To be a pedestrian in Chennai is sometimes no different from being in an obstacle course. Where footpaths exist, pedestrians have to often hop, skip, and jump over obstructions or broken platforms. But more often than not, people are forced to walk on the road, putting them in harm’s way.
More than 1,600 pedestrians have been killed in Chennai between 2015 and 2018, making the city one of the deadliest in the country for those on foot. This is despite Chennai being the first in India to come up with a non-motorised transport policy in 2014, that aimed to prioritise pedestrians, and make the city more walkable.
“A walkable city is one where an 8-year-old child or an 80-year-old woman can safely and conveniently walk to all the destinations that they have to go to. This is a city where the footpaths are uninterrupted, they span a width of as much as 1.8m in residential areas and as much as 4metres in commercial areas. These are streets where the footpaths are well-shaded so it is comfortable for the person to walk, it is well-lit so it is safe for women to use the space even at night,” says Aswathy Dilip, Senior Program Manager at Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP).
Hailed as progressive at the time, the 2014 non-motorised transport policy set ambitious goals for Chennai. That by 2018, 80% of all streets in the city would have footpaths, over 40% of trips would be by walk or cycle, and that Chennai would completely eliminate pedestrian deaths.
But over five years after the policy came out, these targets are still a work in progress.
“Since the policy, we have added something like 300 to 400 km of platforms. We have an aim of having this platform on large roads, medium roads and small roads – wherever it is possible. The corporation maintains a total length of 6,000 km of roads all put together. But most of these 6,000 km would be lanes and bylanes where there won’t be any necessity or possibility of constructing platforms. Therefore, we are restricting to 1,500 km of roads where this can be constructed.” Says G Prakash, Chennai Corporation Commissioner.