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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 109

Traffic Drives

By Tukoji R. Pandit - Syndicate Features

For the last three or four decades capital’s traffic police has been launching with much fanfare ‘special drives’ periodically--only to see the traffic worsen each year. Their latest innovation is a drive to catch the jaywalkers. It is a perfectly sensible thing to discipline the pedestrians in view of the heavy volume of vehicular, fast-moving traffic in Delhi. Perhaps in no other capital of the world are so many pedestrians killed or injured on the roads as in Delhi. Yet, the average pedestrian in Delhi is either unaware of the danger that he or she faces while walking on fast moving lanes or there is actually no other alternative for him or her but to step into the road where horn blazing vehicles whiz past with gay abandon. Whether it is the area outside New Delhi railway station or the busy Lajpat Nagar market pedestrian is an endangered species.

The designated area for the movement of pedestrians is the pavement or the special pedestrian path for them along the roads and the zebra crossing at traffic junctions. The footpaths in busy commercial areas and business centres have been encroached upon so long that generations have grown believing that it is legitimate for the vendors and others to spread and hawk their wares on the footpath. Like the traffic police, the civic authorities too launch drives against unauthorised encroachment on the pavements—a token exercise, really.

The drive against encroachment on footpaths is both comic and tragic. The moment a municipal van is sighted approaching a pavement all the hawkers and vendors move with lightening speed to collect and fold their merchandise into a cotton or plastic sheet and hide in a corner. The ones who are slow or are at the front of the row do get caught. After all, the municipal authorities do have to show how ‘successful’ has been their operation. But it is business as usual just after the van has moved to another area.

The point is that the encroachment on the pavements and footpaths remains throughout the year. In more busy areas of the city like Connaught Place the pavements are so crowded at times that even the most law abiding would be tempted to walk on the road instead of being crushed—if not molested or pick-pocketed—on the overcrowded pavement.

Look for the zebra crossing at the traffic intersections. They might not be visible in some areas. But if they are the space marked for pedestrian crossing would have been almost certainly occupied by a swarm of vehicles with two- and three-wheelers forming the vanguard. That is if the ‘killer’ buses have not already taken up the zebra spot.

Half the vehicles awaiting green light would be blaring their horns in a display of uncivilised behaviour that, however, binds Delhi with the rest of India. The frightened pedestrian will naturally spill over to the road to cross the road, placing trust in his or her luck because some of the impatience drivers at the traffic junction take pride in jumping the traffic light.

This scene is repeated hundreds of times all over Delhi 365 days of the year. It is only driving a brief interval of a traffic police ‘drive’ that the zebra crossing is left free for the pedestrians. When the ‘drive’ is off, the traffic policemen posted at traffic junctions seem to care little about those who jump the traffic lights.

It was many years ago that the authorities took a step for what they thought would help pedestrians and motorists both. Daryaganj was gifted an over-bridge. The people rejected it outright. From day one it was sparingly used, perhaps because the people did not have the patience to climb many stairs to reach the bridge. For the elderly and not-so-fit the over-bridge obviously was beyond reach. The experiment of an over-bridge was a resounding failure (though an older one, at the Old Delhi station, has been a long success). Yet, the ‘mistake’ was repeated at nearby Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg where the over-bridge is now being dismantled. But that does not mean that the authorities have decided against constructing more over-bridges, whether anyone wants them or not.

In recent years a consideration shown by the Delhi authorities has been the construction of pedestrian subways, apparently to facilitate road crossing in busy areas. Very good idea, indeed! But what are the realities? While many subways are poorly maintained, the reluctance of the pedestrians to use them stems from the fact that most of them are located away from the point where they are actually needed or the point where the volume of pedestrians is maximum. If there are good logistic or engineering reasons behind that kind of planning most pedestrians do not seem to appreciate them. How can they when jaywalking has been an accepted practice ever since one can recall.

The bigger problem in Delhi, however, is one of parking. The police and the civic authorities have remained blind to this problem for so long that now it has acquired monstrous proportions. Fights over parking and an occasional murder are not uncommon. A ‘parking mafia’ has grown right under the nose of the authorities who come out with some grand proposals for multi-storeyed parking lots but have done very little to construct them.

A simple and perhaps less expensive solution has not caught their eyes. Thanks to widespread corruption in civic bodies innumerable unauthorised flats have been constructed in Delhi with one or two levels of basement which are actually unfit for human living. Why can’t these basements, unauthorised and unfit for human living as they are, be converted into parking lots?

In fact, building laws should be amended to make it mandatory for all new buildings to provide parking space in their basement. To supplement the need for more parking, underground parking lots could be constructed beneath the vast open spaces that luckily almost every locality in Delhi has in abundance. The environmentalists should have no objection to this and this will also eliminate the need to acquire or buy land for constructing multi-storeyed parking lots that are unlikely to prove popular with the public.

- Syndicate Features -

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