cities, there’s an obvious conflict between promoting vehicle speeds and promoting safety of people. Major Indian cities have largely promoted speeds at the expense of safety.

This is clear in the way our footpaths are so freely encroached upon to make space for vehicles, how guardrails are erected at medians when there’s no easy alternative for safe crossing. Or how foot-over-bridges are built instead of at-grade pedestrian crossings, so that vehicles can pass unobstructed.

These strategies may seemingly reduce congestion and increase vehicle speeds in the near-term, but they have no net positive outcomes in the long-term. In fact, these measures can drastically impact public health, environment, and quality of life by further promoting private vehicle use.

This realisation is key to helping cities shift from temporary ad hoc measures to mature long-term strategies for addressing pedestrian safety. Many global cities that aim to improve mobility are now improving their pedestrian infrastructure.

New York City has reduced urban speed limits and has been investing to improve pedestrian infrastructure through its Vision Zero plans. European cities had made this transition much earlier, and after seeing the benefits, are now rapidly increasing their commitments to aid NMT (non-motorised transport) modes.

Bengaluru needs a long-term action plan

What Indian cities need urgently is a shift in strategy which puts pedestrians at the centre of policymaking, planning, and design. Though many cities have recognised the need to focus on NMT, very few are taking concrete, even if small, measures to improve roads for pedestrians.

Delhi recently introduced the Walkability Policy, under which it plans to improve pedestrian facilities on 18 road stretches. Bengaluru’s new mobility plan has proposed pedestrianising eight streets on a few select days. While these are good starting points, how can cities develop a long-term action plan to address pedestrian safety?

To answer this, we have to understand why and how pedestrian crashes happen. We discussed crash patterns in Bengaluru in the first part of this series, as per our study for the years 2017 and 2018. Based on our observations from the study, we now suggest some measures to reduce pedestrian deaths and injuries in Bengaluru and other Indian cities:

1. Vehicle speeds have to be managed

Speeding is the most commonly stated reason in the FIR reports on fatal pedestrian crashes that we studied. While enforcing speed limits is important, a more effective way of curbing speed is through urban design. Traffic calming methods like roundabouts, speed-breakers, chokers, chicanes and raised pedestrian crossings can be adopted, especially on arterial stretches that currently support speeding.

2. Arterial roads should adopt equitable, people-centric design

Since the majority of deaths happen on arterial roads, our primary focus should be to revamp these roads so as to equitably allocate road space. Designing arterial roads primarily to move a large number of vehicles at high speeds grossly undermines the needs of pedestrians, many of whom reside in adjoining areas and for whom access to these roads on foot is crucial.

All arterial roads should prioritise basic infrastructure such as safe at-grade crossings, sufficiently wide unobstructed footpaths, and good public transit facilities. 

All arterial roads should have unobstructed, sufficiently-wide footpaths. Pic from Hyderabad: Ekta Sawant

3. Peripheral areas need better infra

Our cities are urbanising rapidly. Even as we work towards limiting this sprawl by building compact cities, we have to invest in making streets safer in peripheral areas. Often, people living in these areas are migrants and the urban poor, who largely rely on walking, cycling or public transport to access facilities.

Besides, peripheral areas have minimal pedestrian infrastructure compared to core areas of the city. This amplifies risks for pedestrians there. Hence resources to improve pedestrian facilities in the city should be proportionately allocated.

Pedestrian infrastructure is worse in peripheral areas. Pic: The Footpath Initiative

4. Street design and infrastructure should be inclusive

Pedestrian crashes impact the elderly disproportionately. What we need are streets that cater to various users, serving their diverse mobility needs. This means our streets should be adequately safe for, and accessible to women, children, elderly, people with disability, and other users.

Recently, we at The Footpath Initiative conducted an assessment to determine green signal time for pedestrian crossing on a 1-km stretch on Hosur Road. We found that at some intersections, the time available to cross a 15-meter-wide road was as low as five seconds. This is highly insufficient for able-bodied pedestrians, let alone the elderly who are less agile.

Foot-over bridges and subways are also examples of how pedestrian facilities in our cities are highly exclusionary. At-grade crossings, ramps, wheel-chair accessibility on streets are some ways our streets can be made inclusive.

5. Pedestrian crossings deserve equal, if not more, attention than footpaths

To secure pedestrians, we have to invest in safe at-grade crossings. IRC (Indian Roads Congress) guidelines specify that a pedestrian crossing should be provided at least every 250 meters in residential areas, and at least every 150 meters in commercial or mixed use areas. IRC also recommends at-grade crossings, as the shortest, quickest, and most comfortable way for pedestrians to cross the road.

Crossings can be made safer by making them clearly distinguishable through paint, markings and signage. Traffic-calming features such as raised crossings can also help arrest vehicle speeds.

At signalised intersections, sufficient green signal time should be given for crossing. Refuge islands, which are safe spaces in the median for pedestrians to wait, have to be provided on all roads that have four or more lanes, as per the guidelines. 

In Bengaluru, pedestrian deaths comprise over 40 percent of all road traffic deaths. Without these efforts, the city will fall short of rescuing pedestrians from the risks they face.


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About Anusha Chitturi 3 Articles
Anusha Chitturi is co-founder of The Footpath Initiative, a project to improve pedestrian safety in Indian cities. The project aims to understand specific risks that impact pedestrians, and to initiate data-driven advocacy in cities, starting with Bengaluru and Chennai.

1 Comment

  1. What we don’t need is measures being put in place to further slow down traffic in Bengaluru. It already takes ages to travel a couple of kilometers here.

    We need much better roads, clearly marked zebra crossings, signals which allow pedestrians a way of indicating that they want the red light to go on so that they can cross etc.

    What we absolutely don’t need is more speed breakers. There are enough “breakers” of all types on the road already.

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