Pavement! where art thou?

As I drove across GK2, Alaknanda and CR Park, I could not help noticing that all men, women, children and the elderly were walking on the road.

All pedestrians had to negotiate through moving traffic, sidestepping parked cars and other impediments; on some stretches, even forced to walking close to the center of the road.

There is no pavement to walk on. Vast stretches of pavements have been completely occupied for parking, ramps, flower beds and shrubs. They have been occupied by hawkers, mechanics, odd structures, cigarette vendors, fruit and vegetable sellers and make shift shops.  At places open drains and manholes, alongside the pavement, present a serious challenge to life and limb.

I noticed old ladies carrying bags laden with groceries looking hither and thither, over their shoulder and craning their necks to get a view across the parked cars. This is no doubt an impulse created out of self preservation against accidents.

I saw children, so young and often reckless, screech to a stop while walking or cycling.

Clearly we have learnt to live like this. We are adept at navigating through the chaos and the risk presented constantly.

The entire area of Greater Kailash II and Chittaranjan Park were originally laid out with proper sidewalks along all the major and minor roads. Infrastructure services like water supply, sewage, storm water drainage, etc., were laid below the footpaths, and trees were planted at intervals. The sidewalks were generally raised 6” to 7” above the road level. I am not sure whether similar sidewalks were provided along the roads in the SFS Housing and NRI Housing areas. However, with the increase in the number of cars in recent years these footpaths have either disappeared or been extensively encroached upon.  In most areas cars are parked all along the outside boundary of the house plots at right angles to the road. The level difference defining the sidewalks has disappeared. There is therefore no option, other than to walk in the middle of the road. With the steady increase of traffic and considering the fact that some roads have become major thoroughfares, this is a situation that has to be addressed and cannot just be ignored. It is true that attempts to resolve this will put the backs up of many people, but in the interest of long-term safety something has to be done. Solutions will not be easy to find but an attempt needs to be made.

As for land, we have devised a peculiar concept of use. Personal land is for personal use, Govt. Land is for Government use but public spaces are to be ‘misused’ by all.

We are oblivious to these issues, habituated as we have become in accepting that the roads and pavements are chaotic in nature.

There may be solutions to all such issues. The solutions must have a cultural fit. Importing western solutions will simply not work.  We will need to work out our own local indigenous solution.

The Background

Our proclivity for convenience and having everything next door does get in the way. parking, mechanics, provisions, retail, cineplex, stationary, grocery, fruits and vegetables must all be within, ‘walking distance.’ Funnily, there is no provision for walking easily!

The emotional idea of convenience is overpowering in our culture. Pitted against the strategic idea of planning and discipline, hankering for convenience has resulted in our city becoming inconvenient.

This matter, needless to say, is as highly political as it is cultural. The planned part of the city is western (only though in its basis of planning) and the unplanned part is a rural setting trans-located on to the urban landscape.

Despite Urban planners and environmentalists raising concerns, virtually nothing has been achieved in clearing the pavements for people to walk.

It is a pity that in all recent urban development we have largely adopted the Western planning approach and not looked at any of our traditional examples. Our traditional bazaars were all pedestrian oriented and planned around a system of moving on foot. Chandni Chowk and its attached framework of by lanes, were based on a pedestrian safety system. It is a pity that over the course of time, cars were allowed into this area and that has now resulted in total chaos. In such a situation, it is worthwhile to take a look at the market at Sarojini Nagar. Perhaps it was not consciously conceived as such, but today it is an absolute pedestrian space with all cars outside the periphery. Teeming with people and abuzz with activity, it is in many ways an amazing space. Unfortunately we do not emulate such examples, nor do we develop new concepts based on this kind of approach.

And here are the challenges:

The option of having a designated area for vendors and hawkers, with strict rules on their being responsible for cleanliness and waste disposal, can be met with resistance from many residents, who would, actually, want them close by!

All such activities need to be properly planned for. If space is properly organized with proper provision for movement, servicing, functional and suitably located toilets, proper garbage disposal arrangements, perhaps some landscaping, it would transform such spaces, and positively overcome resistance from residents.

The option of asking house owners to stop using the illegal occupation of pavements for car parking, construction of ramps and personal verandahs, and the planting of shrubs and flowers, will be met with howls of protest and severe resistance. There is a sense of ownership that has developed over years. There are problems regarding the parking of cars. Multiple flats on singular plots simply do not have parking spaces for all owners who own multiple cars.

Cars could be parked alongside kerbs but with multiple apartments to a plot, the decision on slots will result in ego based conflicts.

Parking is an issue that needs to be effectively addressed and systematically organized. This needs detailed planning area by area – there is no standard solution for all situations. In new developments parking should be part of the proposal within each site. The current solution in the form of a stilted floor for parking at ground level needs proper enforcement, with a clear check on the number of parking spaces sanctioned, and as actually put to effective car parking use. Currently stilt areas are being used for other utilities and cars remain parked outside

Not all existing constructions on pavements can be removed.

Kiosks have spilled onto the pavements; any regulations against those, will get the small trader seriously upset.

Any attempt at law enforcement will fail since a significant number is now trapped in a tradition of land misuse.

Very little history of community self regulation exists in urban settings, but this needs to change. Perhaps we need to begin by effectively organizing and cleaning up a small area and slowly extend it outwards to larger spaces. This could be one of the objectives of community groups and RWA.

Under these circumstances some very creative solutions will need to be devised bringing all stakeholders including the usurpers on board in a community initiative. That seems to be the only possibility under the circumstances.


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