Anything in plenty loses its value. Anything–even human life! That’s why when we read of treacherous genocide of thousands of innocent people somewhere away from our vicinity, the intensity of the sorrow that we feel is short-lived—we are able to carry on with our lives quite normally. We know, as individuals we can do jolly little to change anything on this planet.
Is that wholly true? I went to Calgary in Canada recently to spend time with my son and daughter-in-law. The wonderful roads, neat and even footpaths and walking trails and the marvelous traffic sense of the drivers of all kinds of vehicles struck me as I went out on my first walk there. Another striking aspect was the very low density of population.
Footpaths can be much more safer
I spent nearly three months there and drove to numerous places, but never did I find a single pothole on the roads, or protruding slabs on a footpath or open manholes. In case of any such rare occurrence, warning signals are displayed.
All the footpaths are wide enough for the few pedestrians, cyclists, board skaters and dog walkers to go around safely, away from the speeding vehicles. All the footpaths are just about four or five inches high and taper very smoothly at every junction. All buildings, public spaces and public transport vehicles are handicap-friendly. Buses lower a special ramp at bus stops for wheelchair users. Thus, I saw many physically challenged individuals going around independently in their motorised wheelchairs.
There are stop signals at all by-lane junctions. Every vehicle invariably stops for a few seconds, whether there is anybody waiting to cross or not. If at all vehicles find a pedestrian near the junction, they wait for him or her to cross over. Pedestrians have the right to cross first and this rule is strictly followed.
All traffic signs like speed limits, school zone, playground zone, parking, etc. are very clearly displayed all over the city, on all highways, in all interior residential areas, even in small villages, and inside parks and public spaces. Traffic violations are punished, hence nobody dares to break rules anywhere, even if there is only one vehicle and it is the middle of the night! Cameras are fixed in many places and there is patrolling. Most of the traffic signs and rules are universal, but how they are implemented is what makes all the difference in ensuring smooth traffic and avoiding accidents.
Not caring about maintaining parks
After seeing the parks in Calgary, I felt ashamed that we Bengalureans have to fight to save the little green patches like Cubbon Park or Lal Bagh! I mean ‘little’, because I realised how big a park could be only after seeing the parks there! A neighbourhood park in the locality where my son lives is vast, encompassing a golf course and many playgrounds, and is well maintained.
We fence our parks, guard them and lock up the gates, but parks in Calgary are never fenced and people walk in whenever they feel like. There are immaculate walking trails all over the park which run to miles, connecting many residential localities. The grass meadows and trees are all well kept. Even to fell a single sick or dead tree, the authorities notify the public, who are free to go and discuss the matter with them. Benches and picnic tables with dust bins are scattered throughout the parks. But there is no trash lying anywhere on the ground, even in crowded tourist spots.
Once, we went to camp in a forest resort. I was wonderstruck to receive the key to our cabin at almost 11.30 pm in the night from the lone caretaker at the gate just by mentioning our booking details, hassle-free. There is no lighting outside the cabins or common bathrooms, and tourists are asked not to light campfires after ten in the night so as to not disturb the wildlife.
The lakes and rivers are also kept clean and pure with crystal clear water, although hundreds of tourists visit them regularly. I did not find anybody, not even a child, urinating or defecating in public, even in the forest areas. You can see at least temporary dry latrines dispersed along the highways and trekking ways, and they are stocked with toilet paper and hand sanitiser!
It’s all because they care about life
Why so many rules and instructions all over the country? It is because ‘life’ as such is respected. Every individual is important. Wild life, water bodies and forests are protected. The rights of physically challenged people are respected.
How many cases of road accidents do we come across in India in just one part of a city in a day? Pedestrians, especially senior citizens, lose their lives while crossing the roads or while walking on the roads because there are no footpaths. Don’t we have control over such things? If only we respect life, will we become responsible!
Taxes are collected, departments established and laws laid down. Yet, each of us faces so many hurdles in our daily lives, while carrying on with our routine affairs, let alone touring or enjoying holidays!
For instance, all the footpaths in Yelahanka Satellite Town were replaced with concrete slabs after removing the good stone slabs. Footpaths are nearly eight to ten inches higher than the road level with no slope at any junction. Senior citizens, the sick and handicapped people cannot climb these footpaths. The footpaths are so uneven and narrow in places where the trees intercept.
Let’s learn from others
Yes. We definitely need trees. Let not BBMP raze those trees! Just make footpaths more pedestrian-friendly. The concrete blocks wear away quickly because of the roots of the trees or other reasons. Thus, pedestrians have to be very watchful about slabs that jut out, open ditches, protruding iron frames and what not!
All our administrators and politicians travel around the world so often. Don’t they ever feel like aping the good from other countries? We can ape other cultures so easily, adopt food habits, lifestyles, fashion statements and so many other things, but we cannot copy things that might make the lives of the common man easier. We don’t care for the deaths of endangered species due to road accidents inside forest reserves, let alone taking care of those that stray into cities! Our only excuse is ‘uncontrollable growth of population’.
Where are the attempts from government towards achieving safe living environment? ‘Widen the roads, widen the roads’ is the only call that is answered. Nobody cares for the majority of the commoners, who too have rights to use the roads, the footpaths, the parks and every facility. For them, it is just sufficient if the car-owners can drive around without inconveniences which is also not happening because of bad traffic management. There are many lessons to be learnt in these aspects from other nations. Let us first learn them!