According to the Bengaluru Traffic Police, an average of four vehicle-caused accidents occur in the city every day. An alarming 20 percent of these are fatal. These happen for several reasons – pedestrians crossing wide junctions where there’s little coordination, driver belligerence, and disregard of traffic rules. People with disabilities and the elderly are left at an unimaginable disadvantage, with only a few seconds to cross the road.
The obvious question here is – what about the skywalks?
Skywalks exist for the sole purpose of pedestrian safety, but are rarely used. For the average Bengalurean to incorporate skywalks in their daily commute, these would have to be as convenient as possible.
Convenience would include minimising time and physical effort, and adequate lighting and safety. Moreover, it would require immaculate planning – the skywalks would have to be as close to bus stops as possible. And they should be located in areas where pedestrians cannot cross the road because of endless stretches of moving traffic in the absence of signals. These aspects have been ignored in the case of skywalks in Bengaluru.
Dysfunctional or unsafe elevators in skywalks
The elderly and people with disabilities can consider using the skywalk only if it includes an elevator facility. While there are skywalks that do have elevators, a majority of them are either nonfunctional or extremely unreliable. Also, frequent power-cuts make them unsafe.
In late September last year, three civilians found themselves stuck in the faulty elevator of a skywalk, ironically in front of the BBMP headquarters. With no way of getting help, they were rescued after half an hour when passers-by heard them and contacted BBMP officials. This incident reflects lack of maintenance and safety measures.
Another example is the Domlur junction skywalk, a project that cost the taxpayer Rs 2.5 crore. This skywalk has elevators that were reportedly disabled within three days of inauguration, to “prevent misuse”.
In February 2018, BBMP announced it would upgrade all existing skywalks with elevators for pedestrian comfort. The Rs 10 crore estimated for this upgradation would be a huge waste of taxpayer money if the elevators are not kept functional and well-maintained.
Poor lighting, muggings and other safety concerns
There are also several security concerns on skywalk usage. Poor lighting during the evenings, occupation by local idlers, instances of muggings and frequent appropriation of the passages as urinals strike an aversion to using skywalks.
On the Manyata Tech Park skywalk, several instances of pickpocketing have been reported. At the Kempegowda bus stop in Majestic, the terminal of the skywalk is reportedly swarming with sex workers, making the infrastructure off-putting despite extensive planning and the installation of a disability-friendly ramp. The scarce usage, in turn, hinders the prospect of regular maintenance and better ambience.
Pedestrians jaywalking despite skywalks
Skywalks also involve the burden of physical exertion – it is much easier for most pedestrians to cross busy roads than to climb a large flight of stairs, even if it means risking their safety. Instances of jaywalking are extremely common near Manyata Tech Park and Sophia’s High School despite an existing pedestrian crossing facility here.
The High Grounds skywalk in particular has an exasperating 65 steps one way, making it inaccessible, or unappealing at the very least. Pedestrians who cross the road by trying to jump across the median are increasingly contributing to accidents in Bengaluru.
Apart from median accidents, the poor planning of skywalks often make footpaths discontinuous, adding to the risk of pedestrian accidents. Planning authorities cannot consider acquiring space from the carriageway as it would create traffic bottlenecks on the already-congested roads.
Better research and planning needed
The common theme across most of these problems is a seeming lack of research. While BBMP claims that skywalks are built based off of data in feasibility reports, the physical dimensions of existing skywalks have a one-size-fits-all approach. This is a serious oversight.
While some skywalks – like that in Domlur – are severely underutilised, there are roads that desperately need some sort of crossing facility. An example is Residency Road. With long stretches of traffic and no signals, pedestrians here have no choice but to dash across the road.
As skywalks are now built under PPP (public-private partnership), there is always the issue of strategic funding by bidders. They may prefer building skywalks in locations where these are not necessarily needed but would yield maximum advertisement revenue. Hoardings also reduce visibility from the outside, making skywalks a hub for miscreants, with numerous chain-snatching incidents reported.
Many criticise the BBMP for building skywalks for advertisement returns and not pedestrian safety. A zebra crossing system, they say, will be a far cheaper measure to implement, and infinitely more convenient for pedestrians. The obvious issues here are lack of discipline and the inefficiency of pedestrian-operated traffic lights.
BBMP has announced plans to build more skywalks across the city this year. They also plan to install CCTV cameras in every skywalk for security purposes. While cameras are a step in the right direction, surveillance needs to be taken care of, and it is yet to be seen how this will be implemented. Building skywalks in the city can only be justified if the concerns regarding safety and convenience are taken more seriously.
[This post was first published by the Takshashila Institution and has been republished with minor edits. The original can be found here.]