Having spent a large number of my formative years in the eminently walkable and cyclable city of Chandigarh,I took these pleasures quite forgranted.I zipped across the city on cycling errands all the time. I had to move to other small towns of India to realize what a nightmare walking can be in cities with congested roads,no sidewalks and burgeoning,unruly traffic.And the less said about the smog-choked,auto-obsessed metros the better.Walking along the Tank Bund in the six-laned auto heaven of Hyderabad used to give me a ringing headache and stinging eyes. Given a chance,by way of wide,tree-lined sidewalks,and green spaces,and a neighbourhood integrating basic needs like dispensaries,groceries and schools; most people would prefer to walk,a truth that Le Corbusier understood. However Urban Planning in resource poor India is geared towards ways of accommodating more traffic rather than ways of preventing traffic accumulation. Can making our streets pedestrian and cyclist friendly be the one obvious and commonsensical solution that needs serious attention?This solution may not be as glamorous as multi-crore mega projects like flyovers,expressways and skywalks catering to more automobiles but it appears to be a damned effective way of preventing rather than merely reducing pollution and carbon emissions;and encouraging a healthy social lifestyle.I was most impressed by the cover story 'On Two Legs And A Prayer' of "Down To Earth " magazine(April '09)
An Excerpt-" Planners focus on the movement of vehicles, not people. Governments invest large sums in roads and elevated roadways to provide mobility to a minority of vehicle owners. Yet traffic speed and road availability per vehicle have reduced, despite road widening and flyovers." Making our metros pedestrian friendly will be cost effective as well as humane,-" Joshi of the Urban Design Research Institute said there is a need for citywide study to identify bottlenecks for pedestrians first and then take simple measures such as painting zebra crossings, reprogramming signals or increasing the duration of traffic signals so that people like Chandrasekhar don’t have to sprint to cross the road." When was the last time you walked or cycled your kids to school ? Or even thought about it?And yet we did it as a matter of course till three decades back.Reclaiming the roads for pedestrians and reassessing our love-affair with cars like many European cities have done may be the one solution we need to look into.