Parisar did a walkability study of Pune to evaluate how friendly the city is towards pedestrians. This study was done on behalf of Clean Air Initiative - Asia (CAI) as part of their Asia-wide study of pedestrian infrastructure. The study was based on a toolkit developed by CAI. Not surprisingly, the results of the study show that there is a significant room for improvement in Pune's pedestrian facilities.
On August 24th 2010, the Commissioner of Pune, Mahesh Zagade admitted that the city is becoming pedestrian-unfriendly even though 37% trips are made by walking. This is at once both obvious and astounding. Obvious as soon as one steps onto the streets and astounding that when so little is required to make things so much better for so many it still remains one of the most neglected areas in the city’s development. And this is not a neglect without consequences. In the year preceding this report, 320 pedestrians have been involved in serious accidents, 160 of them have been fatal. While the general public tends to blame unruly driving and lack of enforcement as the cause of this horrifying statistic, traffic engineers the world over recognize that this is because of inadequate pedestrian infrastructure. The simple fact is that pedestrians cannot use the footpaths, cannot cross our roads and consequently get mowed down by vehicles.
Walkability is not just about having ‘x’ kilometers of footpaths, it is a package that consists of various aspects, from availability and usability of footpaths, to safe at-grade crossings, safety, amenities like lighting, shade and benches and respect that pedestrians get from motorists. The ultimate test of accessible streets is for them to be handicapped-friendly. The Global Walkability Index attempts to capture all of these. Any such index has its limitations, but the picture from this report is clear – our streets fall woefully short on all aspects.
Pune managed an overall score of 54/100. Of the 9 aspects of walkability, it scored highest on street safety (73/100). Ironically this is because our streets are “alive”, with pedestrians and hawkers/vendors, the latter often blamed for “encroaching”. But it is this typically Indian street flavor that makes them vibrant and hence safe. It scored poorly on availability of pedestrian infrastructure (footpaths, crossings and modal conflicts), less than 60/100. Quite simply, footpaths where even available, are unwalkable, crossings difficult. The lowest scores were in aspects related to amenities and disability access, scoring less than 40/100. It quantifies what we already know – streets are unpleasant to walk on and barely accessible for able-bodied persons, let alone those with disabilities.
The message to the policy makers is equally clear, we need to have deliberate policies to improve the situation and the allocation of adequate resources, budgetary and institutional, to make this happen.
So called “world class” cities, the kind that Indian cities aspire to be, have not only focused on basic pedestrian safety, but are investing heavily in making streets vibrant and attractive – often this means curbing vehicles and creating more spaces not just for the non-motorized commuters (pedestrians and cyclists) but also great public spaces. The recent developments in New York City, where parts of the famous Broadway have been re-claimed for people is a classic example of what cities are doing to remain “world class”.
Columbus circle in New York city - Before and After space was reclaimed from vehicular traffiic
We urge the Pune Municipal Corporation to revitalize the currently defunct NMT Cell and initiate a process to create and adopt street design guidelines that will help make the streets safe and pleasant and the city more livable. And we hope to see an improvement in the walkability score for the city a year from now.
The study also recieved a lot of media attention